Spoonbread: The Southern Classic Cornbread Lovers Should Know

Spoonbread has an important place in American culinary history. The dish that falls somewhere between a soufflé, pudding, and cornbread can be traced back to the earliest American cookbooks. The Virginia Housewife, published in 1824, and the Carolina Housewife, published in 1855, contain two of the earliest known recipes of this southern-French delicacy.

And delicate it is. Some of the early presidents — namely Jefferson and Madison — had deep roots in French customs and cuisine, according to The Jefferson Monticello. When Jefferson became ambassador to France, he brought along James Hemings, a young man he had enslaved, to train under the best chefs France had to offer. When Hemings returned to the U.S., he applied his newly learned techniques to the Southern traditions of Virginia at the time. It is first found as "battered bread" in the Virginia Housewife cookbook, according to Food52, and most likely reflects Hemings' French interpretation of a baked corn dish.

The Carolina Housewife cookbook, however, calls the dish "awendaw," explains Spruce Eats. Because of this name, it's believed to have derived from the Sewee tribe of the South Carolina Lowcountry, writes the New York Times. Both these origin stories place it directly in the South, where it still is featured in restaurants and home tables.

light and airy soufflé

Spoonbread is "similar to cornbread, but is more souffle-like in texture like the British Yorkshire pudding," writes the Spruce Eats. It was traditionally made with cornmeal, milk, butter, eggs, sugar, and baking powder. The texture results in moist bread, better eaten with a spoon.

Southern Living suggests serving it in a skillet, as cornbread dressing, or as "cornmeal souffle" and then customizing it to your liking by adding herbs, cheese, or chopped-up meat like ham. The bread takes on volume by beating the egg yolks and whites separately. Folding in the voluminous egg whites gives the bread height.

The New York Times describes the texture of spoonbread as "tender" because of the eggs and creamed corn. It gets sweetness from the corn and sugar but then a tanginess from sour cream or buttermilk, as many recipes suggest. However, Southern Kitchen recommends starting with the basics — eggs, corn, milk, and butter before you go mixing in extras. Then make sure you spoon it onto your plate hot from the oven.

Serve spoonbread alongside any main dish. It's wonderful for brunch, dinner, or alongside holiday favorites. It doesn't take long to make, and most likely, you have these staple ingredients in your kitchen already.