Awendaw

In The Carolina Housewife of 1847, Sarah Rutledge’s “Owendaw Corn Bread” is more like a pudding or custard than a bread, making me wonder if she ever really visited the old Indian town of Awendaw, which is still off Highway 17 just north of Charleston, South Carolina, or if the dish underwent a radical transformation over the centuries. (Today, I always stop at Awendaw on my way from Myrtle Beach to Charleston to buy not only a couple of loaves of this distinctive bread but also a few sweetgrass baskets and mats woven by the few remaining black natives of the area who still practice the rare craft.) I was originally introduced to the bread by Bill Neal, up in North Carolina (incredibly, not even the classic Charleston Receipts cookbook has ever included a recipe for Awendaw), and while I’ve since come across a couple of other versions, Bill’s remains the most delicious. This is still another example of a fascinating Southern regional specialty that has tottered at the edge of extinction due to neglect and the modern mania for culinary novelty.

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Ingredients

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 7 tablespoons regular grits
  • 4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter
  • cups milk
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 3 large eggs

Method

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease the bottom and sides of a -quart loaf pan, dust the interior with a little cornmeal, and set aside.

In a saucepan, combine the water and salt and bring to a rapid boil. Gradually add the grits, reduce the heat to moderately low, and cook, stirring frequently to prevent sticking, for 25 minutes. Add the butter, remove pan from the heat, and stir till the butter has melted. Meanwhile, combine the milk and cornmeal in a mixing bowl, stir well, and let stand 15 minutes.

Stir the grits into the cornmeal mixture, then, one by one, beat in the eggs. Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake till the bread is golden, about 50 minutes. Serve hot with plenty of butter or, if left over, lightly toasted and buttered.

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