Sunday, May 29, 2016

Oblong hush puppies? Apparently

Recipe on postcard is shown inside a cookbook
This recipe was found on a postcard tucked inside a vintage
cookbook from the 1920s. (Photo: Gerri Bauer)
The summer grilling season has officially started, so of course I'm thinking about food. More than usual, I mean. In Florida, grilling season runs from January to December.

Floridians have been cooking outdoors forever. In pioneer days, outdoor cooking was done to keep heat out of the house and lessen the risk of fire. Kitchens were often in detached buildings, for the same reasons.

But whether one cooked indoors or out, over a wood stove or a fire pit, certain traditional foods often showed up on the menu. One such food is the hush puppy, a corn-based fritter flavored with onion and deep-fried. I long assumed hush puppies of yore resembled hush puppies of today - small rounds about the size of golf balls. A hand-written heirloom recipe I found tucked inside an antique cookbook reminds me never to assume.

The recipe for Tallahassee Hush Puppies is on a postcard mailed in 1949 to a Mrs. Edwin Haynes of Canton, N.C., from someone named Edna, obviously a relative or friend on first-name basis. The ingredients are familiar: cornmeal, baking power, chopped onion, milk, salt. The shocker is that Edna instructs the cook to hand mold her dough into oblong pones. She even gives specific dimensions.

I realize I'm a Yankee, but I've lived in Florida for many, many years. I have never seen an oblong hush puppy. Edna notes that she found her recipe in a book of old Southern recipes. Makes me wonder what the original source is. I'd love to know.

The recipe is below, if you want to try it out. First, can I just say that finding such a handwritten note tucked inside a vintage cookbook I bought at a flea market is like finding buried treasure.  And it wasn't the only surprise I found in The Rumford Complete Cook Book, by Lily Haxworth Wallace, "lecturer, teacher, and writer on domestic science."

Numerous penciled recipes cover blank pages in just about every chapter. They're all written in cursive, too. There's even a ration card used as a bookmark.

I'm not sure which previous owner left their mark for later generations to find. First published by the Rumford Company in 1908, the cookbook was popular enough to go into second and third printings. My version is from 1928 and bears signatures of four owners, including me. I'm guessing "Thos. E. Haynes" was the first owner, as his name is written splashily, on an angle, across half the inside cover. The rest of us share part of the opposite page.

I still haven't read through all the additional recipes that someone - possibly Mrs. Haynes - penciled throughout the book. She also jotted notes here and there. One of my favorites is on page 118. "Good try this" is written next to the recipe for French Rolls, with an arrow drawn to the recipe name for added emphasis. Good recipes know no eras. I think I'll give those rolls a try. But first, the hush puppies. Thanks, Edna.

2 cups corn meal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/2 cups sweet milk
1/2 cup water
1 large onion chopped fine

Sift the dry ingredients together & add milk & water. Stir in chopped onion. Add more milk or meal as may be necessary to form a soft but workable dough. With the hands mold pieces of the dough in pones (oblong cakes about 5" long & 3" wide, & 3/4 thick). Fry in deep hot fat until well browned. Found this in book of old Southern recipes. - Edna

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