For the long Labor Day weekend, I flew east to join my sister and brother in law for a trip to visit my grandparents in Virginia. Their house is one of my favorite places, the familiar red brick and cedar perched between railroad tracks on a bank of the New River. I spent a good chunk of my childhood summers there, fishing, playing, catching fireflies, gardening, and most memorably, eating. The fruit trees are a full blown orchard and the flower gardens are gone now, but even still, the trains whistling by at night are comforting rather than disruptive, and especially in summer, the sound of the river and the smell of the grass on a hot, humid late-summer day is perfect. Also, the persistent lackluster cell-signal and wifi make it a super relaxing place to visit!
We packed a lot in three days, trying a new-to-us restaurant, The Palisades, one town over, that I had randomly heard about from my friend Susan’s mom. It was definitely a nice change from Applebee's or Olive Garden, with great pizza, but was admittedly a little too loud, with an original tin roof and brick walls that echo the volume of the dining room into a decibel level that drowned out all table conversation. The restaurant is in a converted general store, and my Grandma thinks it looks like “a dump” and I thought it was the cutest restaurant I’d seen in a while, so maybe it was just too millennial? We had a nice meal, regardless.
On Saturday, we did a little fishing until we got rained out of the river, and then on Sunday we drove over for brunch at Mountain Lake, a resort best known as the filming location for Dirty Dancing and where the lake has shockingly all but disappeared. Where would Baby practice her lifts now?
But my favorite meal was on Saturday night, when Claire and I shooed our Grandparents out of the kitchen and fried up a feast of fish and chips, coleslaw, and hushpuppies. Grandpa called us "surgical" in our precise planning of the meal, so I think it's safe to say we impressed them!
However, I wasn't about to fry up any hushpuppies without instructions from the master. To me, hushpuppies are a must with a fish fry, and my Grandpa's hushpuppies are hands down my favorite. But whenever he writes a recipe down for me, it never comes out the same. Maybe it's that food just tastes better when someone makes it for you, but I have a sneaking suspicion he leaves something out, something indefinable, the way my Great-Grandmother used to mix her biscuits until they "just feel right". That's hard to capture in writing. So, I brought him into the kitchen to show me how it's done, and paid close attention as he poured, stirred, and spooned the batter into hot oil.
This past weekend, I successfully re-created the hushpuppies in my own kitchen, so I think it worked! But also, I think the key here is full faithfulness to the original recipe, which means using self-rising flour and something that is hard to find outside of the south, self-rising cornmeal mix. Those aren't commonly used ingredients in my pantry, but self-rising flours and mixes are a staple in southern baking, so you just have to go with it.
I added some jalapenos to half of mine, which give the hushpuppies a little kick and pair extremely well with the maple butter I spread on the split hushpuppies. But if you don't want to go making them spicy, the original recipe is just fine: crunchy outside, creamy inside, and full of delicious cornbread flavor! They are incredibly difficult to stop eating.
This is the way my Grandpa makes these. He uses a fry baby that only has one temperature setting, and he told me to heat the oil until it’s boiling. I interpreted that to mean 375 degrees and it worked perfectly.
1 Cup self-rising cornmeal mix
1/4 cup self-rising flour
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 tbs butter, melted
2 tbs salted butter
1 tsp maple syrup
Whisk all dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In another small bowl, whisk together wet ingredients and then whisk into dry mixture. Let sit for at least 10 minutes.
Add 3 inches of cooking oil in a large pot and heat to 375 degrees. Gently drop the batter into the hot oil by large spoonfuls and fry until they have flip themselves over and are evenly golden on all sides.
Vigorously stir butter and maple syrup together until light and whipped consistency. Serve with hot hushpuppies.
You can spice these up a little by adding a jalapeno. Just seed and finely dice, then stir into the batter.