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Kentucky Spoon Bread

Spoon Bread: Kentucky’s Favorite Comfort Food

Many states have native dishes that were originally cooked up within their borders and have achieved a cult-like status among foodies. In Kentucky, spoon bread is just such a dish. Spoon bread is often described a number of ways–a cornbread soufflé, a savory pudding similar to Yorkshire Pudding or simply a Southern cornmeal dish that’s been popular for more than a century. No matter how you describe it, most agree that it’s a delectable part of the Kentucky food scene.

Elizabeth Wells, a Chicago cook and blogger at A Bread a Day, described spoon bread as “a sort of cross between cornbread, polenta, a soufflé, and corn pudding. Properly made, it has an almost custardy interior, a crunchy crust, and is wonderfully soft and fluffy throughout.” Wells, who has an associate degree in Baking and Pastry Arts from Sullivan University, suggests adding chopped green onion, corn kernels and grated cheese but not sugar–“traditionally, spoon bread never has sugar in it.”

Richard T. Hougen, long-time manager of Boone Tavern Hotel in Berea, called spoon bread “the richest, lightest and most delicious of all corn meal breads. “ He started the custom of serving each guest a complimentary scoop of spoon bread prior to the meal. No wonder most everyone agrees that you can’t find a tastier recipe for spoon bread than the one used at Boone Tavern. Hougen included this historic recipe in Look No Further: a cookbook of favorite recipes from the Boone Tavern Hotel, Berea College, Kentucky (1955):

Southern Spoon Bread - 1955
3 cups milk
1 1/4 cups cornmeal
3 eggs
2 tablespoons butter
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

1. Stir meal into rapidly boiling milk. Cook until very thick, stirring constantly, to prevent scorching.
2. Remove from fire and allow to cool. The mixture will be cold and very stiff.
3. Add well-beaten egg, salt, baking powder and melted butter. Beat with electric beater for 15 minutes. If hand beating is used break the hardened cooked meal into the beaten eggs in small amounts until all is well mixed. Then beat thoroughly for 10 minutes using a wooden spoon.
4. Pour into well-greased casserole. Bake 30 minutes at 375 degrees F. Serve from casserole by spoonfuls.

Berea has long been famous for its spoon bread and is home to the annual Spoon Bread Festival, the signature event of the Berea Chamber of Commerce held in September. Foodies will find plenty of local flavor in these dishes, depending upon where they order it. Betty, of Betty’s Kitchen fame, lives in spoon bread country (10 miles from Boone Tavern) and offers a refined Southern Spoon Bread recipe. Taste of Home offers a Corn Spoon Bread made in a slow cooker and even renowned chefs, like James Beard, have their own take on this Kentucky comfort food.

The general consensus is that the best-tasting cornbread is made from fresh, water-ground corn, so keep this in mind when cooking. If you can’t get to Boone Tavern and Berea’s Spoon Bread Festival isn’t coming up, don’t fret--it’s easy to make your own. Just follow the authentic recipe for Boone Tavern Spoon Bread and enjoy this Kentucky culinary delight in the comfort of your own home.