Grits, cornmeal, milk, eggs, butter and a whole lot of history—these are the ingredients of the classic casserole called Awendaw. This is South Carolina comfort food dating back to the Native Americans who named the river and surrounding area of the Lowcountry where they lived, Awendaw. According to Anson Mills, these indigenous people produced some of the finest native corn around. They used it in many ways, including to make the forerunner of this time-honored dish that continues to deliver gustatory pleasure.
A variation of the original name, “Owendaw,” Awendaw is a creamy, fluffy, soufflé-like dish that makes a particularly tasty accompaniment for meals built around local seafood, country ham, baked or fried chicken and just about any traditional meat. For a somewhat elevated shrimp and grits experience, let Awendaw stand in as the starchy foundation. Drizzle it with cream or gravy for a richer flavor or let it stand alone in all its rustic glory. Pair the casserole with crispy bacon for breakfast. The grits and eggs are already in there.
Food historians point to an 1847 cookbook, “The Carolina Housewife,” as the source of the first published Awendaw recipe. Written by Sarah Rutledge of Charleston, whose father, Edward, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the instructions and spellings are reflective of the times. But her description of the texture applies just as well to modern-day interpretations:
Owendaw Corn Bread
Take about two teacups of hommony, and while hot mix with it a very large spoonful of butter (good lard will do); beat four eggs very light and stir them into the hommony; next add about a pint of milk, gradually stirred in; and lastly, half a pint of corn meal. The batter should be the consistency of a rich boiled custard; if thicker, add a little more milk. Bake with a good deal of heat at the bottom of the oven, and not too much at the top, so as to allow it to rise. The pan in which it is baked ought to be a deep one, to allow space for rising. It has the appearance, when cooked, of a baked batter pudding, and when rich, and well mixed, it has almost the delicacy of a baked custard.
Spoonbread, custard, soufflé, pudding or casserole—Awendaw by any other name still means the same thing: deliciousness. It lends itself well to additions, too, like cheese, green chiles and fresh corn kernels. But if you use freshly milled South Carolina grits and cornmeal, you won’t want to mask the earthy corn flavor. Order direct from one of our many outstanding grits and cornmeal producers like Anson Mills, Colonial Milling, Altman Farm and Mill, or Marsh Hen Mill. Then try your hand at this easy-to-make version of what just might be South Carolina’s oldest casserole.
1 cup SC stone-ground grits, (cooked according to package directions)
3 farm-fresh eggs, lightly beaten
1 egg white, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup milk
½ cup SC yellow cornmeal (plain)
¾ teaspoon salt
Butter to coat baking dish
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a mixing bowl, lightly beat eggs with the egg white. Gradually stir in 1 cup of warm, cooked grits. Mix well, then transfer to a pot. Add butter and stir until melted. Whisk in buttermilk, milk, cornmeal and salt. Remove from heat, pour into a buttered 2-quart casserole dish and pop it into the oven. Bake for one hour or until set and the top is golden brown. Spoon up immediately.