Have you ever had a hoecake? On a Saturday in October, I found myself in Oxford, Mississippi and that’s what I had for breakfast—hoecakes.
I was attending the 11th Annual Southern Foodways Symposium. 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.
- 1 cup yellow cornmeal
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup boiling water
- 2 tablespoons bacon grease
- Butter, for serving
- Stir together the cornmeal and salt, then pour in the boiling water and stir until a thick batter is formed.
- Allow it the batter to cool for 10 minutes or until it thickens. Working with your hands, form 8 patties out of the batter.
- On medium heat, melt the the bacon grease in a skillet. Working in batches, add the patties to the skillet and cook for about 4 minutes, turning once, or until the edges are crisp and browned
- Serve warm with butter.