Hoe Cakes

Hoe Cakes, Photo Debi Harbin

The great writer on our Southern Foodways John T. Edge has morphed in his world view. He has a book titled, “The Potlikker Papers” and in it he writes, 

“When I first began thinking and writing about the South, I focused on continuities. Traveling the Pee Dee of South Carolina, I looked for the oldest whole-hog barbecue joint still run by the same family. In Kentucky, I quested for dent meal hoecakes, cooked according to nineteenth-century techniques and served in storied quarters. Even when I traveled beyond the region, I focused on places that preserved the South in amber. In St. Louis, I wolfed a tripe sandwich at the Colonel’s One Leg Arkansas Fried Chicken. On the South Side of Chicago, I savored sweet-potato pie at Baby Jeans Yazoo Mississippi-Style Soul Food.”

But over time John has updated his thinking and his view on what the identity of Southern food has become. It is … like all over America… but especially in some amazing parts of our country… increasingly dynamic!

He now speaks and writes in this way, “Immigrants are active Southerners. They choose to live here, to raise families, to grow businesses. Despite unfavorable odds that may, in this new age of American isolation, temporarily thwart innovation, active Southerners are reinventing the region”. Bravo say I!! 

Relevant examples of what can be done in this much more diverse American South can be found in several books. One is a book by a chef I recently met at an event we both cooked at. His name is Todd Richards. Chef Richards is cooking out of Atlanta. I’d high tail it to his place today if I could to sample his take on Hoecakes. I admire Todd’s deep understanding of the shifting characteristics of vegetables as one experiences them through the growing seasons. 

He writes, “I often serve hoecakes in the fall. Corn’s distinctive, grassy essence really shines through in the later harvest.” 

Let’s put it in a nutshell. An onion changes in flavor and texture over its growing season. Like we humans…. change is inevitable and to understand it is to be able to embrace it. Chef Richards hoecakes are very traditional but he shows you how to serve them with his Salmon Croquettes… which create a fusion between oldways and a modern chef’s skills. 

Another chef by the name of Asha Gomez, also now a resident of Atlanta, has a recipe for “Puffy Ginger Hoe Cakes” in her book, “My Two Souths”. Ms. Gomez was born in the Kerala region of Southern India, and came to settle in Atlanta when she married. I enjoy the works of people like Asha and also of Sandra Gutierrez who’s ground-breaking cookbook, ‘The New Southern-Latino Table” entered my cookbook library in 2011. It is one I continue to reach for. “Sandra melds the cuisine of her Latin-American roots with that of her adopted Carolina home, proving that the heart can have two homes and savor both with equal gusto”. 

Here in our Miami restaurant ‘Three” we are serving a warm hoe cake with house made pimiento cheese spread and some world class jamón Iberico. It riffs on the Southern adoration for ham but done with a ham that is more subtle than its saltier cousin. There is a place for both of them in my world of eating. 

Pass the Hoe Cakes! 

I’m Norman Van Aken and that’s my Word on Food ©.

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© 2018 Norman Van Aken

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