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Spoon Bread: The Old Days Were Good

September 19, 1996|MARION CUNNINGHAM

Many of our dearly loved home-cooked dishes are fading from table and memory, and they are not being replaced by better ones. A perfect example is spoon bread. I've taken a private poll of friends asking if they ever prepare spoon bread. Only one or two even knew what spoon bread was, and they said they never made it. One friend said, "I don't make any bread at home."

But spoon bread was a frequent part of family meals for more than 100 years. Sarah Rutledge gave a recipe in her 1847 classic "The Carolina Housewife," and spoon bread was as popular as a Southern belle everywhere in the South.

John Egerton sums up the glories of spoon bread in his book "Southern Food": "The apotheosis of corn bread, the ultimate, glorified ideal; spoon bread, a steaming hot, feather-light dish of cornmeal mixed with butter, eggs, milk and seasoning and lifted by the heat of the oven to a souffle of airiness.

"Tracing the evolution of corn bread from suppone (Indian corn) to spoon bread is in some ways similar to studying history through fossils and other artifacts. There is a rough parallel in these recipes with the social and cultural movement of people through history. A properly prepared dish of spoon bread can be taken as continued testimony to the perfectibility of humankind."

I am giving two versions of spoon bread, one very simple, the other simple but made with the yolks and whites beaten separately, creating a light souffle effect.

You will have a wonderful, satisfying lunch or supper if you serve a generous serving of hot spoon bread on each plate with a spoonful or two of tomatillo salsa on top and some sliced summer tomatoes on the side.

LIGHT SPOON BREAD

1 cup yellow cornmeal

1 1/2 cups boiling water

2 tablespoons butter plus extra for pan

3 eggs, separated

1 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Put cornmeal in bowl and pour boiling water over, stirring briskly so no lumps form. Add butter, egg yolks, buttermilk, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Stir until well blended.

Beat egg whites just until soft peaks form. Gently stir 1/4 of whites into cornmeal mixture, then fold in remaining whites.

Spoon into buttered 2-quart casserole. Bake at 400 degrees until straw inserted in center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes.

Makes 6 servings.

Each serving contains about:

184 calories; 321 mg sodium; 153 mg cholesterol; 8 grams fat; 20 grams carbohydrates; 8 grams protein; 0.14 gram fiber.

THE SIMPLE SPOON BREAD 1 cup yellow cornmeal

1/2 cup cold water

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups boiling water

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup buttermilk

4 eggs, well-beaten

1 cup sharp Cheddar, grated; optional

Combine cornmeal and cold water in small bowl and stir to dampen. Add salt to boiling water in saucepan, then stir in dampened cornmeal. Stir constantly until cornmeal becomes thick, 1 to 2 minutes.

Remove saucepan from heat and stir in butter and buttermilk until well blended. Stir in beaten eggs and cheese, then stir briskly to remove lumps.

Spoon mixture into buttered 1 1/2-quart casserole and bake at 400 degrees until lightly golden on top, about 30 minutes.

Makes 6 servings.

Each serving, without cheese, contains about:

184 calories; 321 mg sodium; 153 mg cholesterol; 8 grams fat; 20 grams carbohydrates; 8 grams protein; 0.14 gram fiber.

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