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Hush Puppies

Cornmeal: A Texas Kitchen Staple

by John Raven, Ph.B.

Every respectable Texas pantry has a supply of cornmeal. In Texas, it is yellow corn meal. White corn meal is favored east of the Mississippi and north of DFW. There are advocates of the less popular blue cornmeal in New Mexico and Arizona, but there is just something about blue cornbread that doesn't agree with me.

There are two main types of cornmeal, if you don't count the color -- stone ground cornmeal and roller ground cornmeal. Stone ground is closer to the real thing of yesteryear. We have all seen the illustrations of the Indians hard at work grinding corn on a flat rock with a stone rolling pin. The roller ground meal gets heated in the process of being ground in the metal rollers. There is nothing wrong with it; it's just more Texas correct to use stone ground.

Corn is a New World staple crop. It seems to have originated in southern Mexico anywhere from six to ten thousand years ago, depending on who you ask. When the Europeans came poking around in the Americas, they found corn and took some back home with them. From there it just spread all over. Today the United States grows the most corn. Next runner-up is China.

You can't live off corn alone. There is some deep mumbo-jumbo about corn having an "incomplete protein" or some such. If you eat just corn you get pellagra, which is caused by lack of Vitamin B. But if you boil your corn in water containing wood ashes or lime, some chemical process releases the Vitamin B, and it's a whole lot better for you. When you do this it becomes "hominy". Or, you can consume beans and/or fish and meat with it, and the combination produces a very healthy diet.

The alkaline in the ashes or the lime causes the corn to swell up and the tough outer husk can be removed. With the husk removed, grind up what's left and you've got "masa". Masa is the principal ingredient of many Mexican recipes, notably tortillas and tamales. Dried, course-ground masa is "grits" -- popular with the Southern aristocracy (common folk, too).

Enough of the lore and legend. Let's get to some recipes.

Cornmeal Mush
This is one of my favorite treats. It is easy to prepare and very good for you. I really like it for supper on a cold evening.
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt

In a deep saucepan, whisk the cornmeal and salt into the water. Turn the heat up to medium-high. When it starts to boil, start stirring. You need to stir it constantly until it thickens, then turn the heat way down, cover and let cook another 10 minutes.

Serve it like hot cereal with butter, milk and sugar. You can add other things as you desire.

If you pour your cornmeal mush in a bread pan and let it cool and then put in ice box overnight, the next morning you can slice it and fry it and have a thin, tasty breakfast bread. Most folk want butter and maple syrup on it.

There's an article in the archives of texascooking.com called Cornbread Seminar. You will find everything you need to know about corn bread there.

Hush Puppies
Right after cornbread, hush puppies is the most popular cornmeal dish. Mostly they are served with fried catfish, but they fit well in a lot of menus.

Back home on the farm, our hush puppies were called "sinkers" because Mama molded them in a table spoon the same way Daddy and I molded lead sinkers for our fishing tackle. Mama's hush puppies were very plain. She poured some boiling water into cornmeal and mixed it up to a thick dough. The dough was then dropped into hot fat and fried until golden brown or a little darker. This is still my favorite hush puppy recipe. Here's one a little more fancy.

  • 2 cups yellow cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon sage
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 egg, beaten
Heat your oil in the deep fryer to 375°F. Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl. Form the dough into 1-inch balls and fry until golden brown or as done as you like them. Drain on paper towels or in a brown paper bag.

This is a peasant dish that probably originated in Europe and then traveled to the United States with the Pennsylvania Dutch settlers. My grandmother Raven's family came to Central Texas from Pennsylvania in the mid-1800s, so this is a family recipe for me. You don't see it much any more since, as with so many traditional recipes, there is a lot of labor involved. I try to make it about once a year just to keep the recipe alive.
  • 1  3-pound pork butt, bone in
  • 4 quarts water
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons rubbed sage
  • 1 teaspoon ground savory
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice (start with less)
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg (start with less)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3 cups cornmeal

Place the pork and water in an 8-quart stockpot. Add salt and pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer until pork is tender, about 2 hours. Place the meat on a large plate; reserve the stock. When the meat is cool enough to handle, remove it from the bones and discard excess fat. Chop the meat very finely; set aside.

Place 2-1/2 quarts of the stock in a 5-quart pot. Add the thyme, sage, savory, allspice, nutmeg and cloves. Bring to a boil and gradually add the cornmeal, stirring or whisking rapidly until it is all combined. Reduce the heat to medium or medium-low and continue to cook, stirring often, until the mixture is very thick, so that a spoon almost stands up on its own, about 15 minutes. (If it gets too thick, just add a little more of the broth and stir well.)

Add the chopped meat and stir well to combine. Reduce the heat to low and cook for an additional 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. After a couple minutes, taste for seasoning and adjust as desired. Scrapple must be well seasoned or it will taste very bland when fried.

Place a piece of waxed paper into two 9x5-inch loaf pans so that the ends extend over the two long sides. That will make it easier to lift the refrigerated loaf out of the pan later. Pour half the mixture into each pan. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight or until chilled and solid.

To fry, remove the loaf from the pan and place on cutting surface. Slice into quarter- or half-inch slices. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add some butter and, as soon as it melts, add the scrapple slices. It is critical with scrapple to let each side brown thoroughly before attempting to turn it over or it will stick and fall apart, so be very patient. Serve as is or, as many Pennsylvania Dutchmen would do, with ketchup or apple butter.

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