Try this fun 18th century colonial cornbread recipe with your kids this Fourth of July. Hoecakes: a Revolutionary War recipe.
I thought I’d do something a little interesting and different here on My Beautiful Mess. Since July 4th is upon us, I thought I’d share a simple recipe for hoecakes: a Revolutionary War recipe. This Independence Day, why not try something our founding fathers used to eat.
What Are Hoecakes
American Southerners were the first to create this cornbread patty. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure how to describe it. I did a lot of research before trying this recipe a few times. Hoecakes resemble pancakes, but they aren’t. At best, they might qualify as a distant cousin. Pancakes are soft and fluffy and made with flour. Hoecakes are denser, tougher, and to me, almost seem like a hybrid between pancakes and corn tortillas.
A Quick History
In England in the 1600’s, a hoe was the name of what we now know as a griddle. Back then, it was common to bake cakes on griddles. In fact, cooking was very different back then. Food was cooked by a fireplace, specifically on the hearth. Cooks would place the pots and hoes on the hearth to cook. Then they’d move the pots close or far away from the fire depending on how hot it needed to be. Without cooking thermometers, women determined the temperature by how many seconds they could withstand the heat when their arm was placed in the fireplace (oven). Crazy, right? And you thought cooking today was a chore!
When settlers came from England, they had little imagination when it came to using corn. Corn had been domesticated by the Native Americans and to early settlers, corn was a crude substitute for flour. Since cornmeal didn’t not respond well to leveling agents and was naturally sweet, they simply fashioned it into small cake patties and fried it on a griddle. Thus hoecakes were born.
Hoe cakes were described as George Washington’s favorite breakfast in which he ate them slathered in “butter and honey.” Over the next century, hoecakes eventually became a dish of regional pride and a staple on the Southern colonial table.
The Modern Hoecake
These days, hoecakes, also called Johnny Cakes, are still a regional favorite here in the South. Today, ingredients like egg, milk, even flour are added to make it closer to pancakes. Sometimes spices and sugar are added to sweeten it up. However, for today’s purposes, we’re going to eat it like the colonists did.
How To Make Hoecakes
Hoecakes are simple to make. They are simply cornmeal and boiling hot water mixed into a batter and fried in a small amount of peanut oil. I’m sure you can use other oils if you’re allergic to peanuts. The consistency of the batter should be fairly thick. Closer to a wet dough than a batter. If it’s as runny as pancake batter, you’ve done it wrong. Secondly, I recommend using a non-stick skillet. I personally prefer to use my cast iron one, but since I haven’t season it yet, we’ll use a regular pan. Aim for making them around six inches.
Hoecakes are traditionally made with white cornmeal, but since I have yellow cornmeal, that’s what I’ll be using today. As I mentioned before, you’ll needed to use boiling hot water to make sure they don’t break apart when you try to remove them from the pan.
Hoecakes should have crispy edges and should be a glistening golden brown. Hoecakes are best when served warm. I recommend taking a cue from George Washington and using butter and either honey, maple syrup, and or cane syrup.
Revolutionary War Hoecakes
- Mixing Bowl
- 2 Cups Yellow or White Cornmeal
- 2 Cups Boiling Hot Water
- Pinch of Salt
- Honey optional
- Butter Optional
- 12 Tbsp Peanut or Vegetable Oil
- In a pot or tea kettle boil 2 cups of water
- In a large mixing bowl, add 2 cups of flour
- Add a pinch of salt
- When the water is boiling, start by adding one 1 cup at a time. Slowly stir. Continue adding the second cup of water. Mixture should pour by should be very thick almost like a very wet dough.
- Let stand for 10 minutes so the cornmeal can absorb the water
- In a medium high skillet, add one 1-2 Tbsp of Oil
- Once oil is smoking, pour batter into the hot oil. Flatten and round with a spatula
- Cook for 10 minutes
- Gently flip and cook for an additional 10 minutes
- Serve warm with butter, honey, cane syrup or maple syrup
Thanks for reading! Take a look at some of my other Souther recipes like Shrimp and Crawfish Étouffée. Be sure to PIN this post for later and please subscribe to my blog for future recipes.