Celebrating President's Day: Hoecakes
Photography: Con Poulos
Source: Martha Stewart Living, February 2004
This year, consider making hoecakes instead of cherry pie to honor George Washington's birthday. Our first president's association with these cornmeal cakes makes them a more appropriate tribute, since the tale of his chopping down a cherry tree was, in fact, fabricated by an early biographer.
Common breakfast fare during Washington's time, hoecakes were originally a mainstay of field hands, who cooked them, not surprisingly, on their hoes. At Washington's Mount Vernon estate in Virginia -- according to his step-granddaughter Nelly Custis -- he ate them "swimming in butter and honey" every morning. Washington's Birthday, unofficially called Presidents' Day, is commemorated on the third Monday in February.
Americans began the tradition in the late eighteenth century, while Washington was still a general, by celebrating on his birthday (recognized on modern calendars as February 22). During the Nixon administration in the early 1970s, a proposal was considered to honor other past presidents as well, most notably Abraham Lincoln, who was born February 12. Although renaming the federal holiday Presidents' Day was discussed, the change was never legislated.
Official or not, the day is now used by most Americans to pay homage to all presidents -- especially Washington and Lincoln, who shared not only their birth month but also a taste for hoecakes. Lincoln could eat them, he once said, "twice as fast as anyone could make them." Sure, Honest Abe was probably exaggerating. But try a stack of our hoecakes -- warm and dense and slathered with butter and honey -- and you'll see why. Truth is, they're delicious any day.