In the American South, spoon bread is a vital part of the cultural and culinary tradition. Calling it bread is a slight misnomer, because true version of this dish is extremely soft, and usually served in the same container it was baked in. The texture reminds some consumers of pudding or casserole, and spoon bread has to be eaten with a spoon or fork. The core ingredient of this dish is cornmeal, a classic element in Southern cuisine, and some cooks add ingredients such as cheese or vegetables.
To make spoon bread, cornmeal is combined with eggs, butter, and milk. The mixture is pre-cooked before being inserted into the oven to bake, and it is pulled out when a knife inserted into it comes clean. The dish is typically served hot, as a side dish, and it can be accompanied with gravy or other sauces. Thicker versions of spoon bread can be served in loose wedges or slices, while runnier incarnations are typically scooped directly from the baking dish onto the plate with the aid of a large spoon.
The addition of elements such as cheese to make cheesy spoon bread, or vegetables such as collard greens, is not uncommon. Some purists believe that this dish should be made and served plain, allowing diners to select their own flavoring. Others find the addition of supplemental ingredients, including exotic ones like chilies and fruit, perfectly acceptable. Once the basic recipe has been mastered, cooks can experiment with additional ingredients and spices.
There are a number of recipes for spoon bread, but the most basic starts with cooking two cups of water, one cup of milk, one cup of stone ground cornmeal, two tablespoons of butter, and one teaspoon of salt over low heat until the mixture thickens evenly. Next, three eggs are beaten into the mixture, which is poured into an oiled oven safe bowl. The spoon bread is baked at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius) for approximately 35 minutes, and served warm with a liberal heaping of butter.
Additional ingredients can be mixed in along with the eggs. Things like cheese can be grated directly into the batter, but vegetables should be cooked first. For a stronger Southern flavor, the vegetables can be sauteed with bacon, or they can be steamed for a lower fat version. The resulting spoon bread can be served straight from the bowl it was baked in, or baked in a pie dish and served in wedges like a quiche.