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Puppy Love



I've discovered that our community is passionate about the hush puppy. A few weeks back, I mentioned in this Potluck column that a tasty little ball of cornbread had accompanied my meal at Front Range Barbeque. I failed to recognize it as the beloved hush puppy. Legions of hush puppy fans have since brought to my attention that I know squat about the cornmeal treats, so my apologies to them for the offense.

And my apologies to the Front Range Barbecue, where the incident took place. Theirs was an excellent hush puppy, very tasty. In fact, it was so tasty that I lamented in the article that more should accompany the meal. That was really the point.

In all honesty, I never made the hush puppy connection because I've always associated hush puppies with fish, not ribs (which is what I had ordered). Still, it was an oversight -- or, as one fine reader described it, a "Yankee blunder."

So passionate about the hush puppy issue were several of our readers, that I actually received phone calls on a daily basis highlighting the error of my ways. Some callers offered "a little free advice," while others suggested I "stick to burgers and leave the complicated foods like cornbread and hush puppies to the more accomplished ... ."

But the words of one avid reader were particularly inspirational: "I think it's your job to do research and to write the proper things in an article ... and not just write about things you know."

She's right. So research I did, curious as to just what fuels this hush puppy passion.

The first thing I learned is that when you search the Internet under hush puppy, the results can be confusing. Among the more interesting sites was one touting the lost morals of the 1950s. Another offered links to 20 different photos of an incarcerated Ted Bundy. And then there were the shoes. But we'll get to that later.

The hush puppy, as defined by Linda's Culinary Dictionary, is a "small fried cornmeal dumpling, usually flavored with chopped green onion. A traditional accompaniment to fried catfish."

There seems to be some variance on the creation of the hush puppy. There's the theory that hush puppies originated (under a different name) in a small town in New Orleans, around 1727. They were created by a group of nuns who sailed over from France. And in no time, the reputation of this fine food spread quickly to other Southern states.

The name is thought to have originated during the Civil War era, when camp cooks would toss scraps of fried batter to barking dogs with the admonition, "Hush, puppy!" A similar version of this story appears in the Joy of Cooking, which says that fishermen used to cook these "concoctions" on the riverbank, along with their catch. They then threw them to their clamorous dogs with the same warning. And there is yet another story with the same plot, but with trappers instead.

In any event, it seems that these tasty little morsels originated as dog treats. Which brings us to a shoe salesman named Jim Muir, who, in 1958, was traveling in Tennessee with a new line of shoes. While dining at a friend's house, he noticed that when his friend's hound dogs barked, he tossed them hush puppies. This got Jim to thinking. At the time, feet were called "dogs," and aching feet were called "barking dogs." Since his friend's hush puppies had quieted the dogs, Muir thought the same concept could work for the new line of shoes.

The hush puppy's history is long and varied; more than I ever imagined. Bottom line: They are a true Southern dish and a true piece of Americana. That's one of those unbreakable bonds.

I now understand hush puppy love.

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