Over the past several months, I have revived and renewed my love for the show The Two Fat Ladies. I enjoy watching them make their recipes, looking for the precise moment when they add an ingredient that makes the dish sound terrible for me. Leeks (good), onions (good), carrots and celery (yes, good), bacon (yes!), goat tongue (NO!).
The Two Fat Ladies were unapologetic about their size, their cooking style, and at times, even their neuroses. Jennifer was never willing to walk long distances, whereas Clarissa could more easily walk to any one of their side jaunts outside of the kitchen. On an episode where they walked to a hen house, Jennifer sat down outside the hen house and refused to walk further, reminding Clarissa that she was “practically crippled.” She sat there and smoked a cigarette while Clarissa left to figure out some form of transportation. Watching that moment was in a lot of ways like watching a married couple argue with one another – it was that moment when you see things go from jovial and fun to serious and awkward. And I sort of love that. Things are contrived only so far with the show; the rest is natural.
I have several favorite episodes, but the one I want to talk about today is the “Breakfast” episode, in which Clarissa prepares corn griddle cakes. Here’s the thing: Clarissa, in a seven-minute segment, disses the South pretty harshly. She mimics the accent (incorrectly, but whatever), she suggests that everything here is sweet corn and Gone with the Wind, and then she pronounces “griddle” as “girdle,” asking Jennifer why they (we… Southerners) insist on pronouncing the word “griddle” incorrectly.
Dude. This is where I draw the line. A griddle is a cooking surface. A girdle is underwear my grandmother might have bought, probably designed to streamline the figure and compress squidgy parts of the body. They’re not pronounced anything alike. This is actually the moment where, when Amanda and I watched the episode, I sat up and say “Oh no she didn’t!”
I settled down and watched the rest of the episode because the dish she was cooking looked quite good, actually. Sweet corn griddle cakes are essentially just like a johnny cake or a hoecake that we might be used to, but spiced lightly with paprika and with the addition of sweet corn kernels. The corn is the only source of “sweet” in the recipe as no sugar is added. The cakes are served with bacon and maple syrup. Sounds good, right? Like a corn-based pancakes and bacon. And since I’ve got a million ears of sweet corn in my refrigerator, I decided to give it a whirl.
On Sunday morning, I got up, whipped together the batter and cooked up these corn cakes in my cast-iron skillet (my griddle, Clarissa) while my bacon cooked in the oven. I served the cakes, as prescribed, with crispy bacon and a drizzle of maple syrup. And they weren’t bad. They weren’t what I would call good either. Call me a purist, but I don’t want things in my corn cake. And I wanted them sweeter. (Though let’s be real. I have a big sweet tooth. I wanted them to be pancakes with chocolate chips in them.)
The next morning, Amanda tried one cold on the way to work. And according to her, cold corn griddle cakes are sad corn griddle cakes. She threw them away, and we made our peace with the corn griddle cakes. I wasn’t too worried about the experiment gone awry; when it comes to Two Fat Ladies recipes, I have a healthy dose of skepticism going in.
But last night, as I marinated fish and pulled the husks from ears of sweet corn for dinner, I felt the need to redeem Sunday’s mediocre corn cake experience. I needed a hoecake. I needed one from Paula Deen.
I found the recipe, whipped up the batter, let it rest while I cooked butter beans, was horrified to see the batter had puffed up, and then gratified when I plopped the batter into a hot cast-iron skillet with canola oil. The cakes puffed a little, and the skillet, the oil, gave a nice crisp to the cakes. They were, for me, what a corn cake of any kind should be: soft, fluffy, sweet, but with a hearty cornmeal texture that reminds you that you’re not eating breakfast. The great thing with these corn cakes, too, is that once you’ve eaten one (or three) as a side dish during dinner, then after you’ve cleaned your plate, you can plop one down in the center, butter it up, and douse it in maple syrup for dessert. (Incidentally, you also butter and syrup it as a side dish too. It’s just the act of calling it dessert that makes the experience feel new.)
I love Paula Deen hoecakes. They are the standard to which I hold all corn cakes, which is why Clarissa’s girdle cakes didn’t hold up in my book. There’s a scene in the movie Practical Magic where one of the aunts scolds Sandra Bullock, saying, “You can’t practice witchcraft while you look down your nose at it.” Same here. You can’t cook Southern while you criticize and (ahem, inaccurately) make fun of the people who came up with it. From now on, I’ll leave my Southern dishes in the hands of Southerners, where they belong.
Recipe courtesy of Paula Deen
1 cup self-rising flour
1 cup self-rising cornmeal
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup vegetable oil or bacon grease [PS: I love that bacon grease is considered an ingredient.]
Oil, butter, or clarified margarine for frying
Mix together all the ingredients (except for the grease for frying), stirring and mixing well. Heat the oil or butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Drop the batter by full tablespoons, into the grease, using about two tablespoons of batter per cake. Fry each hoecake until golden and crisp [little bubbles will appear along the edges when it’s time to flip], then flip and cook the other side until golden and crisp as well. Remove to a paper towel lined plate and serve warm. Leftover batter will keep in the refrigerator for two days.
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