Hushpuppies: From Civil War to Modern Standby



To try Regina's recipe for these traditional cornmeal fritters, click here.

One of the most highly regarded items in the menagerie of Southern fried foods is the hushpuppy. When it comes to the history of Southern food, it is often difficult to separate fact from fiction, but with many Southern dishes the separating is not worth it, since the folklore adds a lot of charm and allure. I have heard as many different stories about the hushpuppy as there are recipes for this Southern staple.

Most of the stories seem to be centered on the time of the Civil War. The one common thread is that this fried cornmeal was used to "hush the dogs." I have heard that Confederate soldiers used it to hush their dogs when the Union troops were getting near. I also have heard a similar story in which runaway slaves would use this favorite food to hush the dogs. The characters change but the story is the same. If slaves created the hushpuppy, it was most likely based on a common fried cornmeal from parts of South Africa called "mealie pap."

Several Southern states claim that the hushpuppy belongs to them. Personally, I think where there is fried catfish, there are fried hush puppies. Louisiana gives credit to the Ursaline Nuns who came to New Orleans in the early 1700s and made this dish by using local ingredients and making "croquettes de maise," or corn croquettes. I cannot argue with any of the stories.

Even though it would be considered "nouvelle cuisine" to add much more than cornmeal, flour, a little onion, egg, and buttermilk, I have added many different ingredients into this creamy cornmeal dough and there has never been a miss. Some additions worth trying are bacon, jalapeño peppers, and corn kernels or crawfish and lots of green onion with red pepper flakes. For an appetizer, try adding smoked catfish or trout with a little freshly grated horseradish.

As I am writing this, I am thinking how much grief the Sisters of Charity gave me in the late 1950s and early 1960s for being left-handed, and I can only imagine the Ursaline Nuns disapproving of my taking a "walk on the wild side" with the treasured hushpuppy. Here is my basic recipe. You can add what you like (when no one is looking).

Recipe: Mississippi Hushpuppies