I bought this cookbook after my brother Robert had a lengthy discussion over corncakes. My mother used to make them and I really don't care if I ever eat another again but Robert and my Dad just love them. The orginal recipe came from BeBe, my Dad's first wife and Robert's mother.. .
Here is Robert's Email to the Author!
As I was unable to make it to the book signing last week, my mother, Bebe Humphries, picked up an unsigned copy of Janis Owens' "The Cracker Kitchen". I love the book and am looking forward to trying out some of the recipes. I was wondering if you could forward a question to Janis Owens for me?
Solving The Corn Cake Mystery
My mother often made corn cakes for my father's breakfasts until they were divorced in the late Fifties. The recipe was my grandmother's which was most likely passed down from her Northern Virginia relatives. I believe these people were the original Foodies because I remember talk at the table centered around food, how good it tasted and the best ways to prepare particular dishes. Their ooh's and ahh's seemed a little over-exaggerated and as a small child on a preferred diet of fish sticks, hamburgers, canned spinach (thanks, Popeye) and Jello, I was bored by these table conversations. Of course, I grew up to appreciate the late summer harvests of fresh corn, vine ripe tomatoes and other fresh vegetables from roadside market stands.
Both parents remarried. I never tasted corn cakes until my stepmother, Marjorie, made them while I was visiting my father one summer as a teenager. They were a wonderful discovery for me. She served them up with fried eggs, bacon, broiled tomatoes (with Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs), toast and fresh orange juice from oranges grown in their yard in Central Florida. My father liked his corn cakes with honey while I preferred mine with sour cream (and a little runny egg yolk from its neighbor.) My father, who is now in his 80's, was always quite trim despite a daily breakfast such as this. He is the world's slowest eater (probably why the weight stays off) and his routine rarely deviated from a long, high cholesterol breakfast then coffee, a cigar and the newspaper - cover to cover. We affectionately refer to this as "A Kick-Ass Breakfast".
After college my interest in food increased. I worked as a cook at a ski resort in Montana; dated a woman who owned a restaurant; and fell into the wine business which is always associated with good food. I cooked for myself as a young bachelor and developed an appetite for good cookbooks and gourmet magazines. On a visit to see my father, I asked Marjorie for her recipe for corn cakes. As she cooked them that morning, I took notes on a grease-splattered piece of brown paper bag. My father told me over breakfast that the original recipe was my mother's. Marjorie never cooked them until my father required they be a part of his new wife's repertoire. Whether my dad packed the recipe with him after the first divorce - or - if he later called my mother for the recipe, I do not remember. I was in my 20's when Marjorie gave me the recipe and my mother had never cooked corn cakes for me.
Not long after, my father stopped to visit me in Atlantic Beach. My mother invited us to her house for breakfast and my father asked her if she still remembered how to cook corn cakes. She had the ingredients on hand and made them for breakfast. As we ate breakfast, my mother asked us how the corn cakes were. My father told her he really liked them. My response was a bit more up front:
"They're good but not as good as Marjorie's."
"Well, that's odd because Marjorie has MY recipe," Mom defended.
The corn cakes were definitely different. Mom's were sort of like pancakes - light and somewhat sweet. Marjorie's are denser, salty and more like fritters or hush puppies instead of pancakes. Both versions are good but I think your first experience with something is always the sort of benchmark for future encounters with variations on a recipe.
The Corn Cake Debate with my mother continues to this day. She actually showed me my grandmother's recipe - written in her handwriting - that my mother kept all of these years. This did not change the fact that I preferred Marjorie's - whether they were legit corn cakes or not.
Marjorie's version goes something like this:
1 cup cornmeal
1 egg slightly beaten
buttermilk or whole milk
brown paper bag
sour cream & honey for accompaniments
I have the exact recipe somewhere but cannot put my finger on it at the moment. Mix egg and cornmeal. Add a bit of salt. Slowly mix in buttermilk until batter is just pourable. Heat bacon grease in a cast iron skillet Medium to Medium High depending on how hot your stove runs. Spoon in silver dollar-size pieces of batter in batches of 4 - 6 and cook until golden brown, carefully turning corn cakes over midway through or once they have time to set on one side. Drain on a brown paper bag. Marjorie has not cooked them in a long time but insists that she only used whole milk; I swear I remember her using buttermilk. Maybe it was a whatever-is-on-hand thing...
It is inevitable that I cook more than I eat when I make these. Some will not cook right. You sort of have to get the hang of it and find the right temperature with your stove and the bacon grease. My kitchen fills up with smoke and the smoke alarm usually goes off. The dogs bark and a relative you haven't talked to in years will call to say hello. My wife complains that I am making a mess. Hectic, yes, but the end result is delicious!
Now, my question for Janis Owens is this: Have you heard of corn cakes and do you know of a recipe? Your Hoecake recipe on page 196 looks similar but with flour and baking powder. I guess the canola oil will cut down on the smoke. I have searched many Southern cookbooks and have not found anything similar. Are Hoecakes for breakfast as I described above?
My mother's recipe is closer to Hoecakes but without the eggs. Aunt Mildred lived in Purceville, Virginia and was one of the original Foodies. The following is Aunt Mildred's basic recipe:
1 cup cornmeal
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 teasoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 T oil
My grandmother added to the above mixture:
1 T flour and 1/2 t baking powder
Aunt Mildred and my grandmother supposedly argued as well - over the corn cake recipe. My mother follows my grandmother's version but adds a little bit of butter to the oil.
I follow Marjorie's recipe.
My mother still loves me despite this.
Thanks for any insight into this debate,
578 Walnut Drive SW
Marietta, Georgia 30064-3342