An Ancient Bread
My grandmother loved her cornbread. Not the kind you baked, but the flatbread cakes that you fried in a cast iron skillet. There’s lots of names for these tasty little rounds of cooked cornmeal: hoe cakes, Johnny cakes, or corn cakes, but Granny just called hers fried cornbread.
She ate one or more of the cakes at nearly every meal. I turned my little nose up at the fried concoction, preferring Wonder bread to anything so old-fashioned. Some say the Native Americans introduced us to cooking flatbread on heated rocks inside an open fire. Come to think of it, this could be an ancestral thing. Granny grew up in Virginia, where the Scotch-Irish co-habited with the Patawomec Indians and took on some of their cooking habits.
I ran onto a recipe for fried cornbread while thumbing through one of Paula Deen’s cookbooks. I’m told that her so-called Hoe Cakes are served in the breadbasket at her Savannah restaurant. Her cornbread recipe looked a lot more elegant than my grandmother’s version, that only contained plain cornmeal, hot water and a bit of salt. Paula’s calls for self-rising flour and cornmeal, eggs, buttermilk and even a smidge of sugar.
I mixed up a batch and was pleasantly surprised at how easy it went together. The bread came out of the skillet just as it should—slightly puffy in the middle and crispy on the edges. Just right! Like my grandmother, I put some butter on them.
But they’re also yummy with syrup, honey, or Martha’s pear preserves. (She’s my neighbor who shares.) And perfect for sopping up the flavorful “pot likker.” America’s Test Kitchen suggests stacking pulled pork between two cornbread cakes. I’ve never done that, but why not?
- 1 cup self-rising flour
- 1 cup self-rising cornmeal
- 2 eggs
- 1 Tbs. sugar
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 1/3 cup, plus 1 Tbs. water
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil or bacon grease
- Oil or butter for frying
Mix all ingredients except for the frying oil. Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Drop about 2 tablespoons of batter on to hot skillet for each cake. Brown until crisp, turn and brown on other side. Drain on paper towels. Leftover batter will keep in refrigerator for up to two days. Makes about 16 cakes of 3″ to 4″ in size.