“The apotheosis of corn bread, the ultimate, glorified ideal,” wrote journalist John Egerton about spoon bread in his book Southern Food (1987). I would agree with that. My family jokes about how besotted I’ve been with this dish ever since we ate it at the Christiana Campbell Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg.
Spoon bread at its best is like a soufflé version of cornbread, slightly crusty and chewy on top and soft and airy inside. The dish evolved from Southern cornbreads during the 19th century, and although it is still made in the South, it’s unfortunately not as common as it used to be.
Oddly, the term spoon bread didn’t appear in print until about 1904. The name may derive from suppone or suppawn, aNative American word for mush made from cornmeal mixed with boiling water. Spoon bread evolved much later, however, so it seems more likely that the dish is called spoon bread because it’s so soft that you need to eat it with a spoon. Continue reading →
I wanted to make Eliza Leslie’s Indian pound cake partly because it sounded so good — the ingredients include cornmeal, eggs, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, and brandy — but also because its creator seemed so interesting.
Born in 1787, Leslie was one of five children of a Philadelphia watchmaker. Her father, who was friends with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, died heavily in debt when she was sixteen, and she and her mother ran a boardinghouse to support their family. According to culinary archivist Jan Longone, Leslie set out to become a writer of novels and stories but wrote a cookbook, Seventy-five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes and Sweetmeats(1828), because her friends kept asking her for recipes. (She had been a pupil at Mrs. Goodfellow’s cooking school in Philadelphia.) Continue reading →
I got the idea for making Boston brown bread when I saw several big cans of B&M Brown Bread in my mother’s kitchen cupboard the other day. Bread in a can — how weird is that? It’s surprisingly edible, and might be just the thing to stock for the next hurricane. But if you live outside of New England, good luck finding it. “I know what you’re talking about, we don’t have it, and you’re the first person who’s ever asked for it!” said my local grocer.
I wanted to make this bread from scratch anyway, since it dates back to colonial times, or nearly so. Wheat flour was scarce in the American colonies, so “make-do” breads were made from other flours, or a combination of wheat and other flours. Boston brown bread — called just brown bread in New England — contained rye flour, wheat flour, and cornmeal. These were mixed with molasses and buttermilk, and the bread was steamed in a kettle over a fire.
I often become interested in a colonial dish only to learn that it’s perhaps not so colonial after all. This happened with anadama bread. It’s described in some modern cookbooks as an 18th century bread, but it doesn’t appear in 18th or even 19th century cookbooks. However, an Anadama brand bread was recorded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 1850, and there is anecdotal evidence that it was made before then.
There are quite a few legends about this delicious, slightly sweet bread, most involving a fisherman on Cape Ann, Massachusetts, and his wife Anna. Continue reading →
Indian pudding is not a photogenic dish, but if you like pudding, you’ll probably love it. Native Americans did not make this, but they taught European settlers how to use cornmeal, a main ingredient in the pudding, along with milk and molasses. It is basically a variation on English hasty pudding using cornmeal instead of wheat flour, which was scarce in the colonies. The dish evolved over time to include spices, butter, eggs, and sometimes raisins. It is traditionally baked for hours at a low temperature. Continue reading →
I really wanted to follow a true colonial recipe for my first blog post, and what could be more authentic than hoe cakes in their oldest, simplest form. I scalded cornmeal with boiling water (a technique settlers learned from Native Americans), then baked the batter in small cakes on a pan greased with bacon fat. My source was a recipe in The Williamsburg Art of Cookery said to date from 1776:
“Scald one pint of Indian meal with enough boiling water to make a stiff Batter (about three Cups). Add one Teaspoon of Salt. Drop on hot greased Tin and bake in hot Oven thirty Minutes.”
“Tastes like rocks and sand,” pronounced my seven-year-old daughter. I didn’t think they were quite that bad — not as bad as they looked, anyway…