I grew up eating what I know as a corn casserole and what you might know as a spoon or bowl of corn. It’s not quite cornbread, but neither is it a casserole or layered gratin. Calling it magic might be a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. As far back as I can remember, every Thanksgiving, my grandmother served a corn casserole as a side dish alongside other classics: mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, rolls, works. But the corn casserole is in a league of its own. Grandma always serves it in an opaque brown glass Pyrex bowl with a large spoon to serve large scoops. You don’t have to do it that way, but in my book, it’s the only way to do it. It’s grandmother’s way.
If you’ve never tasted corn casserole, it’s creamy and sweet, golden brown on top and pale yellow below the surface. It’s sprinkled with whole kernels of corn so you get a light crunch without distracting from the super-humid pan. On turkey day, I help myself to seconds and thirds and bring some home for a late night snack (i.e. 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving night, about five hours after having finished eating).
For years, I thought the corn casserole was something my grandmother had invented. After all, she’s the superstar behind other top of the Caron family’s list like the anise sugar cookies for Christmas, a perfectly plump, cheesy and cheesy lasagna for Father’s Day and a cream pie. banana for my grandpa’s birthday (it’s his all-time favorite and one of mine too). I thought I was in an elite class of 11 family members who had the honor and privilege of eating a pot of corn on Thanksgiving.
But when I was 10, I asked my parents to help me film my own home cooking show. I was completely obsessed with Giada de Laurentiis and wanted to play the role of host of “Food Network”. The show was titled “Seasonal Cooking with Kelly Vaughan” and the theme song was performed by your servant on the clarinet. (Naturally, I won a few Emmys and Grammys.) In the first of two episodes, I decided to try my hand at making Grandma’s Corn Casserole. I asked her for the recipe and she gave me a handwritten card that only asked for six ingredients – a mix of Jiffy corn muffins, sour cream, eggs, melted butter, a can of creamed corn and a can of whole kernel corn. I was shocked that it wasn’t a recipe entirely from scratch that she had invented.
The history of cornbread
Let’s go back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Long before grandma made a corn casserole with corn muffin mix, long before a regular cornbread recipe called for buttermilk, eggs, sour cream, and melted butter and was done in a cast iron skillet or muffin pan, Native Americans made bread with ground corn, salt, water, and bear or pork fat, according to Charles Reagan Wilson, editor of “The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture”.
The bread would either be baked in a fireplace with coals (a style of bread known as a “pone”), over hoes (for what we now call hoecakes), or baked in boiling water (for a version of a johnnycake). It wasn’t until the 19th century that home cooks began making other variations of cornbread like hushpuppies, grilled cakes, and corn muffins, and experimented with adding ingredients. like sugar, eggs, self-rising flour and onions, Wilson says.
Spoon bread (or corn casserole) made from butter, milk and eggs was not introduced until after the Civil War. However, he caused a stir once he made his debut in the company. “Spoon bread is perhaps the highest culinary achievement of cornbread,” Wilson writes. “[Writer] Redding S. Sugg Jr. called it “the apotheosis of cornbread,” and [restauranteur and author of “Bill Neal’s Southern Cooking”] Bill Neal called it “an elegant soufflé; the legendary spoon bread, a pillar of the aristocratic southern table. [Journliast and civil rights activist] John Egerton described it as “a steaming dish as light as a feather”.
Looks like I’m not the only one mesmerized by the cloud-shaped creation that is Spoon Bread, aka Jiffy’s Corn Casserole.
Wilson explains that as cornbread recipes evolved throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, southerners were more likely to make theirs with yellow cornmeal, and northerners were more likely to make their own with yellow cornmeal. are turned to white corn bread. Cornbread has become an integral part of American cuisine, especially in Black American culinary traditions. And if you’re wondering, Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix is made with yellow cornmeal, which means their corn casserole recipe is more traditionally Southern.
It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that Jiffy invented his now-valuable corn casserole recipe. At the time, it was developed under the name “Corn Bowl”. The corn bowl recipe first appeared in the 1960s as a tear-off sheet in retail grocery stores. In 1976 the recipe was renamed “Spoonbread” and republished in Jiffy’s very first cookbook. In 1995, I was born and probably started eating corn casserole as soon as my pediatrician got his approval.
Even though I feel like I’ve eaten corn stew on Thanksgiving my whole life, Grandma can’t remember exactly when she first started doing it. However, his most epic feat was making a triple batch for the Vaughan Oktoberfest, an annual party my parents hosted on the weekend of Indigenous Peoples Day, our own version of the German festival. “I made a triple recipe in a large lasagna pan for Oktoberfest,” she said. When I told her she should do a triple batch every year for Thanksgiving, she laughed and said “As long as I don’t have to do the turkey.”
If you’re not going to make Jiffy’s original corn casserole in a lasagna pan, Grandma has some tips for making this a more manageable serving. “It could be done in any four or five inch pan. I wouldn’t do it in a pie plate because it has to be thick. But you can also do it in a loaf pan.” A loaf of corn in a casserole dish ?! I think we just invented something new, grandma! A few years ago I tried making my own version of corn casserole entirely from scratch, no Jiffy corn muffin mix was needed. I added some fresh sage, swapped for sour cream instead of the usual sour cream, cooked it in a cast iron skillet, and even showed how to prepare it on a local TV show in the Connecticut (my dreams of hosting “Food Network” were finally coming to fruition). The recipe was good, but not as good as Grandma’s.
But then again, we’re not the only ones trying to reinvent the classic. Forty-five years after posting the first recipe for “Corn Bowl,” Jiffy updated the recipe with an all-new Street Corn Spoon Bread recipe, a modern iteration of a mid-century side dish. This is the first time that the brand has changed the recipe. But I still stick to that of grandmother. Whether she invented it or not, she perfected it.
Recipe: Jiffy “Corn Casserole”
Preparation time: 10 minutes
cooking time: 35 min
Makes: 2 quart casserole dish
- 8 tablespoons of melted margarine
- 1 can (8 oz) creamed corn
- 1 can (8 oz.) Kernel corn, drained
- 1 cup sour cream
- 2 eggs
- 1 package “Jiffy” Corn Muffin Mix
- Heat the oven to 375. Butter a 1 1/2 or 2 quart casserole dish.
- In a greased baking dish, add the margarine and corn. Stir in sour cream. Beat eggs together and stir into saucepan with corn muffin mix. Mix well.
- Bake for about 35 minutes.
- Serve hot with butter.