Hoe cakes. Griddle cakes. Hot cakes. Call them what you will. Rich with buttermilk & bacon grease, this recipe from Garden & Gun magazine is pretty much everything I’d want in a savory cornmeal cake and then some. To those of you not familiar with Garden & Gun, it’s a bit of an institution here in the South, and they’re hosting their annual Jubilee in Charleston, South Carolina on December 5-7. The three day festival is a celebration of all things Southern—food, music, art, made-in-the-south goods, sporting, and more food. Which is to say it’s going to be the best weekend ever, and I will be there unapologetically getting my fill of oysters, hot chicken, and all manner of low-country goodness. You can buy tickets here. If you think you’ll be there, shoot me an email. I’d love to see you there! I digress. Hoe cakes.
No, they aren’t called such for their penchant for night-walking. The name is a point of debate, but from what I’ve read “hoe” referred to a griddle. Not as colorful as I’d hoped, but there you go. I fry mine up in a bacon slick cast iron or seasoned steel (a current favorite) skillet, and while they’re perfectly complete crispy & hot straight out of the grease-spitting frying pan, I’ve found that a generous spoonful of maple creme fraiche is not a down grade. It’s rare that a recipe works its way into my personal rotation. I’m boring like that. But these are destined to be a household staple along with spicy chocolate cake and ginger skillet greens. The holidays are fast upon us, and recipes like this (two bowls, one pan, minimal chopping) are the bread and butter of busy times. Looking forward to things like going to Charleston is the light at the end of the tunnel of the next few weeks of non-stop work. I try to never write about being busy in this space. Or stressed. Or deadlines, email, deadlines, panic attack. Because it’s a tired refrain. We’re all busy. We’re all stressed. And I feel like it’s my job to make this space a bastion of calm. Which, to anyone who knows me in real life, is riotously funny. I’m a tornado. A basket case. I move fast, talk faster. Gesticulate wildly. In my defense, I have a way of getting it done. But slowing down is actually hilariously difficult for me. I often joke that I’m “taking one for the team” and living fast so I can create inspiration in the hopes that other people will enjoy living slow. Truth.
But lately all that fast has got me to a grinding, unceremonious halt. I was wondering about the little myths we tell ourselves recently. Those refrains we repeat so often in our minds they start to seem like intractable truths. Mine is that to be happy & productive are the highest virtues, and that in order for me to be happy & productive I must never, ever look down. I imagine life as lived on a tight rope over an abyss. I smile and look dead ahead, unwavering. The fear, as the old metaphor goes, is that if I look down, I’ll fall. I spent ten years falling, and I don’t wear it well. Now that seas are calm, I expend a lot of energy (perhaps unnecessarily) trying to keep things that way. And by “things” I mean my brain. Trying to keep my mad, mad mind calm is a herculean effort. Because in every quiet crevice of each day it wanders, delinquent, to thoughts of vast complexity and to sharp teeth and black waters and so much flesh. So I work harder, turn up the radio. And tell myself to shut up.
Only recently have I started to doubt the wisdom of that. You can’t run from yourself forever. There has to be a happy medium between being the resident morbid eccentric amongst your friends and being some hilarious facsimile of your childhood ideal self. I will never deny the beauty in the darkness. It plugs into me. Electrifies me. Lights me up like Flood Town. I remember Flood Town. It’s a little backwater town around where I grew up in Georgia. And they used to do Christmas lights like no other. I think I went there with the boy I liked. I remember it that way anyway. That I went there with the pastor’s son when I was kid. With our families. And I just remember the lights and that it was where I wanted to be. The lights and everything else, the middle of nowhere, so pitch black. The anticipation made it as beautiful as the reality. I’m hungry for the anticipation, always the anticipation.
In the end, I’ve been gifted a life without, in my estimation, a single substantial care in the world except for my own neurosis and lousy time management skills. My overwhelming gratitude for the placid waters of my existence keeps me pretty upbeat. If you meet me, I’m a happy girl. A goofy, self-deprecating girl with an equally fortunate/unfortunate lack of filter. I’m nerdy and strangers make me sweat. But when I’m alone I just think. And think. I think about fingers prying my teeth apart sometimes. I think about language and pheremones and how stupid it is that you can’t manufacture certain feelings. How certain feelings are just like sup and peace. And you’re like hey, man! wait up!. And they’re like whatever. I think about magic a lot. I think about serpents and day dream about an albino pet snake. I think about believing in belief. And I think about tidal waves of energy crashing over me, rippling through me. I wonder at how blessed I am. I wonder at what on earth I mean by the word “blessed”. I steel myself against inevitable, unnamed future sorrows. I pray to the thing that’s face is the moon and the sea and warm blood and rough skin and finger nails and teeth. I pray to the fur and the weeds. I call on light years and prehistoric, pelagic creatures that mourn nothing. I pray for strength when I need it. I always need it. We all do. Because change is forever upon us. Hibernal months are upon us here in the South. Fires & festivals & dead cold. It’s a beautiful time of year. Southern gothic at it’s finest.
bacon & scallion griddle cakes with maple creme fraiche
- 1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (125 grams) fine yellow cornmeal
- 3 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tbsp. sugar
- 2/3 cup (160 grams) buttermilk
- 1/3 cup (80 grams) water
- Scant ¼ cup (35 grams) bacon fat
- 1/3 cup (75 grams) crème fraîche or sour cream + 1/2 cup for serving
- 2 eggs
- 1/3 cup scallions, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup crisp bacon, finely chopped
- Canola oil, combined with some bacon fat if desired for frying
- 1-2 teaspoons maple syrup
- In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and sugar.
- In another small bowl, combine buttermilk, water, bacon fat, and crème fraîche or sour cream. Blend well. Add eggs, and mix until just combined.
- Pour liquid into dry ingredients, and mix just until a thick batter has formed. Stir in scallions and bacon. To keep the hoecakes tender, avoid overmixing.
- Heat oil and bacon fat in a cast-iron or other heavy skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Use about an eighth of a cup of batter for smaller cakes (I used a heaping tablespoon for these), or a quarter cup for larger ones. Cook them as you would pancakes, allowing them to fry on one side for about three minutes or until crisp and golden brown. Flip and cook for another couple of minutes. Replenish oil as needed, to maintain a generous film in the pan.
- Batter will keep for a couple of days tightly covered in the refrigerator. If it seems too thick after storing, stir in a bit more buttermilk or water.
- To serve, stir the maple syrup into the additional creme fraiche. Top the cakes with the creme and enjoy hot!