Spoonbread

Spoonbread is, without question, the lightest, richest, and most elegant of all Southern cornmeal dishes, a custardlike, versatile miracle that approaches the texture of a soufflé and is as appropriate at breakfast with fried country ham and red-eye gravy as on the grandest dinner table or buffet. Of course, Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Kentucky all lay claim to the dish, but since history records an Indian porridge introduced to the first Virginia settlers called suppone, which appears to be the ancestral source of spoonbread, perhaps that state deserves the most credit. (In any case, the dish was not refined with butter, milk, and eggs till well into the nineteenth century.) Depending on the region, spoonbread can be enhanced with everything from cheese to bacon or ham to dainty vegetables, but in its most pristine form, there can be no doubt that it’s one of the country’s (indeed the world’s) most distinctive and delicious culinary creations. And, yes, the dish is so soft that it can be and often is eaten with a spoon.

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Ingredients

  • 3 cups milk
  • cups white cornmeal
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened and cut into pieces
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 5 large eggs, separated

Method

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 2-quart casserole and set aside.

In a large saucepan, bring the milk to a boil and gradually add the cornmeal, stirring rapidly with a spoon as you slowly pour it in. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, till the mixture is thick, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, add the butter and baking powder, stir till the butter has melted, and set aside to cool.

In a small mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks with a fork till light, then stir them into the cooled cornmeal mixture. In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer till stiff peaks form, then fold them into the mixture till all traces of white have disappeared. Scrape the mixture into the prepared casserole and bake till a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Serve hot.