Family members and visitors alike testified that hoecakes were among George Washington’s favorite foods. He invariably ate them at breakfast, covered with butter and honey, along with hot tea—a “temperate repast” enjoyed each morning.
Years after Washington’s death, Nelly Custis Lewis described her method for preparing a yeast-risen version of hoecakes in a letter to her close friend Elizabeth Bordley Gibson. “Make it by candlelight,” she wrote, “& let it remain [by a warm hearth] until the next morning.” Describing the baking method, she wrote: “[D]rop [the batter] a spoonful at a time on a hoe or griddle (as we say in the South). When done on one side turn the other—the griddle must be rubbed . . . with a piece of beef suet.”
This recipe is a modern adaptation of the 18th-century original. It was created by culinary historian Nancy Carter Crump for the book “Dining with the Washingtons” (2011).
Makes about 15 hoecakes
- 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 2 1/2 cups white cornmeal, divided
- 3 to 4 cups lukewarm water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- Melted butter for drizzling and serving
- Honey or maple syrup for serving
Mix the yeast and 1 1/4 cups of the cornmeal in a large bowl. Add 1 cup of the lukewarm water, stirring to combine thoroughly. Mix in 1/2 cup more of the water, if needed, to give the mixture the consistency of pancake batter. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 200°F.
When ready to finish the hoecakes, begin by adding 1/2 to 1 cup of the remaining water to the batter. Stir in the salt and the egg, blending thoroughly.
Gradually add the remaining 1 1/4 cups of cornmeal, alternating with enough additional lukewarm water to make a mixture that is the consistency of waffle batter. Cover with a towel, and set aside at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes.
Heat a griddle on medium-high heat, and lightly grease it with lard or vegetable shortening. Preparing one hoecake at a time, drop a scant 1/4 cup of the batter onto the griddle and cook on one side for about 5 minutes, or until lightly browned. With a spatula, turn the hoecake over and continue cooking another 4 to 5 minutes, until browned.
Place the hoecake on a platter, and set it in the oven to keep warm while making the rest of the batch. Drizzle each batch with melted butter.
Serve the hoecakes warm, drizzled with melted butter and honey or maple syrup.
Courtesy of George Washington’s Mount Vernon.