While touring a cemetery in New Orleans a few weeks ago, I overheard Ray Reiker, a wine auctioneer from Alabama and a real southern gentleman, telling our tour guide the origin of the Hush Puppy. At our next stop, I pulled Ray aside and got him to tell us the story on film.
Nathalie Dupree, a highly-decorated grand dame of southern cooking, has a soft-spot for Hush Puppies. She told me that fried fish and hush puppies were a central part of her wedding supper on Ocracoke Island, North Carolina. "I still think them a magical combination." On the next page, you can read her version of a Hush Puppy memoir, and then try her own recipe for the snack that keeps the dawgs quiet. Nathalie Dupree sent me this story. She reports a slightly different version of the story Ray Reiker tells in the video, but still, in the same spirit, the snack was meant to hush the puppies.
"Fried fish and hush puppies were a central part of the supper in 1969 on Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, that I shared with my husband, David, on our wedding day, and I still think them a magical combination.
"Together with our families we congregated at the Ocracoke Inn. The inn's long pine wooden tables were gleaming, and the smells and sounds of foods frying from the kitchen were seductive. The requisite hot sauce was on the table next to the oleanders. Platters of hot, freshly fried fish, moist inside, crunchy-fried outside, were accompanied by Southern vegetables and bowls of cool coleslaw. And, of course, there were heaping plates of hush puppies to complete the meal.
"The origins of this Southern staple are obscure, but at least one story repeated in Southern folklore traces them to the hunting and fishing camps so popular in the South of yesteryear as well as today. Amid the bountiful, boisterous eating that comes from catching one's own and cooking in the open came the frying of a cornmeal batter to go with the crisp fried fish.
"Dogs, sniffing around the campfire, were tantalized by the smells and excited by the festivities. To quiet them, a cook fried up the last of the fish batter, thick from sitting, and tossed it to the "dawgs," crying out "Hush, puppy." On the next fishing expedition, the cook chipped some onions into his thick cornmeal batter, shaped the mixture into balls, and ate the "hush puppies" himself.
"The important thing is, of course, the hot, fish-flavored fat—always at 350°F. The shape is debatable—round, thick, long, or thin? If no fish has been fried in the fat, add a bit more salt to the batter!"
Click here for Nathalie's recipe for Hush Puppies.