Joseph’s Hoecakes

Hoecakes, johnnycakes, ashcakes, griddle cakes, Shawnee cakes—all are styles of cornpone that can be traced back to the original Indians, Colonial settlers, and black slaves, who cooked these primitive breads on iron sheets, flat rocks, and the metal ends of hoes over open fires. This particular recipe was obtained years ago from my family’s loyal black waiter, Joseph, in the gracious dining room of The Patricia Inn at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (today a sad shadow of its former self)—the same waiter who taught me how to surf-fish for spots and bluefish and who introduced us to any number of local rice breads. These are the simplest hoecakes imaginable, but slathered with butter, the hot patties are utterly addictive at any meal.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups white cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons bacon grease

Method

In a large mixing bowl, combine the cornmeal and salt, then pour on the boiling water in a slow, steady stream, beating constantly with a wooden spoon till the batter is smooth. For each hoecake, pat in your hands about 2 tablespoons of the batter into a flat round 3 to 4 inches in diameter, and continue patting till all the batter is used up, flouring your hands if necessary.

Heat about 1 tablespoon of the bacon grease in a large, cast-iron skillet over high heat, reduce the heat to low, add a few of the hoecakes, and fry till golden brown and crisp, about 2 minutes on each side. Repeat with the remaining grease and hoecakes, transferring them to a platter and keeping them as hot as possible till served.

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