Oven baked corn dodgers are just scalded cornmeal baked into sturdy discs. They’re just what you need for dunking into a bowl of beans or turnip greens. A little bacon grease for flavor never hurts.
No, this is not a batch of Mindy’s Nashville Cornmeal Cookies, though they are their non-sweet cousins. They’re corn dodgers, or oven baked hot water hoecakes (named for the method used by slaves to cook cornmeal over an open fire). If you did’t have a hoe, you made ashcakes by cooking the meal on a hot stone (or wrapped in a cabbage leaf) near a fire.
Making these primitive, rib-sticking, corny cakes will keep you connected to the ancients and our European forebears. Dodgers/hoe cakes don’t need much of a recipe because they’re an instinct, know it or not. Cooking cornmeal is in your DNA. So, just start with:
1. A couple cups of plain cornmeal, white or yellow, in a mixing bowl.
2. Add a teaspoon of Kosher salt (1/2 teaspoon per cup) and a tablespoon of oil or bacon grease (not as authentic as bear grease, but more unctuous than vegetable oil). And you might want to throw in a spoonful of sugar to help with the browning.
3. Slowly pour some hot water into the bowl and stir the batter with a fork. Aim for right between dense thick and runny. It will seem a bit pasty. You want the batter to hold together as you spoon it out, not pour like pancake batter. Since the hot water is actually cooking and hydrating the meal just let it sit for a few minutes in the bowl while the oven heats up to 450F. If after 5 or 10 minutes the batter seems too stiff (and it probably will), add a little more water and stir to loosen.
4. Lightly grease a cookie or baking sheet. Using a regular spoon, scoop up some hot meal and drop it onto the sheet, tapping the spoon as it spreads out into a circle, more or less. The batter should be roughly evenly thick across which helps the dodgers cook evenly.
Bake in the oven for about 20 to 25 minutes or until the dodgers start to brown. Cut one in half and check to see if the interior is cooked. Serve hot as is, or with butter if you like. To us, corn dodgers go best with turnip greens, or an icy dry martini. Store dodgers in the refrigerator or freezer and reheat in the oven, toaster oven, even the microwave works. Just don’t overcook them or they’ll get too hard. Not that you won’t still eat them and love every bite. There’s just something magical about ground corn and humanity owes the plant from which it comes a debt of gratitude.
When we’re in Rhode Island, which like much of the South, is white cornmeal country, we make Johnny Cakes–Yankee-style hot water hoecakes made on a griddle. Another Native American gift to the new arrivals. (Photos courtesy Michele Batchik Parvizi). Kenyon’s Grist Mill cornmeal products are available online.