Take This Cornmeal and Bake It

Spoon Bread w photo

My father, pictured here in the 1930s with his parents, ate almost anything, including leftovers “as long as they were good the first time.” One family favorite, spoon bread, drew on his mother’s Southern roots. This baked combination of cornmeal, milk, eggs, and butter goes back to the colonial days in Virginia. Thomas Jefferson served it at Monticello, his home in Charlottesville. Its name may come from the  Native American word for porridge, “suppone,” or from the spoon needed to eat it. I grew up eating spoon bread as a side dish — though I made a meal on it when my mother served something that I found detestable, such as tomato aspic or chipped beef.

After I moved to New England, I discovered a regional variation of a baked cornmeal dish: Indian pudding. Its name, not surprisingly, refers to its Native American roots, though it used to be called “sagamite.” Along with milk, eggs, and butter, the typical recipe calls for molasses, ginger and cinnamon, making it more of a dessert than a side dish.

I made spoon bread and Indian pudding this weekend and discovered that I now prefer the more assertive flavor of Indian pudding. Maybe the foot of snow outside has something to do with it.

Spoon Bread 2

Silverstein Spoon Bread (circa 1930)

Serves 6

Original:

1 cup white cornmeal

2 cups boiling water

1 pint milk

2 eggs

1/2 stick butter

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

Scald meal in boiling water. Cool. Beat eggs. Add to meal with baking powder and salt. Melt butter and add, then milk. Pour in buttered casserole. Bake 45 minutes in slow oven (300 degrees).

Adapted:

1 cup cornmeal (I used yellow, as white cornmeal is difficult to find in New England)

2 cups water

2 eggs, beaten

4 tablespoons melted butter

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 cups milk

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees (300 degrees proved too low for proper baking). Butter a 2-quart casserole.
  2. Bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan. Slowly stir in the cornmeal. Lower the heat to a simmer and continue stirring until the mixture begins to thicken, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool, about 15 minutes (it does not need to be completely cold).
  3. Add the eggs and butter to the cornmeal and stir to combine.
  4. Add the baking powder and salt; stir again.
  5. Add the milk and stir to make a smooth batter.
  6. Pour the batter into the casserole and bake until golden and puffy, about 45 minutes. Serve with a spoon.
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About heritagerecipebox

I am named after my great-grandmother, who only prepared two dishes, according to anyone who remembers: hamburgers shaped like squares and peanut butter sandwiches. Fast forward 100 years and 500 miles north from my hometown of Richmond, Virginia to Boston, Massachusetts. Somehow, I ended up with a cooking gene as well as an interest in history and family stories. I have worked as a journalist and published three cookbooks plus a memoir. This blog gives me a chance to share family recipes and stories -- and other American recipes with a past. What do you have to share?
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