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Saturday, June 2, 2012

Hoe Cakes and Gravy

Growing up in a Southern family from Central Virginia, there are certain dishes that define my childhood, many of which you don't often see outside of the south--spoonbread; grits; chicken and dumplings; and my favorite, hoe cakes.  My grandmother would make the family hoe cakes when we would all visit her together around dinner time on Friday nights.  They were so simple and humble but to us, having never been able to get them anywhere else, they were very special.  Hoe cakes were a special treat that came only from Big Mama.  We'd all clamor near the stove and eat them fresh and hot, no forks or plates needed, grunting and moaning a wordless praise to this delicious taste of the old south. It was quite ironic, considering that my grandmother knew hoe cakes as undoubtedly poor man's food.

I never knew were the hoe cakes originated,but after some Googling I found that they became so named because they were originally cooked on hoes over a fire.  Back then, hoes were much wider and longer.  People would just clean them and cook away.  I should mention, also, that hoe cakes are different things to different people.  For me, hoe cakes are only the white flour, biscuit-like breads cooked on the stove top.  However, I found out a few years ago that there are also corn flour hoe cakes.  It appears that most people use the term to refer to the yellow corn flour cakes that are made the size of pancakes and are topped with maple syrup in the morning.  I made these last month and they were amazing, especially in a cast iron pan.  Some people may even know hoe cakes by other names-- (Indian) fry bread, skillet bread, or biscuit bread.

To make a long story short, I have no idea how or why this recipe died out.  To be honest, I am the only person under 65, that I know of, who makes this dish.  It is definitely a "foods of our grandmothers" type of thing.  Just the same, it's amazing!  In fact, my friend tried it today, along with my sausage gravy, and went absolutely crazy over it!  I eat hoe cakes with just about anything with a gravy or meat sauce to be sopped up, but my grandmother loves making them with leftover dumpling dough when she makes chicken and dumplings.  It's tons of starch, but that is her paradise.

Here is my favorite recipe.  Enjoy!

1 cup of white flour
1-1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 TB lard (or shortening)
1/2 cup buttermilk (or regular milk with 1 TB of white vinegar)

1 scant TB of butter and vegetable oil for frying

1. Blend dry ingredients until well incorporated, 1 minute or less.

2. Cut lard into flour until fat is pea-sized.  Preferable, do this with a biscuit cutter or with 2 knives
                 This will keep the fact cooler and more solid for optimum flaky tenderness.

3. Gradually stir in buttermilk until a soft dough is formed.  If dough is wet, add extra flour.

4. Heat a pan with a mixture of vegetable oil and butter to high heat.  Add just enough oil to prevent butter from burning.

5. Dust a flat surface with flour.  Flatten out dough with hands into a circle that is about 1/4" in thickness.  Do not leave the dough too thick as it will rise quite a bit.

6. Once pan is sizzling hot, add in dough and cover until browned and crispy.  It is ok if some of the browning spots are dark.  Reduce heat to medium, if necessary, bringing heat up again before next step.

7. Flip the hoe cake over.  Re-oil pan before cooking other side and re-cover.  This dish is not good when done on a dry pan.

8. Once browned on the outside and cooked throughout, enjoy!  This dish is best when eaten fresh and hot on the same day.  If you have leftovers, do not refrigerate them as they will remain more tender at room temperature.

My grandmother always makes a quick browned flour gravy to serve with our hoe cakes.

Recipe inspired by: (see photo here),

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