Spoonful of comfort

Bread gets along well with the knife. A serrated one for slicing and a blunt one to handle the buttering. Perhaps a slotted one for trimming cheese to suit. Bread has no need for fork, or spoon.

Imagine my surprise, then, when my friend Michele showed up with a pan of spoon bread. Bread, she explained, served with a spoon.

Spoon bread, I learned, is made from cornmeal. It belongs to that broad category of cornmeal constructions whose particulars are hotly debated: skillet bread, cracklin' bread, cornbread, corn dodgers, johnnycakes and hush puppies. Its eggs are often whipped, giving the lowly bread lofty souffle-style ambitions.

Perhaps the spoon, with its rounded edges and the word "spoon," with its rounded center, not to mention its snuggling and canoodling connotations, spoon-fed the odd combo to the skeptic. "Spoon bread" promises comfort that "cornbread souffle" lacks.

And, as it happens, the dish is served with a spoon. Apparently in certain remote enclaves, the local cook bakes spoon bread dense and slices it with a knife. Causing the purist to draw knives. Spoon bread, the literalist argues, should be airy and tender, and served with a spoon.

Michele's spoon bread floated over a bedrock of wild rice, which I ignored. Wild rice always reminds me of rice, mingled with sticks. After she left, I messed around with her recipe, installing a satisfying layer of garlic-sauteed mushrooms under the cornbread cloud.

But I didn't dare mess with the basics. It's still spoon bread — meant to be served and savored with a spoon.

Leah Eskin is a Tribune newspapers special contributor.

leahreskin@aol.com

Spoon bread

Prep: 45 minutes

Cook: 1 hour

Makes: 8 servings

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 pound mushrooms (any mix you fancy), sliced

1 small onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 tablespoon sherry

2 green onions, chopped

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