Whether it's spelled as two words or one, spoonbread is amazing and unexpectedly good, as a first-timer at Serious Eats discovered. She modifies James Beard's recipe a bit, apparently, but still has success with this buttery/eggy/corn-y flavored "heavy soufflé." Many Kentuckians connect spoonbread to Berea College's famed Boone Tavern restaurant, where mid-20th century Tavern manager Richard Hougen began the practice, continued today, of offering all Tavern guests delicious hot scoops of fresh spoonbread and butter before the rest of the meal begins.
The town of Berea, Kentucky, holds an annual Spoonbread Festival, and so this lightest of all cornbreads continues to win adherents among people who love good food. It is true, as noted in Sharon Thompson's post on Richard Hougen -- which includes the Boone Tavern spoonbread recipe -- that white cornmeal is considered the only appropriate meal for this dish. Unbolted, fresh white cornmeal milled at historic Weisenberger Mill, is available at Good Foods Market and Café in Lexington.
I use Mr. Beard's recipe published in the 1972 paperback version of American Cookery. And here it is:
Cornmeal Spoon Bread
This is really a heavy soufflé. It is a dish that has maintained a remafkable popularity and is excellent eaten with butter, or with sauce from a fricasseed chicken or such things, or as an accompaniment to game.
2 cups milk 1/2 teaspoon salt 3/4 cup cornmeal 4 tablespoons butter 4 eggs, separated
Bring the milk and salt to a boil and reduce the heat to simmer. Stir in the cornmeal and continue to stir until it thickens. Add the butter. Remove from the heat and beat in the egg yolks, slightly beaten. Cool slightly and fold in the whites, stiffly beaten. Bake in a buttered 1 1/2 quart casserole or soufflé mold at 375 degrees about 40 minutes.
Note: Instead of separating the eggs, you may beat them whole and add to the mush mixture. Place in a buttered baking dish about 9X9X3 inches and bake at 375 degrees 1 hour.