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November 08, 2003



Love the original post on Frum, as well as the info on spoonbread. My husband's family calls it batter bread and, of course, my mother-in-law's recipe is different from yours (she doesn't cook the cornmeal beforehand?). But the real test of loyalty to our frontier tradition comes when you are presented with a dish called Crackling Bread. Let's just say that while there may be many pretenders to the status of heart attack on a plate, this is the true prize winner -- the part of the animal you eat in winter when all other edible parts have been exhausted, mixed with corn meal, hot water, and baked at high temperature (you don't need to grease the pan). On Christmas day at my in-laws, every meal is a combination of pork, corn meal and oysters. We eat Crackling bread for breakfast, ham for lunch and batter bread for dinner. And raw oysters at every meal (oyster stew for those of us who just can't). For one day my father in law, now 90, pretends he is yet again a child living in rural poverty during the 1920s, with rent usually paid in the form of produce and slaughtered animals, and oysters from the bay being a truly special gift. Thanks again for your really fine insight.

Mitch Mills

I think there's a clear correlation between the retreat of most of America (apart from the South) away from cornmeal-based products, and the modern hippiefied America that Frum so laments. Proud Okies from Muskogee don't wear beads or roman sandals, but they sure do love cornbread.

THIS is what Howard Dean should have focussed on, not the Confederate Flag. Black and white southerners should both vote Democrat because they share not only a lack of health insurance, but also a relish for corn meal! Spoonbread eaters of the world unite!!

We can get the Eastern establishment types on board by telling them that fried cornmeal mush is really just polenta, but with more street cred.


I'm sure that it's been years since my mother made spoon bread, but when I was growing up in the 1960's she made it quite often. I don't recall the corn kernels. I'll save the recipe, and compare it with her's.

Actually, given my experience with beaten egg whites, I suspect that using those would result in a stiffer product. Beaten albumin (egg whites) often does that.

Mitch Mills

The trick with the stiffened egg whites is that if you can lightly fold (as opposed to thoroughly mix) them in, you then have this airy matrix holding all the other ingredients just a little further apart than before, which should indeed result in a lighter, fluffier spoon bread.

While I've never atually done this with spoonbread (I'll try it next time), it definitely works with lots of other things, for example pancakes.


If you're never tried it and you're feeling brave, substitute 1/4 cup of sherry for the same amount of milk.

If you're feeling extremely brave, a dash of nutmeg is good with that.

Mitch Mills


You left out the amount of sherry it will take to get my courage up enough to try substituting sherry for some of the milk. But after that brave substitution, adding a dash of nutmeg seems trivial.

I'm having trouble envisioning (that's not the right word; entasting?) how this would end up. But I'm strongly tempted to say "why, that's so crazy it just might work!"

On the theme of variations, Barbara's pork, cornmeal and oysters is a classic and delicious combination of flavors. Another set of flavors that go great together is corn and chili peppers. Adding one to several jalapenos, finely chopped, to spooon bread is also delicious.

And I meant to ask earlier: Barbara, whereabouts is your husband's family from?


They are from Eastern Virginia, close to the Chesapeake Bay. The last time someone tried to pay rent in the form of an animal carcass my husband's family got an urgent call from the post office demanding that they show up post haste, because the "rent" had reached the local office only via routing through the central office in Richmond, (thus adding two days to the delivery)and it was leaking on the post office floor. The thing to remember is that mixing modern innovation with frontier practices can bring some unexpected and unappealing results. So go easy on the chili peppers and the sherry in your spoon bread adventures!

Mitch Mills

Mmmmm, Chesapeake Bay oysters!

But I must quibble: mixing corn and chilis, far from being a modern innovation, is actually very old school. It was being done in the New World long before the Europeans brought domesticated pigs over, or for that matter chickens and cows (for the eggs, milk, and butter) and sherry. I'm not sure about the nutmeg though, I think it's native to Asia. Talk about your fusion cuisine!


Yes, that's true, chilis are traditional, but Latinos don't tend to use eggs and milk in the same dish as chilis and corn (especially the milk -- you'll probably have some ready examples to the contrary, but I'm pretty sure it is the exception). But I think the chilis would be good in something more solid like cornbread. And imho the best role for the sherry is to drink it while you're putting the rest of it together. Nutmeg is from some place like Zanzibar or Mauritius, which means that, while Asian (sort of?), it's been used in the West for some purpose or another since at least the 18th century. I sure love to cook and talk about it! Thanks for engaging me!

Mitch Mills

I think you're right about the milk/cheese thing, at least with regards to Mexico, where corn and chili cultivation originated. In fact until very recently there was very little presence of dairy products in Mexico apart from unusual examples, like a few German Mennonite communities (hence there's a cheese style known as "queso menonito").

Also, a lot of "traditional" Mexican recipes, e.g. for flan, call for canned or condensed milk because that was the only form of milk most people had any access to.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of Tex-Mex food (or in general more northerly styles of Mexican cuisine) that sets it apart from most of Mexican cooking is the heavy use of cheese (also wheat flour tortillas).

But I know and love quite a few Mexican dishes that combine chilis and eggs.

Chilis are indeed delicious in cornbread, and jalapeno cornbread is considered a very traditional food where I'm from (central Texas). That's where I got the idea to add them to spoonbread, and if you chop the chilis very very finely, so they're just tiny little slivers of green, it works out just fine.

I agree with you about the sherry though. I still can't get my head around how sherry spoonbread would taste. Maybe I can convince someone I know to make it and I'll just freeride along on their experiment.

As for nutmeg, check out this site :


Seems it originated in Indonesia and the Dutch spread it into northern Europe in the early 17th Century, where it caused quite a stir. But it had been traded in the Middle East and Mediterranean much earlier.

Also interesting, mace comes from the seed covering of the same tree.

The whole issue of what is really "authentic" or traditional is a very interesting one. For example it's really hard to remember that Italians didn't start cooking with tomatoes until the late 19th or early 20th century. But they sure took that ball and ran with it.

Russell Arben Fox

Barbara, I'm coming to this late, but isn't what you called "crackling bread" in your first comment really Pennsylania Dutch "scrapple?" I love that stuff. Check out this link: http://www.globalgourmet.com/food/sleuth/0998/scrapple.html.


Hey, I love scrapple too! I used to eat scrapple on a bagel (wow, talk about unholy fusion) every Friday at the local cafetaria when I worked in Baltimore. But it's different from crackling bread. Crackling bread is made with some part of what are called pork rinds. My husband has the details, as I try to forget as soon as I am told. It's not "meaty" at all -- it's not exactly lard, it's not that "pure" but you take the meal and poor boiling water over it and then work the cracklings in with your hands, form little "loaves" (like the size of a small dinner roll) and bake it at 500 degrees F. until it's brown. I guess you could add salt, but as I said, greasing the pan would be totally gratuitous. You don't see scrapple many places, I grew up in the other end of Pennsylvania and I had never heard of it before I lived in Baltimore.

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