If you are a regular reader of my column, chances are you have heard me gushing about how great our neighbors and neighborhood are. And I'll gush again -- ours is a neighborhood where the kids from our families run out our back doors to play together in the yard, where the grown-ups stand around in the late afternoon sun chatting, where kids and pets alike are cared for at a moment's notice, garden produce is shared and you can always borrow an ingredient for supper. Yes, we are truly lucky people.
Last Sunday afternoon in an attempt to shake off a case of the blahs, my family somehow decided that a backyard water fight would be a good idea. We gathered squirt guns, sponges and buckets and kept the hose handy for refills, spending more than an hour chasing one another around the yard, yelling and laughing as we became progressively more and more soaked. Several times during the mayhem I noted that there was a truly delicious smell emanating from Mark and Pam's house, where football was being watched. Mark is a great and adventurous cook and for Sunday afternoon football sessions he always is cooking up something delicious to share. Had I not been so intent on avoiding having a bucket of cold water dumped on me, I would've gone right over to see what was on the menu.
Later, sides aching from laughter, soaked through to the bone and ready to get warm, I headed into our house to dry off and start dinner. Fish tacos with coleslaw and guacamole were on the menu and there was lots of prep to do. Marielle, our 13-year-old, made the guac while I tackled the coleslaw. My husband worked on home projects and Margot, aged 8, disappeared over to Mark and Pam's house to play with their daughter, Lilly, who wasn't really all that into watching the game. Our lives hummed along happily, everyone contentedly enjoying the end of the weekend.
Supper almost ready, I walked over to break the news to Margot that it was time to come home. I was not looking forward to this as I know she is not a fan of fish tacos and who wants to leave a playdate for something considered yucky for dinner? As I approached their house, the delicious smell of earlier became apparent again. What was that? Rich and savory, I tried to place it, but just couldn't. I found Margot and avoided the "What's for supper?" question when she handed me a plastic bag full of golden brown, crusty globes each about the size of a large doughnut hole. I opened the bag and took a sniff. Mark had made hush puppies!
Essentially a cornmeal fritter, hush puppies originated from the South and are often served at seafood restaurants as a side dish or alongside barbeque. I tracked Mark down to say "wow" and "thanks." He had made chili and thought that his mom's hush puppies would be the perfect accompaniment. I broke one open and took a bite, savoring the corniness and being pleasantly surprised by the unexpected addition of carrots and broccoli. I hadn't had hush puppies in years and couldn't believe my luck -- granted, you don't expect to have them alongside a fish taco, but that wouldn't stop me!
Saying good bye, Mark and I exchanged final comments commiserating about what to do with the oil required for the frying, and then Margot and I made our way home. I was eating more of these hush puppies than anyone ever should, so when we came upon our other neighbors saying hello to our dog, I offered them the bag. Tessa exclaimed that she hadn't had them since she was a kid and I got to show 4-year-old Jude why they were called hush puppies -- our dog Wonka sat right down he was so intent on having one.
Of course, I just had to have the recipe which Mark happily shared. Next time I make chili I'll whip up a batch of these instead of our usual cornbread.
Mark's Mom's Hush Puppies
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup corn meal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup buttermilk (or regular milk works, too)
1/4 cup minced onion
2 cups vegetable oil
Heat oil in a cast iron skillet or fryer.
Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Combine the wet ingredients (including the onion) and add to dry. Stir to just mix together - too much stirring and "they get kinda tough".
Drop in hot oil with small spoon and fry till golden brown, turning as needed. Test one by cutting it in half. Drain on paper towels.
For Mark's veggie variation chop carrots and broccoli very small and sauté them with the onions, adding 2 cloves of garlic. Add to the wet ingredients.
It's great to live in a neighborhood with such good people. Unexpected hush puppies on a Sunday night. Cider shared from a pressing in Marlboro. A tomato for emergency BLTs. Kid play dates. Dogs and cats. Always a chance to say hello and check in. Yes, we are truly lucky.
P.S. - Speaking of fritters, check out the Apple Fritter Fest at Robb Family Farm this Saturday beginning at 10 a.m. Fritters twice in one week? I can hardly believe my luck!
Julie Potter is a wife, mother of two, avid gardener and passionate cook who believes good food doesn't have to be complicated. Share your thoughts with her at email@example.com.