Friday, April 18, 2008

Leave a Tender Moment Alone

That is the thing about the end of a sojourn in any divine corner of the world; You wish you could have a moment of perfect silence to sit and hold the memory in place, allowing your mind to find the perfect tones and shades with which to paint accurately your permanent possession of date, time, and place. It is so frustrating that I will not be allowed to hang on to the smallest bits of leaving a city like Savannah. I wonder if I will recognize the low sound through the park (someone playing Mozart through a window just down the way) or the scent in the air (gardenia) which are the unintended happenstance of a cultured city. It is those things no tourist board planned for that will be most precious in the end, no? Maybe it is the littlest things that truly make a place what it is, not the most high-profile attractions.

I try to take in every last detail. Especially the ones the camera will miss or not understand at a level of refinement enough to protect me from loss of my wondrous twinkling escape to a magical place. But sadly, I don't write them down, or, I should say, I didn't, at least not until now, that I have you. Thank God for you. I want to hold on it to even more carefully and be so much more aware of how fragile each panorama is so that I can get it safely to you, and you can hold on to this beguiling memory with me. That is, until you write to me that you have your own now. Then you too have seen the city in question, and then you will take me back in my mind's eye and I will be so happy for you and so pleased to have an excuse to return with you to that perfect afternoon in Savannah.

In the meantime, I want to give you something to eat, you must be famished. It should be both Low Country in inspiration but modern in consideration, like Savannah. Spoon bread, I thought. It is a very Southern article, surely. Having encountered dozens of recipes and made a handful of them as time went by, I have a favorite which I selected unfairly after failing to bake thousands of other recipes (later, later) and I share it with you now because it is as smooth as Savannah and we have loved it, hands down, since the arrival of Marion Cunningham's very fine book, Lost Recipes. I owe her a debt of thanks for reclaiming this recipe in particular as even the most selective eaters in our family devour this corn casserole, making the life of not just one hostess one spoonbread recipe easier.

Custard-Filled Corn Bread (Spoonbread)
Adapted from Lost Recipes by Marion Cunningham
Serves 8

I use a combination of whole milk and buttermilk if I have it on hand because I like the bite from the buttermilk. The original recipe calls for only "milk" and it will be fine to use 2 cups of whole but then you must also use 1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar.

In cooking and baking in general, "milk" refers to whole, unless otherwise stated.

I have used all manner of corn in this recipe without issue: fresh and canned. Why, last night I only half-heartedly drained off a small can of cream-style corn and pitched it into the batter (fearless, I know), so use whatever form of corn you have.

I like to throw cheddar cheese and hot sauce into this recipe at times. Maybe a bit of cheese and crispy pancetta (not Southern, but delicious). Maybe some chopped pimento. One could think of many lovely things...

2 eggs
3 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup corn kernels
1/2 cup roasted poblano pepper, about one pepper (optional)
1 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a Pyrex deep pie plate or a 2 quart casserole of any variety, and place into the oven to get hot until you are ready to transfer the batter into the pan (this step is crucial to forming the crunchy golden crust).

Put the eggs and melted butter in a mixing bowl and beat until well-blended. Add the sugar, salt, and milks, and beat once again until well-blended. Sift together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and baking soda. Add to the egg mixture and beat again just until the batter is smooth and there are no lumps remaining, do not over-beat. Stir in the corn kernels now, and the poblanos, or any other ingredients you may have selected (bacon, scallions, cheese, whathaveyou).

Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the batter gently into the pan. Pour the cream directly into the center of the casserole, allowing it to form a puddle there.
Bake for 50 minutes or until lightly browned.

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