Driving outside of Richmond, Virginia one day, I passed a seafood restaurant called Stuart’s Fresh Catch. Outside, a vinyl sign advertised lake trout, crabs, fresh fish and spoon bread. Obviously one of those things was not like the others, and I made a mental note to come back the next day to try the spoon bread.
Spoon bread is one of the oldest specialties of the South. When done correctly, it’s incredibly light, yet similar in texture to oatmeal, and almost tastes like an incredibly moist piece of cornbread. “A well-prepared dish of spoonbread can be seen as a continuing testament to the perfectibility of mankind,” as John Egerton, author of “Southern Food” wrote, The ingredients for spoonbread are the cornmeal, milk, butter, eggs, sugar and baking. powder (although some recipes call for flour), and spoon bread’s lineage dates back hundreds of years to Virginia. Spoonbread was originally called “Batter Bread”, and a recipe appears in Mary Randolph’s 1824 cookbook, “The Virginia Housewife”, which is considered the first Southern cookbook by many culinary historians .
It is reasonable to conclude that Randoph used recipes from James Hemings, who was enslaved by Thomas Jefferson and was the head chef at Monticello. Although many of the recipes and ingredients listed in the cookbook, such as okra and okra, were traditionally used and prepared by enslaved African Americans, one of the best examples to support this theory is bread. beaten. The dish is baked in small ramekins, similar to a soufflé, and fits perfectly into the half-Virginian, half-French dishes for which Hemings is famous.
When Jefferson became ambassador to France in 1784, he brought Hemings to France from Virginia to learn to cook under French chefs. When Hemings returned, he worked in Monticello’s kitchen and taught other slave cooks how to recreate the technically difficult dishes he had learned. These dishes and this service quickly became the model of American gastronomy. “The French influence can be seen in several soul food dishes such as spoon bread… We most likely owe these dishes to French chefs who taught recipes and techniques to enslaved cooks,” wrote Adrian Miller in his book, “The President’s Kitchen Cabinet”. .”
Celebrity African-American chef Edna Lewis was born in Freetown, Virginia (about twenty miles from Monticello), grew up eating bread with a spoon, and included it in her cookbook, “In Pursuit of Flavor.” . She calls the dish “Orange County Spoonbread” in a nod to her origins and notes that she grew up eating it, though her version has a lighter texture because instead of using flour, she grates fresh corn and the liquid mixture.
Recipe: Cheese and Chive Spoon Bread
Today, however, finding spoon bread in a restaurant is a rarity, even in the South. Erasing spoon bread would be a tragic loss, not only because it’s delicious, but because if we lose spoon bread, we lose part of our culinary history. Hundreds of years of history and the fusion of different groups of people can be tasted in a single spoonful – the interesting combination of native peoples’ corn, European puffing technique and the expertise of enslaved African Americans who elevated this dish to a refined staple on Southern tables. Spoon bread isn’t just cornmeal, eggs, or sugar. Rather, it’s the mixed taste of countless tears and joys, and the story of how people have adapted over the centuries while delivering on the promise that life will be better for the next generation. It is the power of food, not only to sustain us physically, but also emotionally.
The day after I saw the sign outside Stuart’s, I ordered a big spoon bun to go. The cashier at Stuart’s handed me a hot styrofoam container filled to the brim with a fresh batch, and after taking care to grab a spoon, I headed to the car to see what a several-year-old recipe tasted like. centuries. The spoon bread was rich, sweet and creamy and quite delicious. Although I wasn’t transported to another world or filled with nostalgia, it did make me slow down for a moment and enjoy what I was tasting. And maybe that’s all it took.