One of the things that brings me the greatest joy is being able to use my creativity to create special and magical little moments for the people I care about ~ transforming the ordinary and sometimes mundane moments of life into something that shimmers! Many of us long for "a life less ordinary", but find that commercialism has narrowed our focus to a few favored holidays. In reality, almost every day is a day being celebrated somewhere in the world. What better opportunity to learn about the people with whom we share our globe, than by acquainting ourselves with the unique ways that they express joy and celebrate life?
I started this blog, partly out of a desire to share my new traditions and revamped customs with a greater audience. While continuing to offer original recipes, crafts and tutorials, I hope to provide a more cohesive direction for Rook No. 17 in the months to come ~ with an emphasis on simple, yet profound ways to create everyday magic.
Chances are, if you're reading this post, you're probably wondering what the "hoe, hoe, hoe" is all about. Since the blogosphere has produced a wealth of original Valentine projects, and the stores have us "tickled pink" and "seeing red", I'd like to offer up a sweet little tradition for February's lesser celebrated offspring ~ President's Day, and more specifically, George Washington's Birthday.
The hoecake is a small pancake ~ a sort of buttermilk, silver-dollar, cornbread hybrid. Today it is cooked on a griddle, but back in our nation's more agrarian days, field hands (for lack of a decent frying pan) would remove the blade from their hoe and use it like a griddle over an open fire. Back in George's day, the hoes used for cotton fields were much larger and flatter than the streamlined models we use for today's home gardening. Hoecakes were served both for breakfast, like pancakes, and as an accompaniment to a savory meal.
"He rose before sunrise, always wrote or read until 7 in summer or half past seven in winter. His breakfast was then ready – he ate three small mush cakes (Indian meal) swimming in butter and honey, and drank three cups of tea without cream.”
Nelly Custis Lewis, step-granddaughter of G. Washington
Food anthropologists have confirmed that these "mush cakes" were even at the time, synonymous with hoe cakes.
For the past few years I've made it a tradition, and shared it with my daughter's preschool, to make hoecakes with honey butter in celebration of George Washington's birthday. It gives us an opportunity to talk about the ways in which our country was different back then, the ways that people made do with what they had, and to learn more about our first president in a way that is relatable and fun ~ "Hey, I eat pancakes for breakfast too!"
This year, I made a double-batch, which yielded about 48 hoecakes. The batter is easy enough to make that my "line cooks" Fiona (age 4) and Mackenzie (age 5) were able to do most of the work. In less than ten minutes, Twenty-four kids and six adults had devoured the entire platter. The kids got a kick out watching one of the moms demonstrating how a real hoe is used, while I explained the history.
Jean Fritz has written a wonderful children's book, "George Washington's Breakfast", in which the protagonist finds out that the first US president ate hoecakes for breakfast. It's a delightful story, and makes a great prelude to making hoecakes with your family.
Following is my recipe for hoecakes. One bite of these buttery, golden corn-kissed morsels and you'll be counting the days till next Presidents' Day weekend!
- 1 cup self-rising flour
- 1 cup cornbread mix (I prefer Marie Callender's)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
- 1 stick butter, melted and clarified for greasing the griddle or pan
Whisk dry ingredients in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk and water. Pour wet ingredients into the well made in the dry. Mix well to combine. Let batter rest while heating the griddle.
Heat griddle to medium-high (approx. 350 degrees). Once preheated, brush surface with some of the clarified butter. Drop the batter, by heaping tablespoonfuls, on to the griddle. Fry until bubbles start to form in each hoecake. Flip and fry until golden brown. If serving a large crowd, transfer finished hoecakes to a baking sheet in a 175 degree oven while continuing to fry new batches. Serve with honey butter.