Wednesday, July 20, 2011

An All-American Breakfast

While my parents, Clint and I were in Washington, DC the week before the 4th of July, they all went to Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington (without me- I was too busy). They brought me gifts because I couldn't go with them, and of course, the gifts were all food-based.

At Mount Vernon, they all visited the Grist Mill, which still produces stone-ground cornmeal. They sell it in cotton sacks, as well as honey produced there. (They also visited the distillery, but I didn't get any whiskey! boo.) Included with the sack of cornmeal they brought back for me was a sheet of recipes and history.

Nelly Custis, George Washington's granddaughter, was raised at Mount Vernon, and shared interesting information: "He [meaning George] rose before sunrise, always wrote or read until 7 in the summer or half past 7 in winter. His breakfast was then ready- he ate three small mush cakes (Indian meal) swimming in butter and honey, drank three cups of tea without cream..." Her recipe for mush cakes, also known as hoe cakes, was included on this sheet, and so once I returned (exhausted) from this trip, I decided to try them.

Hoe cakes make a very humble-looking but hearty breakfast, and I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed these. Below is my take on the modern adaptation of Nelly Custis' recipe, since the recipe given would "easily feed a school class". That's not so helpful in my little house- plus, I only got 2lbs of the corn meal.

Note: if you don't have corn meal ground at the Mount Vernon grist meal, that's ok. I personally like Quaker or whatever you can find in the bulk section.

Original recipe, to feed a large group:
8 and 3/4 cups corn meal
1 and 1/4t yeast
1 egg
warm water
pinch of salt
Butter or other oil/shortening to cook in
Honey for serving

In a large bowl/container, combine 4 cups of cornmeal with the yeast, and enough warm water to get to the consistency of a thin pancake batter (this is pretty flexible). Cover and let sit at room temperature overnight. The next day, gradually add the remaining cornmeal, the egg and enough warm water to get to thin pancake consistency again. Cover and let sit for 15-20 min.

Fry spoonfuls of batter in a greased frying pan, and serve with butter and honey (or jam, maple syrup, etc)

My adaptation, to feed one person with leftovers (heated up for lunch ;) ):
Part 1:
2 cups of cornmeal
1/2t yeast
warm water
Combine those in a bowl, using enough water to get to thin pancake batter consistency, cover and let sit on the counter overnight.

Part 2:
half of the mixture from part 1 (put the remaining part in the fridge and use within a few days)
1 cup cornmeal
1 egg or half of 1 egg
warm water
pinch of salt

Combine the part 2 ingredients, with enough warm water to get to thin pancake batter consistency again, and let sit while you heat up the frying pan (if you're using the second half of the refrigerated part 1 mixture, let it sit at room temp for a bit before adding the other ingredients). I found either butter or non-stick spray works well. Fry up 2-3T batter, and serve with honey (or maple syrup, jam, etc).

1 egg may be more than this needs, but I figure, egg is protein and healthy, and I didn't feel like tossing half a perfectly good egg. Clint did complain these were too eggy, though, so it's up to you and your love or lack of love for eggs.

If you're not familiar with hoe cakes or cornmeal mush, these pancakes are much denser than regular flour pancakes, but they have that nice corn flavor. They're a bit bitter from having no sugar in them, which is why I do recommend serving them with honey or something sweet. These make a nice, hearty breakfast that I'd really enjoy on a chilly fall morning- and depending on how you fry and serve, they're lower in fat than other breakfast foods!

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