Thursday, October 30, 2008

From hoecakes to hope

Have you ever had a hoecake? Last Saturday, I found myself in Oxford, Mississippi and that’s what I had for breakfast—hoecakes.

I was attending the 11th Annual Southern Foodways Symposium. This year, the theme was drinkways and true to form, that morning there were on offer cool jugs of thick, tart buttermilk dotted with flecks of butter. But it was the hoecakes that held my attention and left me craving more.

Hoecakes, at least where I’m from, aren’t that common. My great-grandma Blanche used to make them, but she was the last one in my family to prepare them on a regular basis. In Oxford, we were eating them for breakfast, smothered in sweet sorghum syrup, but my great-grandma used to serve them instead at lunch and dinner in place of cornbread.

It’s said they are named hoecakes because field workers cooked them on their hoes hovered over an open flame. They’re also known as Johnnycakes, ashcakes or hot-water cornbread, as my great-grandmother called them. But no matter what you say, cornmeal is the key to hoecakes. There are countless recipes for hoecakes, but at their most basic they are made with just cornmeal, hot water and salt.


Hoecakes are crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Sometimes, they come stuffed with chewy cracklin’s, as were the ones I ate in Oxford. I’ve also heard stories of people adding green onions, corn or chiles to their hoecakes. I, however, prefer mine plain topped with a spread of sweet butter and a sprinkle of salt.

The best thing about hoecakes is their economy. They cost little to make but yield large returns for both the mouth and the stomach. A hoecake’s simplicity is a palliative for these complex times.

Now, if you’re like me, you’re excited by next Tuesday’s election. But as thrilling as this election may be (whichever side wins, history will be made!), it’s also been exhausting. I knew long ago who I was voting for, but I still insisted on devouring every debate, speech, interview and article I could find. And considering that I’ve been following this road to the White House ever since Obama gave a speech in Austin in March 2007, it’s been a long journey indeed.

In honor of next Tuesday’s election, I’ve decided to make a batch of hoecakes except I will be calling them instead, hope cakes.

So, let’s hope that whoever is elected will be a good steward of our trust and bounty. Let’s hope that whoever is elected will make wise decisions regarding our relations with the world. Let’s hope that whoever is elected will fight for justice. Let’s hope that whoever is elected will promote the dignity and freedom of every person.

And, perhaps most important of all, let’s hope that whoever is elected will restore our nation’s equilibrium—so we no longer think in shades or red or blue but instead one glorious shade of purple.

Hoecakes
(aka hope cakes)
Ingredients
1 cup of cornmeal
1 cup of boiling water
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons of bacon grease, lard or oil

Method:
1. Mix boiling water in with cornmeal and salt until thick batter is formed.
2. Allow it to cool for ten minutes, and then form patties.
3. Heat fat in skillet, and cook patties for a few minutes on each side.
Makes 8

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53 comments:

Jennywenny said...

I think this is why I like obama, that he dares to hope, or at least instill hope in others.

Christie said...

I love that this post is about HOPE! Great theme for a shaky feeling future.

Also, I do love hoe cakes :)

Laurin of Laurin and Kelly Talk said...

Hey, my old stompin grounds. I went to law school in Oxford. Now I'm missing the Gin and Rebel deli food. I wonder if they're still there.

Love hoe cakes and love your peaceful political comments. I hope too.

lisaiscooking said...

'Purple states' sounds like a great idea. And, your hope cakes look scrumptious!

Rapunzel210 said...

I make these. My mama was a Texan and made these regularly but we called them "fried cornbread." In Alabama (I was married for a while to an Alabamian!), hoecakes are pretty much biscuits you cook on top of the stove, and fried cornbread is deep fried from a loose batter of cornmeal, self-rising flour, and water.

I love these, and now I shall call them hoecakes! And yes--let's pray for purple. I wish us all peace. Peace and hoecakes!

mike said...

I only know of hoecakes as Alton Brown did one of his nutty (in the best possible sense) shows about their history.

