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Preserved by Purpose – Hot Water Cornbread and Mama’s Wisdom

In honor of Mother’s Day, I want to share one of my favorite experiences with my

mother. As we prepare to celebrate our 2nd Mother’s Day in a pandemic, take time to

encourage the mothers in your life. And if you have lost your mother, be encouraged by the memories and imprint of love they had on your life.

“Girl, I can make that…and I can’t cook!” laughed one friend as I explained my difficulty

making hot water cornbread a decade ago over lunch. What puzzled me was that I was able to make so many other things…. with or without a recipe: turkey and dressing, red velvet cake, red beans, and rice, etc. That was until I came up against hot water cornbread. It seemed like no matter how many times I tried, it never came out right. I shamefully finally accepted the fact that I would never be able to make it.

My first attempt fell apart while still in the skillet. Rookie mistake, I figured and tried

again a few weeks later. This time, they not only fell apart, but they also turned pitch black in minutes. Not to be discouraged, I decided that the next time I visited my parents; I’d get the “secret” to hot water cornbread from my mama.

The next time I visited my parents, I noticed she was getting ready to make some hot

water cornbread and shared my problem. My mama very patiently explained in detail how to make it as I watched her. She even let me mix one batch (flavored with jalapeno peppers) under her supervision. She said the key is having the right amount of each ingredient as she watched me. “Perfect,” she said as she took the first golden brown pieces out of the hot grease.

I was happy because I’d conquered the mountain. Or so I thought. A few months later when I tried to make by myself at my house, they didn’t break apart. But the first batch turned out so hard and flat that I threw the uncooked mixture away and

vowed to never make hot water cornbread again. Years later, I got the courage to try again. This time after consulting with my mama another three times (including while the water was boiling), I made the hot water cornbread. This time, they came out wonderfully: golden brown on the outside and moist on the inside.

What I learned from my mama is that successfully making hot water cornbread depends

on whether the water is hot enough, the grease is fresh, and the corn meal is mixed with the right amount of sugar, flour, and salt. The key is learning how to balance each one. It’s similar to our spiritual growth, Romans 5:3-5 explains how “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Each is a new level of spiritual maturity that comes by learning to better balance the various areas of your life.

This week’s column is dedicated to my mama Nealie Riley and all the mothers who

have the patience to share their wisdom with us. Happy Mother’s Day!

Shewanda Riley is a Dallas-based author of “Love Hangover: Moving from Pain to

Purpose After a Relationship Ends” and “Writing to the Beat of God’s Heart: A

Book of Prayers for Writers.” Email her at or

follow her on Twitter @shewanda.

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