Combine first 4 ingredients in a bowl; stir in half-and-half and 1 tablespoon oil. Gradually add boiling water, stirring until batter is the consistency of grits.
Pour oil to a depth of 1/2 inch into a large heavy skillet; place over medium-high heat. Scoop batter into a 1/4-cup measure; drop into hot oil, and fry, in batches, 3 minutes on each side or until golden. Drain on paper towels. Serve with softened butter.
Note: The amount of boiling water needed varies depending on the type of cornmeal used. Stone-ground (coarsely ground) cornmeal requires more liquid.
Southwestern Hot-Water Cornbread: After adding boiling water, stir in 1 jalepeôo pepper, seeded and minced; 1 cup shredded Mexican cheese blend; 1 cup frozen whole kernel corn, thawed; and 1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro.
Baked Hot-Water Cornbread: Omit skillet procedure. Pour 1/3 cup vegetable oil into a 15x10 inch jellyroll pan, spreading to edges. Drop batter as directed into pan. Bake at 475° for 12 to 15 minutes. Turn and bake 5 more minutes or until golden brown.