When you think of truly American dishes, what comes to mind? Maybe you think of apple pie or a turkey dinner or a juicy cheeseburger. In light of President’s Day, I wanted to revisit another truly American dish, a dish that was a favorite food of many of the founding fathers: spoon bread.
I first encountered spoon bread at the Farnsworth House Inn in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania while on a family vacation. Interestingly, the Farnsworth House provided shelter for Confederate sharpshooters during the battle.
Over 100 bullets holes in the walls of the inn continue to remind visitors of the terrible conflict that took place there.
Harvey Sweeney, the owner of the house at the time of the battle, wrote of witnessing the parade of dignitaries pass by his house on November 19, 1863. They were on their way to a ceremony for the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery.
Prominent among them was President Abraham Lincoln who would soon deliver his Gettysburg Address.
Spoon bread is served with all dinners at the Farnsworth House. When it first arrived at our table, we weren’t sure what it was. It was served in a small cup and meant to be eaten with a spoon. It had the appearance of a mix between bread pudding and a soufflé.
Of course, our first question was “is it gluten free?” Our server assured us that it was 100% stone ground cornmeal with no wheat added. Its other ingredients consisted of eggs, salt, water, butter, milk and baking soda.
I decided to take a chance and try it. Remember, dining out is always risky for someone who has gluten intolerance. Even if the restaurant guarantees that the meal is 100% gluten free, there is still the risk that the food could be cross contaminated in the restaurant or that the ingredients are not 100% gluten free. They could have been contaminated in the processing.
As some have said, the best way to be 100% sure of no contamination of gluten when dining out is not to dine out at all. Of course, that’s not always possible.
However, the spoon bread was fantastic and everybody loved it.
John Egerton in his book Southern Food, quotes a lover of spoon bread, writing, ”A properly prepared dish of spoonbread can be taken as testimony to the perfectability of humankind.”
I may not go that far when describing it, but it definitely was delicious. And, best of all, I had no adverse reaction.
We later found out that spoon bread has a long history as a southern tradition, popular throughout Virginia, North Carolina, and Kentucky. There is a pre-19th century recipe for it in The Williamsburg Cookbook: Traditional and Contemporary Recipes.
Spoon bread was a particular favorite of President James Monroe, a Virginia native. It is believed that Elizabeth Monroe, the president’s wife, had a recipe for spoon bread in her kitchen. Historians suggest that her recipe was influenced from Native American use of corn meal and African American cooking methods. A recipe for spoon bread can also be found in Sarah Rutledge’s 1847 cookbook, The Carolina Housewife.
If you’re fond of truly American recipes, spoon bread should definitely be at the top of your list.
Even though today’s fast foods seem to be making traditional fare a lot less common, spoon bread can still be found in numerous restaurants throughout Virginia and North Carolina. There is even an annual spoon bread festival held each year in Berea, Kentucky that attracts about 25,000 visitors.
Spoon bread is usually served as a side dish. Traditionally, it is made without sugar. Adding it is taboo amongst some of the more hard core spoon bread lovers. However, some chefs are getting more creative and are starting to add different ingredients like bacon and rice. Barbara hasn’t made it this way yet, but bacon always sounds good to me. Topping the spoon bread with butter seems to be a must.
Most spoon bread purists use white stone ground corn meal. We used Arrowhead Mills gluten free organic yellow cornmeal. It’s certified gluten free. So there are no problems with gluten or cross contamination.
One note on corn. We are not big corn eaters. We don’t have a lot of recipes which include corn on our site. Corn is still a grain and might not be the best food for those recovering from an inflamed gut. But once in a while, you gotta make an exception and have some gluten free spoon bread.
Here’s Barbara’s amazing recipe for 100% gluten free Southern spoon bread.
- Preheat oven to 350 ℉ and grease your baking dish.
- Simmer milk and water in a large pot. Add cornmeal, salt and butter. Increase heat to medium. Continue stirring so that mixture does not get lumpy and until liquid is absorbed. The cornmeal mixture will begin to thicken, 5-10 minutes. Then remove from the heat.
- Separate your eggs into two different bowls.
- Beat egg yolks with a whisk and stir into cornmeal mixture.
- Next beat the egg whites until stiff. Stir in baking powder. Then fold into cornmeal mixture.
- Pour into baking dish and bake for 45 minutes.
- Doneness test: Insert a toothpick into the center. When it comes out clean, your gluten free Southern spoon bread is ready to eat.
- Top with a few pats of butter if you like and enjoy for breakfast or as a side dish at dinnertime.
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