Myth #26: Hoe Cakes Revisited

I received an e-mail from Rod Cofield, Director of Interpretation and Museum Programs for Historic London Town and Gardens in Maryland, taking issue with Myth #26 on Hoe Cakes. He attached an article he wrote on this topic that was published in the Food History News in 2008 (link below).

Rod was too much the gentleman to say I was flat out wrong about hoe cakes, but the fact of the matter is, I was. According to his exhaustive research, the name hoe cake comes not from the slaves cooking the cornmeal on a metal hoe, but rather from an earlier meaning of the word hoe, which was synonymous with griddle. Slaves cooking hoe cakes were probably cooking them over a fire near their fields on a griddle or in a skillet. Nothing says they couldn’t use a flat hoe if they were griddle-less, but that isn’t the origin of the term.

In a nutshell, Rod’s thorough survey of documents and pictorial evidence led him to conclude that a hoe was the name of a cooking implement, another word for griddle or peel. “From a naming standpoint, the term hoe used for a cooking implement as early as the 1670s strongly suggests that when colonists baked a mixture of Indian corn (or wheat) and liquid on a peel or griddle, this food item became known as a hoe cake. The name stuck even when a hoe cake was cooked in a skillet or pan.”

With Rod’s permission, I’m directing you to his impeccably researched and documented article. (Click on the title.) It even has illustrations! Yes, it’s long, but worth every minute. Do I sound impressed? I am. And I’m sure you will agree when I nominate Rod Cofield for Hoe Cake King.

How the Hoe Cake (Most Likely) Got Its Name

or http://www.historiclondontown.org/files/Hoe-Cake-Etymology-web.pdf


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2 Responses to Myth #26: Hoe Cakes Revisited

  1. Joanne says:

    A very interesting article and a very gracious “mea culpa”…thank you , Mary. I shall always remember HOE cakes!

  2. Sue Blakeman says:

    Wonderful research article! Why could it not be both? As a gardener/farmer, I do not want to carry anything more than necessary to my work, and I have not far to go. After just a morning’s work, I am loathe to carry any extra weight, such as a griddle. It seems much more likely that poor pioneers would pocket a handful of cornmeal and a pinch of salt (were they fortunate enough to have it), or perhaps wrap it in a cloth, and simply stop and cook it on a rinsed off work hoe.

    My interest is due becoming involved in open hearth cooking for historical programs in a local Florida pioneer park. I want to provide good information to our visitors. Florida pioneers and Seminoles would have few of the ‘luxuries’ of even 17th century New England or the Carolinas. Thank you!

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