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Recipes and Stories

22 November 2021: The Simple, Homey Comforts of Hoe Cakes

Hoecakes, or Corn Griddlecakes


Most of us have heard that old saw about how moving is as stressful as the loss of a job, the death of a spouse or close family member, a divorce, or a debilitating illness. Well, having been through all of those things, I can't say it's quite up to their level, but what I can tell you is that it gets more difficult with age.


Two months into our new life in Virginia, people ask if we're unpacked and settled; we look at one another, let out a sigh, and then laugh. On the surface, the house is beginning to look as if we've lived here for a long time. The boxes are all unpacked, a lot of the pictures are hanging, and shelves are filled with books.


But unpacked isn't settled and even though we'd been enjoying the house for two years before moving permanently into it, it's been more as a vacation spot than home, so we're still adjusting to the reality of living here full time.


It's probably no surprise that my cooking has been basic, simple, and heavy on comfort food. That last is, of course, deeply rooted in our individual experience, but when two lives come together, not only do our pasts get blended, so do our ideas of comfort. And over the course of our shared life, we add comforts we've discovered together.


One of them is old-fashioned "hoecakes." Both of us were raised on cornbread baked in an iron skillet in one thick, round cake and don't remember having cornmeal griddlecakes until I began writing about Southern food. And yet, there's just something about those crisp little cakes that comforts like the best of our childhood favorites.


Hoe Cakes


Cornmeal griddle cakes are among our oldest cornmeal-based breads. They can be composed of nothing more than meal, salt, and water or enriched, as this one is, with egg and buttermilk. Sometimes fresh corn kernels are stirred into the batter. Though more usually offered as an accompaniment to savory dishes, particularly beans or stewed greens such as collards or turnip tops, they can also be served with butter and syrup.


Serves 2-to-4, depending on the rest of the meal


1 cup fine stone-ground cornmeal

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 large egg, lightly beaten

About 1-1¼ cups whole milk buttermilk or plain, whole milk yogurt thinned to buttermilk consistency with water or milk

About 2 tablespoons melted bacon drippings, unsalted butter, or extra virgin olive oil


1. Sift or whisk together the meal, salt, and baking powder in a mixing bowl and make a well in the middle. In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs and ¾ cup of the buttermilk or thinned yogurt, and 1 tablespoon of the fat. Pour it into the dry ingredients and quickly stir it together into a fairly smooth batter, but don't worry if it is a little lumpy. It should be a pourable consistency like pancake batter. If it seems a little stiff and thick, add more buttermilk or yogurt as necessary until you have the right consistency. Set it aside for a few minutes.


2. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 175-225° F. (or the warm setting). Warm a well-seasoned iron or non-stick griddle or wide, shallow skillet over medium heat. When it's hot (water droplets flecked onto it should sizzle and dance but not instantly vaporize) lightly brush it with fat. Stir the batter again and pour it onto the griddle either from a pitcher or the pointed end of a large spoon in 2 tablespoonful-sized rounds, leaving about an inch between.


3. Cook until air bubbles begin to break the top surface at the center and the edges are beginning to set and brown. Turn and continue cooking until golden brown on both sides. Remove them to a rimmed sheet pan and keep them in the warm oven while you cook the remaining batter.


Recipe and some text adapted from Essentials of Southern Cooking © 2013 by Damon Lee Fowler, all rights reserved.

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