Go ahead and talk ugly about my hairdo, say my pearls are plastic, but whatever you do, don’t ever give me a hard-as-a-rock, pre-cooked and flash frozen hushpuppy.
They’re easy to spot and wildly rampant these days, even in the best restaurants. Looking like little brown jawbreakers from the gumball machine, and tasting about as good, the balled-up rock of bread isn’t fit to feed a human, much less toss to a poor yapping hound.
Cornbread pairs nicely with collard greens and biscuits are appropriate for Hoppin’ John or anything with gravy. But if you are feasting on Southern seafood from the Gulf of Mexico or a fat catfish from a cool wooded lake, hushpuppies are the only way to go.
If cornbread is good, then deep fried cornbread is even better. And if butter on bread is good, then bread you are encouraged to dip in cocktail sauce is amazing. Crunchy on the outside, soft and steamy on the inside, why is it so hard for restaurants to get this right?
I always pictured the story of Jesus feeding the multitudes with fried fish and hushpuppies because that’s all I ever knew growing up on the Gulf Coast. I never doubted the story because a Southern version of the Seafood Passion Play was reenacted in my backyard almost every weekend. Cooking the fish, he and his friends had caught just hours before, my dad would fry them in a hot pot of oil. The hushpuppies were saved for last. Friends, cousins and neighbors all came to enjoy his freshly caught offering. After the blessing, Daddy always made the same joke, “The only rule we have for eating fish in this house is that you keep one foot on the floor at all times.” Ha-ha-ha, just pass the hushpuppies.
Daddy’s uncle made him a “hushpuppy paddle” that looked like a smaller version of the paddle my elementary school principal carried around and tapped against his hand as he talked to the wide-eyed children.
The hushpuppy paddle was loaded with the thick batter my mother prepared (with diced onions but never sugar). Holding the mounded paddle over the pot, daddy would use a knife to push a lump off the end and send it plopping into the sizzling oil. Each hushpuppy had an uneven oblong shape, a sure sign of an authentic, homemade “pup.”
Biting into a restaurant’s fakepuppy, all the moisture is sucked from your mouth and your tears are dried up for a week. Visitors to our Alabama beaches don’t know any better and just think the giant marbles served with their fish are a game to play with, like Cracker Barrel’s little triangle and golf-tee game. “Do we juggle them, throw them, roll them, use them to balance the wobbly table?” Sure, but whatever you do, don’t eat them.
Crying out to all the restaurant owners, do any of you still make real hushpuppies? And by the way, the pearls are real, so . . . “hush” puppy.
This story first appeared on AL.com. Click HERE to share it with a hushpuppy lover you know. It will be in the Sunday edition of the Mobile Press-Register, Birmingham News and Huntsville Times.
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