February 5, 2011

Celebrate Presidents' Day with George Washington's Favorite Breakfast -- Hoecakes!

Looking for a fun and easy way to celebrate Presidents' Day with your family?

Try making George Washington's favorite breakfast -- Hoecakes!

One of the things that brings me the greatest joy is being able to use my creativity to create special and magical little moments for the people I care about ~ transforming the ordinary and sometimes mundane moments of life into something that shimmers!  Many of us long for "a life less ordinary", but find that commercialism has narrowed our focus to a few favored holidays.  In reality, almost every day is a day being celebrated somewhere in the world.  What better opportunity to learn about the people with whom we share our globe, than by acquainting ourselves with the unique ways that they express joy and celebrate life?

Since my many talented friends in the blogosphere have already produced a wealth of original, creative, and fun Valentine projects this year, I'd like to offer up a sweet little tradition for February's lesser celebrated offspring ~ President's Day, and more specifically, George Washington's Birthday.

This brings us to HOEcakes.  The hoecake is a small pancake ~ a sort of buttermilk, silver-dollar, cornbread hybrid.  Today it is cooked on a griddle, but back in our nation's more agrarian days, field hands (for lack of a decent frying pan) would remove the blade from their hoe and use it like a griddle over an open fire.  Back in George's day, the hoes used for cotton fields were much larger and flatter than the streamlined models we use for today's home gardening.  Hoecakes were served both for  breakfast, like pancakes, and as an accompaniment to a savory meal.  

"He rose before sunrise, always wrote or read until 7 in summer or half past seven in winter. His breakfast was then ready – he ate three small mush cakes (Indian meal) swimming in butter and honey, and drank three cups of tea without cream.”  
--Nelly Custis Lewis, step-granddaughter of G. Washington

Food anthropologists have confirmed that these "mush cakes" were even at the time, synonymous with hoe cakes.  

For the past few years I've made it a tradition, one that I've shared with my daughters' classrooms, to make hoecakes with honey butter in celebration of George Washington's birthday.  It gives us an opportunity to talk about the ways in which our country was different back then, the ways that people made do with what they had, and to learn more about our first president in a way that is relatable and fun  ~ "Hey, I eat pancakes for breakfast too!"  
Jean Fritz has written a wonderful children's book, "George Washington's Breakfast", in which the protagonist finds out that the first US president ate hoecakes for breakfast.  It's a delightful story, and makes a great prelude to making hoecakes with your family.
Following is my recipe for hoecakes.  One bite of these buttery, golden corn-kissed morsels and you'll be counting the days till next Presidents' Day weekend!

  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 1 cup cornbread mix (I prefer Marie Callender's)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 stick butter, melted and clarified (for greasing the griddle or skillet)

Whisk dry ingredients in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk and water. Pour wet ingredients into the well made in the dry. Mix well to combine. Let batter rest while heating the griddle.

Heat griddle to medium-high (approx. 350 degrees). Once preheated, brush surface with some of the clarified butter. Drop the batter, by heaping tablespoonfuls, on to the griddle. Fry until bubbles start to form in each hoecake. Flip and fry until golden brown. If serving a large crowd, transfer finished hoecakes to a baking sheet in a 175 degree oven while continuing to fry new batches. Serve with honey butter.


  1. Just stopped in to see what's going on. Thanks for the mini GW lesson. I bet these are yummy. How sweet of you to bring them to your daughter's class.

    Have a great weekend. Be back soon!


  2. They do sound delicious. I am not a pancake person. Crepes that's a different story,lol, but these hoecakes look so yummy.

    Did you know that President's Day in Canada is Family and Heritage Day?

  3. jenn...i read that book countless times as a kid...wish i still had it. good ol' george and i share a birthday...so as you can imagine, i have been slightly obsessed with him my whole life. i used to insist on hoe cakes for my birthday breakfast until i stopped eating breakfast--right around the time i discovered the joy of sleeping in until carpool arrived :)
    thank you for this little trip down memory lane.

  4. I love putting cornmeal in waffles but for whatever reason, never though to do it in pancakes. I bet these would be great with peanut butter!

  5. These look great! What a wonderful way to celebrate Presidents Day! You are right ... you should celebrate everyday because it is special! Thank you for sharing!

  6. These look wonderful, and the honey butter would be divine on them, just mouth watering. They HAVE to be better than the ones that George ate!!

  7. I love corn cakes, so this would be right up my alley! Thanks for the recipe.

  8. love that you focused on a holiday other than valentines, what a fun (and tasty) tradition! I will be trying these soon!

  9. I've never known why they were called hoecakes. Can't wait to try your recipe.

  10. How cool is this??? LOVE this idea to share this with our kiddos' classes. I really love the history behind this and how you're passing this along. I can't wait to make these with my children and share the story of George Washington with them! Thanks so much for linking these to Saturday Swap! So glad you joined us.

  11. YUMMY! I am passing this recipe on to my hubby who is always looking for a great, quick recipe for weekend brunch cooking. I would love for you to add this to Sweet Treat Saturday if you have the time! :)

  12. These look great. I love cornbread and I bet these are fantastic.

  13. I love the Jean Fritz book. I used to read it to my students. Your hoecakes look great!

    Stopping from SITS!

  14. What a great idea! We, too, try to make celebrations a learning experience as well as a fun one. This is terrific. I will be making these next weekend!

  15. Yummm! Wish I could taste as well as see.

    Warmly, Michelle


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