I have to say though...this is one recipe I will NOT try to duplicate.

Amy C Evans said...

Those we some damn good hoecakes, you're not lyin'. There are some good ones to be had at Edna's Restaurant in Chicago, and Papa KayJoe's BBQ in Centerville, TN (also home to Mrs. Armstrong's fried pies, which should NOT be missed), serves their pork sandwiches on hoecakes. Really, you can't go wrong with a hoecake--er, hopecake;) And you definitely deserve extra points for fashioning letters from that batter of yours. Lovely.

Anonymous said...

I live in the Northeast now and across the border, in Rhode Island, these are called johnnycakes. There's even a Senior Center called the Johnnycake Center. Wherever and whatever...they're delish!

Homesick Texan said...

Jennywenny--It's good to hope!

Christie--I have a newfound love for hoecakes, too!

Laurin--I think I may have to post about that Oxford gas-station delicacy, chicken-on-a-stick, soon.

Lisaiscooking--Yay for the color purple!

Rapunzel--That's sort of like what my great-grandma called them--hot-water cornbread. And I didn't know hoecakes meant something different in Alabama.

Mike--Isn't Alton wonderful? The best thing happening on Food Network right now.

Amy--Fried pies and pork-hoecake sandwiches? It sounds like a trip to Centerville, TN is in order!

Anon--Like Shakespeare wrote, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Ken Wheaton said...

I've come to pour mcCane syrup all over your Hopecakes.

Homesick Texan said...

Ken--Would you like some Low Effort Wealth Spread to go with your syrup?

Nabeela said...

and Amen to that!

The Öbergs said...

Like many others and yourself included, I'm a Homesick Texan. But time and time again, your recipes always are authentic to my memory.

Thank you...and here's to HOPE!!!

Jerry said...

I have a Paula Dean hoecake mix, I guess I have to make it now. Never had them, never seen them in Texas.

Crafty Chick said...

I find myself waiting for your next post, checking your site every day now to see the comments. Love the sound of the Hoecakes. will be making them as a side dish.

King Politics said...

Hi. I'm a Homesick Texan myself living in Oxford, MS. Wish I had make contact with you sooner. I may have even run into you at City Grocery. Go Hope.

Jodie said...

BEGINNING OF POLITICAL RANT // I would vote for painting the country purple! I'm in the minority here in Texas. It's no fun being a Democrat in Collin County Texas... only Republicans run for office, so I never get to select them as I don't vote in their primary. ;-) I think all local/county/school board/judge offices should be REALLY non-partisan, not just lip service to being sort of non-partisan. That's the state of Texas politics in my neck of the woods (prairie). END OF RANT //
P.S. I've never had a hoe cake but I've had plenty of great buttermilk cornbread. Once while staying in R.I. for a wedding, I did have JohnnyCakes for breakfast. They were yummy. I'll give this a try. Maybe my low carb hubby will try it. He's given up all the white & brown carb foods: all potatoes, all pasta, all rice and most bread.

Helene said...

Never heard or even eaten these. Looks yummy.

Jesse said...

Have you had them topped with beans and salsa? YUM!

C. Beth said...

These look delicious--looking forward to trying them!
-Beth (fellow Texan)

Esmeralda said...

I am a very Homesick Texan now living in northeast England. I discovered hoecakes back home in Austin, TX. One of my favorite hangouts is a great restaurant called Hoover's Cooking which serves some of the best home-style food. They have this awesome breakfast called "Chicken 'n' Cakes" where you can select a chicken item (pieces of fried chicken or BBQ chicken, chicken 'n' dumplings, honey BBQ wings) AND pancakes (hoecakes, buttermilk, sweet potato, blueberry, gingerbread, banana nut). My favorite combination is hoecakes with BBQ chicken drizzled with pure maple syrup. It is addictive.

jana said...

They make these in the shape of little sticks at the Stagecoach Inn in Salado, TX. Absolutely fantastic!

suburban housefrau said...

