The upcoming holiday season and cooler weather has me thinking about food and family traditions. Mom always had a big stack of newspaper clippings to go through each time I visited. They were on all sorts of random subjects, and she would write notes on them to share with me. After Mom died, I came across a stack that we had gone over but that she had kept. In the collection was her take on a cornbread recipe that had been published in the local newspaper.
Mom was not pleased with the recipe, and scribbled her “corrections” all over it. Mom learned how to make cornbread, and more importantly, corn cakes (also called hoecakes) from her mother, and the family recipe was adamant about no sugar. Cornbread was to accompany savory dishes like greens with pot likker, or pinto beans. It was not dessert.
I was able to find a couple interpretations of hoecakes that Mom would have approved of online. The Salon headline is perfect: You’re Doing it Wrong: Cornbread and offers a bit of history on the hoecake as well as a super-simple recipe. Mom’s recipe was very similar in that she omitted the egg and sugar, but she used buttermilk instead of just water.
On the newspaper article that was published just six months before she passed, Mom wrote in red ink, “No cake” after writing “no” next to such sacrilegious ingredients as sugar, egg and vanilla extract. She wrote at the top, “Remember my corn cakes?”
Indeed I do, they were one of my favorite meals as a young child. Dense discs of cornmeal, fried to a golden brown, soaking up butter. (Mom likely was using margarine, which was a shame, but I didn’t know any better as a kid.) I think I had a side of beans with mine, because my young palate couldn’t stand the concept of collard, mustard or turnip greens. The funny thing is, the way Mom made them, without any added flour, the hoecakes are naturally gluten-free. Now I would appreciate them with a “mess of greens” just like Mom.
One of these days, I’ll get around to making hoecakes, and there won’t be any sugar in sight. When I do, I will smile and think of Mom.