A hushpuppy is a fritter made in the American south from a cornmeal and buttermilk batter.
The fritters are deep-fried; they come out crunchy and golden-brown on the outside; and on the inside, moist, creamy and yellow (or white, depending on the cornmeal used.)
They are usually made as small, round ones about the size of a golf ball, or slightly oblong.
Traditionally, they are fried up in grease that fish has been fried in.
Recipes vary: some add chopped green onion, beer, jalapeños, etc.
You can also buy mixes.
There are many different stories about the origin of Hushpuppy, both the actual food and the name.
One is that poor people would batter up salamanders, also called “water dogs”, to feed to their family. But because the women didn’t want others to know they were so poor they were eating lizards, they’d tell their family to hush.
Another is these fritters were cooked up to keep dogs quiet. This story has a zillion variants, as to why, and the cast of characters involved. All are equally unlikely.
Was it simply that these were fritters, made from leftover batter from frying fish, that were cooked up and tossed to the dogs as a treat, the way some people in England still make extra Yorkshires as a Sunday treat for the dogs?
One thing’s for sure: the food, and the legends associated with Hushpuppies, reflect a Southerner’s love for both deep-fried food, and a good story.
The oldest reference that CooksInfo.com has found to the term “hush puppy” is in 1879. It’s not certain, however, what exactly the mention of “hush puppy gravy” means.
Jim Gillet, of Lampasas Springs, who took one of the scalps, covered his revolver holster with it, but afterwards, in bending over a frying pan at breakfast, he trailed the long hair into the “hush puppy” gravy, whereupon Lieutenant N.O. Reynolds applied a torch to the greasy locks, and in an instant nothing was left but the bald skin. “Wah!” said a wooly ranger as he sniffed the burnt hair, “you have spoilt my appetite.” — Bow, Shield, Quiver and Arrows. From the San Antonio, Texas Herald. In: The Advocate. Tipton, Indiana. 5 December 1879. Page 4.
Aside from that, the term Hushpuppy doesn’t appear in print much before the 1940s. Of the random mentions before then, many are in some way linked to Florida.
Here is a 1938 reference, linking the origin of the name to the theory of a treat for the dogs. It also links the origin to Florida:
“Florida contributed a surprising story about the origin of corn meal mush. The early Floridans used to call it “hush puppies.” Seems some family cook grew annoyed at the yelping of the dogs at the kitchen door. So she used to pat together unseasoned cakes of corn meal, fry them in a meat grease, and toss them to the dogs to quiet them. But the dogs yelped so loudly for more then their lords and masters decided to try the dish.” – Arne, Sigrid. “Off the Record” column. Sandusky Register. Sandusky, Ohio. 22 March 1938. Page 4.
A 1942 reference book passage does the same. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was born in Washington DC, but moved to Florida, where she wrote about the lives and habits of her neighours there. She wrote this about Hushpuppies:
I do not know where, among the cornbreads, to place hush-puppies. There are elevated Floridians who turn up their noses at hush-puppies, but any huntsman would not exchange a plate of them for crêpes suzettes. They are made and served only in camp, or when one is frying fresh-caught fish informally at home, with the returned fishermen clustered comfortably in the kitchen while the cook works. Hush-puppies have a background, which is more than many fancy breads can claim. Back of them is the hunt, the fishing trip, the camaraderie, the grease in the Dutch oven aromatic to hungry sportsmen. First, you fry your pristine fish, boned and filleted, rolled in fine cornmeal and salt and dropped into sizzling fat. You lift out the fish, golden-brown, and lay them on pie plates close to the camp fire. While they have been frying, you have stirred up your mixture: fine white cornmeal, salt, a little soda or baking powder, an egg or two or three if the camp be affluent, and, if you want hush-puppies de resistance, finely chipped raw onion. You make the mixture dry and firm. You pat it into little cakes or croquettes between your hands and drop the patties into the smoking deep fat in which the fish have been fried. They brown quickly to the color of winter oak leaves, and you must be sure to have your coffee and any other trifles ready, for when the hush-puppies are brown, your meal is ready.
