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Hoecakes: Food Of A Younger Land

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Hoecakes: Food Of A Younger Land


Hoecakes: Food Of A Younger Land

Hoecakes: Food Of A Younger Land

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Host Jacki Lyden digs into one food of a younger land with Chef Nancy Baggett. On the menu: hoecakes, a traditional subsistence food made of cornmeal, salt and water fried up in crispy cakes.


To dig a little deeper into the food of a younger land, we paid another visit to chef and cookbook author Nancy Baggett.

Hi, Nancy.

Ms. NANCY BAGGETT (Chef): Hi, how are you?

LYDEN: I'm great. It's fabulous to be here again.

Ms. BAGGETT: Thank you.

LYDEN: And today, we're going to make Grandma Smith's Mississippi hoecake from this wonderful Mark Kurlansky book, "The Food of a Younger Land."

Ms. BAGGETT: We are indeed, and I'm very excited because I'm very interested in the culinary history of America, and you can't get more historical and authentic than cornbread.

Now, this particular dish, hoecake, is not like what people think of cornbread when they go and get it at one of the fast-food chains today. It's subsistence fare.

LYDEN: Do they actually make them on hoes? Makes me want to run home and try it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BAGGETT: I hear that they did. By the 20th century, I think even poor cooks would probably have a big skillet where they cooked lots of the family meal.

LYDEN: So how do we begin?

Ms. BAGGETT: Well, we need a good corn, and basically, you could use either white or yellow cornmeal. What I'm doing is measuring out a cup of cornmeal. And for every six to eight cakes that you want, I would suggest a cup of cornmeal, and this is very flexible.

The thing about old-time American cooks is that they hardly ever measured anything. And so you can be pretty cavalier about just throwing things together.

Now, it does - what I found is it really depends greatly on the cornmeal that you're using, how much water. For every cup of cornmeal, depending on the brand that you use and how dry it is and how fresh it is and so on, you'll need three quarters. I'd start with two-thirds, three-quarters cup of water.

LYDEN: Couldn't be easier.

Ms. BAGGETT: Couldn't be easier. And for every cup of cornmeal, I suggest you use a scant half-teaspoon of salt. Now, I'm just going to add in the water here. You want a thick gruel, so…

LYDEN: Thick gruel, not - this is a little soupy.

Ms. BAGGETT: This is a little soupy, and these are going to look, when you make them, like pancakes, but they're not going to taste like pancakes and they don't have any leavening. These recipes date back to the time probably before anybody had baking soda or baking powder. So they're basically going to depend on nothing but the fat that basically crisps them. We need to make them thin.

(Soundbite of sizzling)

Ms. BAGGETT: With no further ado, let's make a few cakes, and this is a generous tablespoon, I would say. You don't want to make these too big. They don't hold together if you make great big ones. So these would be like small pancake size, and you notice I'm sort of patting them out into a round, and you want them thin enough that you get them - can get them nice and crisp on both sides. Now…

LYDEN: Do you ever do them with honey or something like that?

Ms. BAGGETT: You know, I read - was it Jefferson or Washington - were supposed to have liked them with butter and honey. These are just about ready. Are we about ready for tasting, perhaps? Okay.

LYDEN: Yeah. I hope we are because I would love to taste them.

Ms. BAGGETT: Hot off the griddle is the way to do it.

LYDEN: Oh, wow, this is the original hot off the griddle. Thank you. Mm.

Ms. BAGGETT: Very corny.

LYDEN: These are great, perfect for Memorial Day weekend.

Ms. BAGGETT: Absolutely.

LYDEN: Nancy Baggett, we always learn so much with you. Thank you so much.

Ms. BAGGETT: You're welcome.

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