Did you all watch the latest Alton Brown "Feasting on Waves"? Each place he went had their own version of Johnny/hoe cakes. It was very interesting. and yummy! Alton, he got addicted. ;)

daynaba said...

Wow, neat story and recipe! I have the Ingredients for this! However, the real reason i wanted to comment was your statement on the election. I LOVE the HOPE message, and I think it's WONDERFUL, honest, real, and above all, PURPLE! Thanks for that!!

Julie said...

Amen to your last two paragraphs. So well said.

Hoecakes are something I've only read about and I was under the impression that they were plain, dry pioneer-type fare, but seeing them up close like this I see I was wrong about them. They look delicious.

Anonymous said...

Making hoecakes with your Mom in honor of your comments. Love your blog.
Grandma J.

Anonymous said...

What is sorghum syrup like ? What is sorghum syrup ?

Alton hasn't covered this yet.

Homesick Texan said...

Nabeela--Thanks!

The Obergs--Yay, hope!

Jerry--What's in her hoecake mix?

Crafty Chick--They go great with beans and rice

King Politics--If you were there at night, I was upstairs!

Jodie--I don't know how many carbs are in cornmeal, but it can't be as bad as white flour.

Helene--They are indeed yummy!

Jesse--They remind me of sopes, which are great topped with beans and salsa.

C. Beth--Enjoy!

Esmeralda--I'm making that this weekend--sounds wonderful!

Jana--I keep hearing about the Stagecoach Inn--I SO need to go there!

Suburban Housefrau--I didn't see that but will look out for it reruns.

Daynaba--Yay purple!

Julie--They're plain but they can be moist, especially if you use lots of butter!

Grandma J.--Have fun! Wish I could join y'all!

Anon--It's syrup made from sorghum stalks, which is a wheat. If you're in Tennessee, Slow Food Memphis is having a sorghum syrup tasting tomorrow, Nov. 1: http://www.slowfoodmemphis.com/events.html

Paula said...

I love your hope-cakes! I've never had these, but I love polenta, and these are very similar. Hope you had a great trip!

GirlonTour said...

Yum you are making me hungry! This look fantastic!

Brave Sir Robin said...

HOPE!!!!!

I knew I liked you for more than your food!!

My grandmother (paternal) made these for breakfast when I went to visit. Sorghum was the only syrup ever used in her house.

Anonymous - It is somewhat similar to molasses.

Anonymous said...

Yes! We had these growing up. We called them hot water cornbread. Delicious and super easy to make! Thanks for the memory... Kurt

homesickhoustonian said...

I've never seen you make any kind of political commentary. Well done.

Lately this site's not letting me log in from livejournal. Weird.

popeyemoon said...

I am going to make me a pot of pinto beans,and some hope cakes tonight.Wish i had some purple hull peas.

Randy said...

I've never heard of the hoecakes, but a lot of of southern influenced Texas food doesn't quite get to West Texas.

The purple state idea is a nice wish, though red staters (those in red states, and those who lean red but live in blue states) will no more go along with a blue government than the blue staters went along with the Bush presidency.

But as for the hoecakes, I'm thinkin' a pot of pinto beans, as mentioned above, fits the bill perfectly.

C. Beth said...

I just made these for dinner. How in the world have I lived 31 years without realizing that there's a dish out there that tastes like cornbread, only better andeasier to make?! They were fantastic with honey.

Thank you for making my tastebuds very happy with such an easy recipe. My life somehow feels more complete now....

Jerry said...

Ingredients in Paula Deen's hoecake mix: yellow cornmeal, unbleached flour, buttermilk, sugar, baking powder

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a good recipe! I'll certainly have to try it. As far as the politics go, I'm a Libertarian, and I hope for more than purple. And, to be quite honest, if you were hoping for purple, McCain is far more bipartisan than Obama (an unfortunate truth). But, I think Obama will win regardless - and I'm wondering exactly what changes that will bring. For now, however, these hoecakes will be a nice change in my kitchen ;)

Bee said...

