President Abraham Lincoln and President George Washington are both documented as loving Hoecakes for breakfast. According to Donna McCreary's cookbook Lincoln's Table, Abraham Lincoln once said that he could eat "corn cakes twice as fast as two women could make them". The Mount Vernon Organization confirms Hoecakes were among George Washington's favorite foods. Both President's loved them drenched in butter and syrup or sorghum.
Hoecakes are basically fried cornmeal patties. The simple recipe just uses cornmeal, boiling water and salt to form a batter, and then fried in bacon fat until golden brown. You get a crispy, crunchy exterior and a soft mushy center. The butter and syrup are the frosting on the cake.
Hoe cakes are generally a Southern dish. They are also called Johnny Cakes, Cormeal Pancakes, Corn Pone, or even Cornmeal Fritters, depending on the ingredients and methods used. Some recipes add flour and eggs to make them more like pancakes. Buttermilk is popular to activate the baking soda or powder for lift. The recipe in the Lincoln's Table is called Knob Creek Corn Cakes from his days in Kentucky, and adds eggs and buttermilk but no flour. The Hoe Cake recipe used on the Mount Vernon.org website uses the simple recipe with yeast added and an overnight fermentation.
Even thought his has nothing to do with President's Day I learned that the cookbook, True Blood: Eats, Drinks and Bites from Bon Temps, based on the TV hit True Blood, even has a recipe called "Holy HoeCakes". Strangely enough it is similar to the one I used here.
Some tips for making a simple version of hoecakes:
Tip Number 1: Make the batter thick enough to form a patty in your hands
Tip Number 2: Use stone-ground cornmeal (or polenta) for the best results. White or yellow cornmeal is fine.
Tip Number 3: Let the boiling water and cornmeal sit for 20-30 minutes to soften the cornmeal.
Tip Number 4: Fry in a good amount of fat for best results. I used a combination of butter and peanut oil, but any fat will work.
Hoecakes: The Breakfast of Presidents
- 1 cup of stone-ground yellow cornmeal or polenta
- 1 cup of boiling water
- 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
- 2 tablespoons butter
- ¼ cup peanut oil
- Add boiling water to cornmeal and salt in a small bowl and whisk until a thick batter forms. Let sit for 20 -30 minutes or until the batter has cooled and the cornmeal softened.
- Heat butter and peanut oil in a non-stick skillet over high heat.
- Using your hands, scoop a palmful (approximate scant ¼ cup) of cornmeal batter and form a patty. It will be sticky. Gently and carefully place the patty in the hot oil. Turn down the heat to medium and cook for 3 minutes on each side or until golden brown and crispy. You many want to flatten the hoecake with the spatula before turning over. Continue making the rest of the hoecakes. Do not overcrowd the pan. Transfer finished hoecakes to drain on paper towels to absorb excess grease.
- Serve with lots of butter and maple syrup while hot.