Corn dodgers’ history stretches back before John Wayne’s “True Grit”

  • By Judayrae Kruse Herald Columnist
  • Wednesday, January 12, 2011 12:01am
  • Life

Here’s a perfect example of how fantastic Forum readers are: Longtime Forum friend Rosie Batcheldor of Lake Stevens asked, in a Nov. 5 Forum, “Does anybody have a recipe for corn dodgers?” and then explained, “We watched a John Wayne movie, ‘Rooster Cogburn,’ and along the way, he

eats what he calls corn dodgers.

“Looks like balls of cornbread. He says his Chinese houseboy cooks them in big ladles of coonmeat grease. I’m sure there’s a better way today, though.”

I thought the dodgers sounded like hush puppies and said so, and faster than a flash, Jeff Crocker fired off a recipe for the puppies, saying, “Here is my friend Jeff Foxworthy’s recipe from ‘Red Neck Cooking.’”

And now, we hear from Everett helper-outer Lizzy Warner, “I FINALLY got a chance to get on a computer and Google corn dodgers. It was fun reading the history of them and just how far back in history they go — and the variations that have evolved.

“Maybe one of them is what Rosie is looking for. I hope these help her. Now, I want to get ‘True Grit’ the original, with John Wayne, and watch the part about those corn dodgers!”

Lizzy has sent several different recipes, most of which include some interesting sidelights. We’ll start with this one, taken from chowhound.chow.com, which is evidently based on a recipe which originally appeared in “America’s Best Lost Recipes.”

First, the preface: “Abraham Lincoln was raised on these little oval cornmeal cakes. George Washington Carver took them to school, and John Wayne used them for target practice in the movie ‘True Grit.’:

“Dating back to the 1800s, the first corn dodgers were made from ‘hot water corn bread,’ a mixture of cornmeal, pork fat, salt and boiling water that was formed into small oblong loaves and baked.

“Similar recipes were given different names, depending on how the dough was shaped and cooked. Corn pone have the same oblong shape as dodgers, but are pan-fried in lots of oil.

“Johnnycakes are flattened into small pancakes, then griddle-fried. Ashcakes are rounds of dough wrapped in cabbage leaves, then placed in the ashes of the campfire to cook. Hoecakes are formed into small pancakes, then placed on the flat side of a garden hoe (really!) and cooked over the campfire.”

Corn dodgers
2 tablespoons corn or vegetable oil, divided
2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups water
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 egg
Tap water

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Brush 1 tablespoon of the oil on a rimmed baking sheet.

Whisk the cornmeal, sugar, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Combine the water, buttermilk and butter in a large saucepan. In a slow, steady stream, whisk the cornmeal mixture into the liquid. Cook the mixture over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until the water is absorbed and the mixture is very thick, about 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool until warm, about 10 minutes. Whisk the baking powder and egg in a small bowl, then stir into the cornmeal mixture.

Fill a medium bowl with tap water. Scoop out a generous 2 tablespoons of the mixture and, using wet hands, form into a 4-by-11/2-inch loaf shape. Place on the prepared baking sheet and repeat with the remaining mixture, spacing the dodgers about 1/2-inch apart. Brush with the remaining tablespoon oil. Bake until deep brown on the bottom and golden brown on top, rotating the pan halfway through baking, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer the corn dodgers to a rack to cool slightly. Serve warm. (The corn dodgers can be refrigerated for up to 2 days; reheat on a baking sheet in a 350-degree oven.)

Makes 22.

Notes from the Test Kitchen: “Most 19th century recipes we tried yielded corn dodgers that were dense, gritty and hard as a brick. Starting with the base recipe of cornmeal, salt, butter and hot water, we added just a bit of sugar (just 1 1/2 tablespoons) to bring out the cornmeal’s sweet side.

“Replacing some of the water with buttermilk gave the dodgers a tangy flavor that tasters loved. Baking soda (which reacts with the buttermilk) and baking powder helped to lighten the dodgers considerably, and a single egg provided richness and gave the dodgers a creamy interior.”

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