How hoecake got its name

Posted on 21 July 2010

The country home was one of humble beginnings, everyone worked in the fields on the farm to help make a living.
“From sun up to sun down,” it was said of the farm folks, and some even carried their lunches to the fields as they worked these long hours.
This was the beginning of special bread called the hoecake.
Many times I heard my mother refer to this type of bread. Many times I came in from play and/or work in the summer and smelled that famous hoecake cooking. There isn’t another smell to equal this bread cooking when you are tired and hungry.
Why the name hoecake?
Actually there are two different type of hoecake bread. One made with flour and one with corn meal. Let’s journey, (there is even a bread called a journey-cake) back in time to the beginning.
The Native Americans had something called Indian Fry Bread, and it was made with flour. Then there is the lace hoecake cornbread made with cornmeal. The latter is the hoecake most remember as children growing up on that farm or maybe some even in the city had this delicacy.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term hoecake first occurred in 1745 and got its name from the method of preparation.
You see field hands do work from sun up to sun down, caring their tools to the fields with them as well as food.
According to history, cotton was the main farm product around 1745, and the hoes designed for cotton fields were large and flat with a hole for the long handle to slide through.
The fields were often adjacent to a creek or spring; the spring was also used for drinking water for those working. At lunch time a fire was built, and then burned down to hot coals. The blade of the hoe was washed in the creek or branch and the handle was taken off. A mixture the workers had brought from home was that of corn meal, and salt. Fat back was used to oil the hoe. This was most of the time placed in tight sealed jars to keep insects and such out.
After placing the hoe blade on the hot coals, a trip was made to the spring for fresh water to mix with the corn meal mixture. Getting the texture just right, the bread was placed and cooked on the hot hoe, therefore the name hoecake.
This white or yellow meal mixture has also been called journey or johnnycake, an early American staple food; however, it was sometimes baked on a wooden board or barrel stave at an angle in front of an open fire.
In Australia johnnycake is made with flour rather than with cornmeal, and are baked in the hot ashes of a fire or fried in a skillet.
In America and in the South, hoecake was traditionally cooked on a hoe; “Hoe-Cake” a cake of Indian meal was baked on a hoe hence the name for both, Hoecake.
The lacy hoecake cornbread is mouth watering with fresh vegetables, such as squash, beans, peas, green, etc.

If you haven’t had a hoecake in awhile, the following is a good recipe:

2 cups plain enriched white cornmeal, sifted (I like medium grind)
2 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil for skillet.
In a large bowl, mix together the cornmeal, water and salt; allow mixture to sit for a few minutes. Spray a flat cast-iron griddle with a non-stick cooking spray and then drizzle it with some of the vegetable oil.
Heat cast iron skillet over medium heat. Pour about three (2-ounce) ladles full of the batter on the skillet. The batter will sizzle and have a lacy appearance. Note: If the batter gets too thick add a bit of water.
When the edges of the hoecake are slightly brown, place a wet glass plate over the top. With a hot pad, grab the handle of the griddle; flip the pan and hoecake onto the plate. Slide the hoecake off the plate back into the griddle to cook the other side, cook until brown.
Before making the next hoecake, stir the batter and add additional vegetable oil to the skillet or griddle.

The recipe for hoecake flour bread is:

3 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons shortening
About 1/2 cup or more of cold water to make soft dough
Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add shortening and cut through with knife until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add liquid to make dough. Heat griddle with oil, and flatten dough out on griddle. Fry until bottom side is golden brown then turn and cook the other side. Repeat for each hoecake.

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