Growing up, when I visited Grandma Leona in Indianapolis, I learned that steamed rice with a little butter and sugar is as good a breakfast as cheesy grits. My grandma, a true Midwesterner, didn’t eat grits — but she had grit. The fourth of 10 children, Grandma was prone to Depression-era cooking strategies.

She always added a little milk to eggs before scrambling them “to make them stretch,” she’d tell me as I eyed her with a mix of curiosity and suspicion. Why eggs needed to be “stretched” was beyond my seven-year-old comprehension; however, I now appreciate Grandma’s resourcefulness, as well as the fluffiness of eggs whisked with a little milk before scrambling.

The most popular dish in Grandma’s repertoire showcased her innovation with food: she would fry leftover cornbread batter into cornmeal pancakes as she hummed hymns and moseyed about her red kitchen. This tasty hybrid of cornbread and pancake was the perfect way to make another meal from leftover cornbread batter, but eventually she started making these whether or not there was leftover batter from the day before.

The pancakes have some grit from the cornmeal and crisp edges from the oil they’re looked in. Grandma would use her giant cast-iron skillet, whose heavy bottom ensured that the pancake cooked evenly and all the way through. But a griddle or other skillet will give those results, too. The baking powder gets to work as soon as the wet ingredients are mixed with the dry, so whip up the batter just before you’re ready to get cooking. A pat of butter and some maple syrup are all these pancakes need, and the Cranberry-Maple Syrup pairs with them beautifully.

Cornmeal Pancakes with Cranberry-Maple Syrup
Makes 15 pancakes

¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup finely ground yellow cornmeal
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 large eggs
1½ cups buttermilk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Butter or vegetable oil, for the skillet
Maple syrup or Cranberry-Maple Syrup (below)

In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, salt, baking soda and nutmeg.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs with the buttermilk and melted butter until combined.

Pour the wet ingredients into the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Don’t overmix — the mixture will be lumpy, as pancake batters should be.

Heat a griddle or large skillet over medium heat. Once the surface is hot (a drop of water will dance across the pan), add 2 teaspoons of butter or oil and swirl to coat the pan. Once the oil is sizzling hot, use a ¼-cup measure to scoop the batter onto the hot skillet. You should hear the skillet sizzle as the batter hits it. Continue to add the batter, leaving enough space between the pancakes so they can be easily flipped. Cook until bubbles cover the top of the pancakes and break open, about 2 minutes. Flip the pancakes over and cook until the other side is golden as well, an additional 1 to 2 minutes. Repeat until all the pancakes are made. Serve warm with maple syrup or the Cranberry-Maple Syrup.

Cranberry-Maple Syrup
Makes 1 1/2 cups

Simple maple syrup can be jazzed up by simmering it with fresh fruit and spices. Cranberries are naturally tart, making them a perfect addition. This 10-minute maple syrup mashup is a simple way to add pizzazz to your pancakes.

1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
½ cup maple syrup
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon unsalted butter1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Place the cranberries and maple syrup in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil. When the cranberries start to pop, reduce the heat to medium and cook until most of the cranberries have popped and the mixture is thickened, about 10 minutes, stirring often. Stir in the cinnamon, butter and lemon juice. Serve warm. Refrigerate any leftover syrup in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Thank you, Vallery (and Grandma). Your new cookbook is gorgeous!

(This essay and recipe was reprinted from Life is What You Bake It with permission. Photos by Linda Xiao.)