The History of Spoonbread

Baking, Dinner, Recipes
on October 12, 2008
Mark Boughton Photography / styling: Teresa Blackburn

Spoonbread, a heavenly cross between polenta and a cornmeal soufflé, is a sweet, airy puff of smooth corn flavor in your mouth. Part of its marvel is that the texture is so delicate, and the taste combination of egg, corn and sugar is so flavorful, that it wakes up your taste buds. Even though it’s called a bread, spoonbread is so pleasantly sweet it can served as dessert for any occasion.

Although Native Americans had probably been making the dish for centuries before, Sarah Routledge published a few versions of spoonbread in her 1847 cookbook, The Carolina Housewife. She links spoonbread’s roots directly to Native Americans, with a traditional Carolina Low Country rendition called Awandaw named for a Native American settlement outside of Charleston.

Another historical mention of spoonbread is in Jeff Smith’s The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American (William Morrow & Co, 1987). Noting that Virginia Spoonbread was a home staple during the Revolutionary War, he writes, “Spoonbread is simply a very rich and dense cornbread, a dish so dense that it must be served up with a spoon. General Washington loved this dish, and it was apparently served quite often at Mount Vernon (Washington’s plantation).”

Some culinary authorities maintain that spoonbread can be traced back to the Indian porridge called suppone or suppawn. Others say that the butter, milk and eggs, which made spoonbread such a special dish, probably came after the Civil War. Whatever the answer, spoonbread makes for a delicious mystery.

—By Mollie Bryan

Found in: Baking, Dinner, Recipes