Every move of the current President is documented in detail, but historians have to search through journal entries and letters to learn about the daily routines of our First President.
“We know that George Washington’s step-granddaughter, Nelly, wrote that George Washington’s favorite breakfast was hoecakes swimming in butter and honey,” said Melissa Wood of the Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens. The recipe is on display until August 2013 as part of the “Hoecakes & Hospitality: Cooking with Martha Washington” exhibit at the Mount Vernon museum.
In honor of George Washington’s 280th birthday, four Washington, D.C. chefs were invited to his Mount Vernon home to recreate the first President’s favorite breakfast. Each culinary team invoked its own twist as they cooked modern versions over open fire pits for guests who were touring the estate.
“I had never heard of hoecakes before,” said Chef Cathal Armstrong of Restaurant Eve, in his thick Irish accent. “I’m originally from Ireland so we didn’t have much corn growing there.”
The chef did his research to prepare, and learned a hoecake is, “basically a cornmeal pancake that was made on a hoe that they used in the gardens.”
Chef Armstrong, wanted his interpretation of the recipe to be authentic to what would have been available in Virginia back in 1821 when Nelly wrote the recipe.
“We finished it with things that they would have grown in the farms around these areas, so cherries, obviously George Washington was famous for his cherries. Then we used some apples and then pecans from Virginia and then a little splash of maple syrup. So we did a sweet version. Pretty tasty.”
Chef David Guas of Bayou Bakery wanted his hoecakes to represent his Cajun roots. “Compound pepper jelly butter will go on top and then a little drizzle of Louisiana cane syrup,” said Chef Guas. “That’s where I’m from so it is kind of like our honey. I wanted to put my spin on this day. It is actually produced, milled and canned in the hometown of my aunt in Abbeville, Louisiana, where they still speak French.”
All four chefs rolled out new recipes for the event, and left their modern appliances to cook over an open flame, without electricity. The biggest challenge with cooking outside: the cold morning.
“When we got here at 7 o’clock this morning, everything was covered in frost, so getting the temperature up to a point where we could fry things outside was the hardest part,” Chef Armstrong said with a smile as he kneeled next to the fire, flipping hoecakes in his skillet, as hungry guests looked on. “But we’re warm and toasty now.”
Nelly Custis's Recipe for Hoecakes
George Washington's typical breakfast has been described by both members of his immediate family and by several of their guests, as well. One of the best descriptions was left by Martha Washington's youngest granddaughter, Nelly, who was raised at Mount Vernon after the death of her father:
I. Original Hoecake Recipe
II. Adaptation of the Hoecake Recipe
1. In large container, mix together 4 cups white cornmeal, 1 1/4 teaspoons dry yeast, and enough warm water to give the mixture the consistency of pancake batter (probably 3 to 4 cups). Cover and set on the stove or counter overnight.
2. In the morning, gradually add remaining cornmeal, egg, and enough warm water to give the mixture the consistency of pancake batter (about 3 to 4 cups). Cover and set aside for 15 to 20 minutes.
3. Add cooking grease to a griddle or skillet and heat until water sprinkled into it will bead up.
4. Pour batter, by the spoonful, onto the hot griddle. (Note: Since the batter has a tendency to separate, you will need to stir it well before pouring each batch.) When the hoecake is brown on one side, turn it over and brown the other. Serve warm with butter and honey.
1 cup self rising flour
Mix all dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix all wet ingredients. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry and mix.
Heat a cast iron skillet. Over medium heat, cook the hoecakes on both sides, as you would a pancake.
Apple Cherry Pecan Relish
1 cup of dried sour cherries
Poach cherries in simple syrup until plump and tender. Strain out liquid and set aside.
Rough chop cherries in a food processor. Take poaching liquid and reduce by half with a vanilla bean. Poach apples in strained liquid until tender, about 4 minutes.
Mix apples, cherries and remaining liquid together together in a bowl. Slowly add nuts in until you reach a desired consistency.
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