Growing up in the summers at the Big House on Cinco Bayou, we would line up at the back door of the kitchen as soon as the word spread that my grandmother Lou Lou was frying up a batch of these beauties. I have watched her make them what seems like a hundred times, but mine have never ever tasted the same. For one thing, I am not eight years old and standing on the back stoop in my bathing suit, dripping wet, and waiting not so patiently for the taste of that fried cornbread smeared with a little butter. It's just so lip-smacking good. Crispy on the outside and moist and chewy like only soft cornbread can be on the inside.
The Baby Sister is working on the recipe. I drove over one night the time before last when I was home to taste hers. They were good. But I wasn't eight years and dripping wet at the back door standing in a line of cousins waiting for my turn...you get my drift.
I have a recipe I am happy to share with you novices who have never heard of a hoe cake or cornbread pattie, much less eaten one. However, no matter how hard you try, you will not likely be able to replicate a true hot fried cornbread experience. That, my friend, is reserved for but a few.
But you can try.
Keep in mind that this is not an exact science.
1. You will need a cast iron skillet. If you don't have one, you better not try this recipe. There is something about the seasoning in the skillet, the depth of the skillet, and the uniformity of the heat that the cast iron produces that are essential for success.
2. You will need bacon grease. Yes m'am. Crisco alone will not do. Nor will any canola or vegetable oil, or heaven forbid, extra virgin olive oil. You might be able to mix some bacon grease with the aforementioned substitutes, but you must have some bona fide form of lard and Crisco alone does not suffice.
3. You will need cornmeal. Real cornmeal ground in a local grist mill is best, but most of you have no idea what I am talking about. Go ahead and buy your Aunt Jemima if you must, but if you can get your hands on some local yellow or white corn meal, do it. It will be ten times better, trust me.
3. White Lily self-rising flour. You will only need a couple of tablespoons, but it is an important ingredient. White Lily is only acceptable brand left other than Martha White for a tried and true Southerner. Neither of these girls will let you down.
4. Real butter. No fake and bake here. Unsalted or salted. Whatever, just make sure it is butter. That's B-U-T-T-er.
Now for some accompaniments.
Buttermilk. Pretty soon you won't be able to buy this in the grocery stores. I am already seeing a dearth of it up here in the upper South. My dear grandmother would roll over in the grave. She loved this stuff and so does my Momma. Momma used to drink a big glass every night just before bed. Truth be told, I don't care much for the stuff, but if you are gonna have a true Southerner experience, you need to have some buttermilk and cornbread. Real aficionados will dip their hot cornbread in their buttermilk or crumble it up in their glass.
Peas. You need a mess of field peas. Not crowders. Little tiny green and white field peas. Hoecakes or cornbread patties go best with peas and a little pot likker, washed down with a tall glass of cold buttermilk.
Now for the recipe:
Cornmeal about 2 cups
2 Tablespoons of self-rising flour
(Some people put an egg in theirs, but I see no need. However, you can add an egg if you want.)
Melt your bacon grease in your cast iron skillet. You want a thin layer of bacon grease, just enough to come up about halfway on your cornbread patties, but not completely submerge them. The hoecakes are fried, but not deep fried.
Mix your 2 cups of cornmeal together with the two Tablespoons of self-rising flour. Add salt. Take your fork and stir it up thoroughly. Next heat up two cups of water in the microwave until just about boiling and pour it into your mixture in increments. You will want your hoecake mixture to be about the consistency of a thick paste. Next up are your hands. Yep, you are gonna have to get messy with this recipe. Using your hands, form little patties and immediately start sliding them into the hot grease. Work quickly. If your dough gets too stiff, add a little water. Do not let the patties touch. Your grease should not be so hot that it is smoking, but it should be hot enough to immediately begin frying the cakes. You will only turn the hoecakes ONCE. Wait to turn them until the sides begin to turn brown. Look at the picture above again to help you gauge this. Remove, drain on paper towels, butter them with softened butter and start handing them out to whomever is in the kitchen. Best if eaten immediately.
If your first batch is a little greasy, either remove some of the grease or turn your heat up.
Obviously making cornbread patties is a trial and error experience. That's the way most Southerners like it. It's not an exact science. But then again, most of what we do down here is not an exact science. You cook with your heart and your taste buds. And you eat in community. Hoecakes are the ultimate in community food because they are not much good when they are cold. So make sure there's a crowd in the kitchen or outside on the stoop when you start cooking these beauties.
Here are some of the cousins at about the age when we were lining up at the back door, jockeying for whom would get the first cornbread pattie. In case you are at a loss to identify yours truly, I am the one on the far left. My other grandmother made my bathing suit, and I really loved that pom pom trim.
And this is a picture of the Big House. It was the Big House because there is a tiny little house that sits behind it that you cannot see (not to be confused with the pump house on the far right). Calling it the Big House might be a misnomer to some, but it certainly looms larger than life itself in the canon of my memory.
|The beloved Big House, Yacht Club Drive, Cinco Bayou|