Corn meal has been used in the United States to make corn pone, crackling bread, corn muffins, corn sticks, hoecakes, Johnny cakes and spoonbread. Spoonbread is perhaps the richest, lightest and most delicious use of all. It is believed to have originated as a water and cornmeal based porridge made by Native Americans. The modern version, which includes eggs, butter and cream, is thought to have originated in Virginia sometime in the 1820’s.
Spoonbread is made casserole-style and is meant to be served with a spoon. If you haven’t guessed by now, that’s how it got its name. Some still spell it “spoon bread”. Either way you spell it, spoonbread is an American classic and is a great side dish for any dinner celebration. This version includes fresh spinach for extra goodness.
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing the dish
10 ounces baby spinach
3 cups buttermilk
3 large eggs (separated)
1 cup medium-grind yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
Scant 1 teaspoon salt
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of fresh ground white pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9-by-13-inch baking dish or a large enameled cast-iron skillet by spraying with nonstick cooking spray.
In a saucepan of boiling water, cook the spinach just until wilted, about 30 seconds. Drain and cool under running water, then squeeze out as much water as possible. Finely chop the spinach.
In a large bowl, whisk the buttermilk with the egg yolks, cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, white pepper and the 3 tablespoons of melted butter. Fold in the chopped spinach.
In a clean bowl, using a handheld electric mixer, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold the whites into the batter and scrape it into the prepared baking dish.
Bake the spoonbread in the center of the oven for about 35 minutes or until golden.
Note: If making this as a side for an elaborate meal (such as Thanksgiving), make it any time during the day, cover, and store at room temperature. Then, about 15 minutes before serving, reheat in an oven set at 325 degrees.