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The unconventionally beautiful hushpuppies at Ritual.

Image: Alice Levitt

Few dishes still popular today can trace their origins back to pre-colonial America. Native Americans were the first to cultivate maize crops, and the resulting corn was either limed with alkaline salt to make hominy or ground into cornmeal. Cornbread was popular during the American Civil War period because it was cheap and could be fried for a speedy snack or made into fluffy, high-rising loaves. Fast forward native cornbread to today's Southern cuisine and you have the tasty little balls we are accustomed to pairing with our deep-fried fish and seafood platters.

Where the Word Comes From

The word "hushpuppy" dates back to the turn of the 20th century. The name is attributed to fishermen, hunters and cooks who used to fry a cornmeal mixture to feed their dogs. This practice was literally "hushing" the puppies, distracting them during cookouts and fish-fries. Another story tells of how Confederate soldiers in the Civil War quelled the bark of their dogs with fried cornbread. Either or both of these might (or might not!) be true.

Typical Hushpuppy Ingredients

Hushpuppy ingredients usually include cornmeal, flour, salt, baking soda, eggs, buttermilk or milk, and water. Green onion, yellow onion, whole kernel corn, peppers and garlic are optional ingredients. Pancake batter can be used to make hushpuppies in a pinch. Spoonfuls of the batter are dropped into hot oil and fried until golden brown. They are allowed to cool, then are served with barbecue or seafood.

Jamaica has a similar recipe known as "festivals" which is made by frying a hot-dog-shaped piece of cornmeal, sugar and salt batter. These are sweeter than hushpuppies and wouldn't contain garlic or onion. Short sausages, also called sorrullos, are known as hushpuppies in Puerto Rico.

Traditional Hushpuppies Recipe

This recipe makes four to six servings of hushpuppies, and you don't need many ingredients to make them. Swap the onion for a couple of minced garlic cloves if you prefer, or try green onion instead of yellow or white. Next time you're having a cookout, whether its meat or seafood, don't forget the hushpuppies!

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 minced small onion
  • 1 lightly beaten egg
  • Oil for deep frying

Instructions

Mix the flour, baking powder, cornmeal and salt together. Whisk the milk with the onion and egg. Now stir the wet ingredients into the dry ones until just combined. Heat the oil to 365 degrees, and drop the batter by teaspoonfuls in there. Fry for a couple of minutes or until golden brown, then drain on paper towels and serve warm.

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