I like the way you've spread a little bit of non-partisan hope around. One of the most wearying things about the long drawn-out election is that it whips up that divisive us against them mentality.

Oxford, MISS seems like more than a million miles away from me right now . . . but I've been craving cornbread lately. Sometimes the simple things are what really nourish us.

twobarkingdogs said...

I am really enjoying you blog and recipes, and I'm not an ex-Texan! I have driven through Texas a few times (fast). Does that count?

Kalyn said...

I've never had hoecakes, but they do sound lovely with a big dish of hope on the side.

mothermayi said...

wow this is a great blog, and I've added you onto my blog...if you have some time, please check it out, and let me know what you think, as i've just started food blogging...

and I will definitely make your ashcakes, as well as your grandma's chocolate pie...can't wait to try it out and eat it cold!

Mike and Jill said...

Love the hoecakes and love your idea of hope. I'm hoping post-election we will have hope again in our country and the direction we're headed!
You make this Texas girl miss home!
j

Jazzy said...

I've never had a hoecake but always wanted to try them...what a perfect way to eat them!

Anonymous said...

Hot water cornbread and greens sandwich. It is what I tell people I eat just for the reaction. Typical reaction form old southern woman," I sorry. Are you pooorrrr?"

JorgeGirl

Anonymous said...

Being a homesick Dallas, Texan in Chicago, I made these Saturday night for my friends (one from Iowa and the other from the Southside of Chicago)...one of which never had soul food. Anyhow, I made these, black-eyed peas, and collards. They were so delicious. I couldn't believe it!!! You must make them if you never have. You won't believe how tasty and simple they are.

So, my aunt makes these, and she calls them Hot-water cornbread. My aunt and my mom are from Maud, TX (East Texas) and fabulous cooks. Anyhow, she's always made them for my mom, but my Aunt can't seem to tell her how to make them. In my family, you can't get a recipe out of us to save your life, and even just last night my mom called me asking how to make one of HER dishes she made when I was growing up.

So, I was absolutely thrilled to see this recipe on your sight. I immediately called my mom to tell her how to make them. My mom recalls that my Aunt also added chile powder to hers. So thank you! This recipe will now be one to pass down to future generations!

Allison

Olivia said...

I read this just in time - the day before I heard hoe cakes referred to in True Blood which is set in Louisiana and I laughed because thanks to you I knew just what they referred to!

TexasDeb said...

Thanks for the recipe HT - I made these along with purple eye peas (from Mexia, Tx) to eat while watching election returns. They were wonderful - and the hoecakes were great, too!

Also - made your gpa's pancakes yesterday AM (with pecans of course) and they were the best. We raised a glass of fresh squeezed grapefruit juice to his memory.

jbeach said...

LOVE these. So creative! I'm amazed at how you made these letters...
I posted the NYTimes Obama front page -- check it out!! :)

Anonymous said...

I will be in Oxford this weekend! Love that place! and no, the Gin and Rebel Deli are long gone, Dangit!
The Gin had the best plate lunches(MEAT AND THREE). And Rebel Deli had these great steamed sandwiches. Smoked Turkey and Hot PePPer Cheese on Onion roll. Oh Yea.

maedeans said...

How did I get to be 71 years old without eating a single hoecake? After all those years of camping when we wanted cornbread but thought we didn't have a way to cook it under our circumstances while camping, it was there staring us in the face all the time...
http://maedeans.blogspot.com/2008/11/hoecakes.html

thorntonwilliamsfamily said...

What a wonderful idea - one of your readers sent me a link to your hoecakes, and wow! Great recipe! Thanks for posting it. Vikki (former-5-yr-texan) www.food-self-sufficiency.blogspot.com

LJ. said...

WOW!!!! I have been wondering for nearly 4 years what a hoecake was. Come to find out, I've been eating them all my life (though not as pretty as these) under the moniker of hot-water cornbread. Great to see some good ol' southern eatin' on a blog!

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