They must be eaten so hot that they burn the fingers that lift them, for the licking of fingers, as with the Chinese genius who discovered roast pig, is the very best of it. Do they sound impossible? I assure you that under the open sky they are so succulent that you do not care whether you have the rest of your dinner or not. The name? It came, old-timers say, from hunting trips of long ago, when the hunters sat or stood around the camp fire and the Negro cooks and helpers sweat over their cooking and the hunters ate lustily. And although the hunting dogs tethered to nearby trees had been fed their evening meal, they smelled the good smells of man’s victuals, and tugged at their leashes, and whined for a tid-bit extra. Then cook or helper or huntsman would toss the left-over little corn patties to the dogs, calling, “Hush, puppies!” And the dogs bolted the toothsome morsels and hushed, in their great content.” — Rawlings, Marjorie Kinnan. Cross Creek. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1942.
Another 1942 reference to Florida, fish and dogs:
“Did you ever hear of hush puppies? I have a letter from a friend who is in Florida. He is an Amarillo young man and he is stationed down there on business connected with this war. He says that in most places in Florida, hush puppies are served in fish. It’s an old Florida table custom. it seems. The story is that in the old days when folks had fish after the fish had been cooked they cooked meal in the fish-grease and threw it to the dogs. Hence came the name. “Hush Puppies.” Anyway, here is the recipe and the next time you have fish out at your home, you try it:
One egg. Three cups of meal. One cup of floor. One-half teaspoon baking powder. Pinch of soda. One teaspoon sugar. A little black pepper. Chop one medium onion. Mix well with water. Drop large spoonful in piping hot grease. Cook until brown. Use grease in which fish have been cooked, if possible.” — The Amarillo Globe-News Jeep. Amarillo, Texas. 30 November 1942. Page 2.
A 1946 reference to a northern crowd being introduced to Hushpuppies.:
“It was good old southern cooking to the fore. The interested state nutrition committee and its guests settled back to watch while Miss Irene Hansen, demonstrating at the Mountain Fuel Supply company’s auditorium Thursday afternoon, made a kettleful of “hush-puppies.” The previous lack of hush-puppies in their lives struck everybody full force when the finished crispy results were lifted from the hot lard. It seems that the southern Negroes have been given to outdoor fishfries over open fires — their hungry dogs would gather around, sniffing — to appease them they dropped bits of a certain dough mix into the frying kettles and tossed the results to the dogs, who knew a good thing when it was handed them. The modern, up-to-date hushpuppy is now appearing at luncheon parties as hot bread or as a salad accompaniment. Salt Lake housewives may like to try it—so get out the frying kettle and the box of yellow cornmeal. Here’s how:
Hush-Puppies: Mix and sift ½ cup flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 tablespoon sugar, ½ teaspoon salt, 1 ½ cups cornmeal (yellow preferred) and dampen to muffin consistency with 1 egg beaten into ¾ cup milk. Drop from teaspoon into kettle of lard heated to 360 degrees —about the same as for doughnuts. Fry for eight or ten minutes till a nice light brown.” — Hush – Puppies — It’s Delicious. The Salt Lake Tribune. Salt Lake City, Utah. 11 January 1946. Page 15.
Literature & Lore
¼ cup sifted flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 ¾ cups enriched yellow cornmeal
1 large egg (slightly beaten)
1 cup milk
Fat for frying
Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and cornmeal. Combine egg and milk; add to sifted ingredients, stirring lightly until moistened. (Batter thickens quickly after mixing.) Fry heaping teaspoonfuls of the mixture in hot (375 degrees) deep fat until golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes, turning once. Drain on absorbent paper. Serve at once with butter. Makes 2 ½ to 3 dozen.” — The Progress-Index. Petersburg, Virginia. 2 August 1961. Page 10.
Charboneau, Regina. Hushpuppies: From Civil War to Modern Standby. Atlantic Magazine. April 2010.