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To me, a library is the closest thing to heaven on Earth. I spent so many lazy summer afternoons and winter weekends holed up in a chair in libraries all over the city. And the Central Library is a jewel in Indianapolis’ Downtown crown, one of my absolute favorite spots. But it’s a bit tough to navigate without the help of the lovely librarians who, during my most recent visit, guided me through the stacks and right to the recipes section. That’s where I picked up Sesqui-Samplings: 150 Years of Cooking in Indianapolis.

Sesqui Samplings was released in 1971, in celebration of Indianapolis’ sesquicentennial year. Charlene Lugar, wife of Richard, served as Honorary Chairman for the cookbook, in which she inscribed this introduction:

“In this day and age of car pools, TV dinners, punching time clocks and doing civic duty, it is hard for today’s mobile woman to comprehend the ‘simple’ life our pioneer women not only endured but endowed. The recipes of early settles were simple and unsophisticated, with a lot of “a pinch” of this and “a lump” of that. … The phrase “Hoosier Hospitality” expresses the happy combination of superior cooking skills and the genuine warm-heartedness of our people.”Batter + all-purpose chef's knife

The book’s collection of recipes ranges from 1820 to 1970, neatly paired with historic facts about the city and notated recipes. I would happily cook anything in the collection, but I found myself drawn to a recipe attributed to the very first European American settler of Indianapolis, George Pogue.  Pogue’s life may have ended in mystery (some call it Indiana’s very first cold case), but one of his favored recipes had a much simpler explanation. Corn dodgers (also called Johnnycakes, hoe-cakes, or one of a hundred other names) were a staple of early American settlements.

William Frederick Vogel writes in Home Life in Early Indiana (excerpted and published in June 1914 in the Indiana Magazine of History):

“Johnny cake was baked on a board made for this purpose, about ten inches wide and fifteen inches long and rounding at the top. The thick corn dough was placed on the board which was set against a chunk of wood near the fire. After one side had been baked to a nice brown, the other side was treated the same way. The resulting cake was often delicious. If a johnny-cake board was not at hand, a hoe, without a handle, was cleaned and greased with bear’s oil. The dough was baked on this metal surface and was called a hoe-cake.” 

The ingredients 

1 cup corn meal
1 tsp salt
1 ½ tsp sugar
1 tbsp butter or bacon drippings
1 cup boiling water

The instructions 

Mix all ingredients except water. Pour water over mixture and beat until well blended. Dip hand in cold water, take a handful of batter, and drop onto a greased cookie sheet or griddle. Bake in a 400 degree over about 8 minutes, or fry in griddle on top of stove.On the griddle

Historical variation

I imagine most home cooks putting together the Pogue Corn Dodgers would use a cast iron skillet to fry them up quickly over a fire, or use the Johnny cake board that Vogel wrote of. I didn’t have my cast iron skillet handy, so I opted for the next best thing: my great aunt’s 1930’s heavy-bottomed saucepan. I have an almost-complete set of her cookware, which I treasure (and scrub heartily – anti-stick technology wasn’t at its height in the ’30s!).

Ivan’s recipe makes no mention of oil used in the pan for frying. Throw some extra bacon drippings in to make sure your dodgers don’t stick.

When there’s a choice between using butter and bacon drippings, I always – always – pick bacon drippings. As I started putting the Pogue Corn Dodgers together, I wondered what this said about me. Then I came to the realization: bacon is awesome. Everybody knows this. Later, I decided to use some of the cooked and diced bacon as a topping, along with some chopped green onion. A few quickly chopped toppings, and the Pogue Corn Dodgers are elevated to a rustic and tasty appetizer.

Source: Ivan Pogue, great-great-great grandson of George Pogue; recipe contributed to Sesqui-Samplings in 1970

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2 responses to “Vintage Vittles: George Pogue’s Corn Dodgers”

  1. Norm Morford says:

    Thanks, Katherine. It so happens that we have a “sesqui” double deck of cards that celebrates that event in the life of Indy. AND what on earth happened 25 years later? I think very little was made of the date — and who is planning for 2021? I would like to propose my wife, Pamela Ruth Patterson Morford for a committee on cooking. She began in the life of a poorly paid Purdue U. professor whose wife was a superb person for stretching the dollar to feed six people — Durland Holden Patterson, Sr., who taught French and Spanish at PU, her parents who lived with them for several years until their death, Pam and her older brother DHP, Jr. called Mike to distinguish “Pat” from “Mike.” Mary Hollis Patterson was a well known Girl Scout leader in the Lafayette area, working in the poorer section of south Lafayette for many years. Mary’s work was celebrated in “Mary’s Ring” at the Girl Scout camp on Wildcat Creek east of Lafayette — a fireside spot in the camp. Pam not only learned all her mother knew about cooking in a thrifty manner and Girl Scout cooking outdoors; Pam and a friend from Hanover College worked one summer doing the cooking at a GSA camp in North Carolina.

    My thought is that Pam may for this advanced year in which we live know more and practice more of the cooking secrets from all her family and from my mother Harriet Horney Morford [Mrs. Elbert Silas Morford] and her mother Mrs. Carrie Eulon Cox Horney [Mrs. Wal J Horney] who lived most of her adult life on a farm a mile north of Hortonville and was active most of her married life at the no longer functioning congregation of Hortonville Meeting of Friends [Quaker]. The cooking secret that we still use from my grandmother Ethel Ann Day Morford [Mrs. Arthur Ray Morford[, also a Quaker, was to use older apples to make strewed apples. Grandmother Morford always had freshly cooked apples — a wonderful treat.

    Just this past week while Marsh had wonderful peaches for sale for 99 cents per pound, Pam fixed peaches for the two of us in more ways than I suspect most cooks know to use them and then also froze a number of packages to carry that wonderful treat into the winter months.

    Any one out there want to challenge my nominaiton of Pam to the cooking committe for Indy 2021?

    Oh yes, I neglected to mention, Pam also taught foreign language at Westlane Middle School, WAshington Twp., Marion Co. for many years and had French dinners several of those years and taught some students to make uniquely French dishes for many years. She was also mother to Robert H. Morford, Janet H [for Hollis] Morford and Jill P [for Patterson] Morforrd. Both Jan and Jill have been very good cooks in their own right and long active in Girl Scouts. Bob cooks breakfast most mornings for his and his wife [Margaret Osborn Morford’s] four children. Bob also made some money when he was about an 8th grader by cooking items for people for profit. The worst mess in our kitchen was when he made crepes suzette for Pam and me one year for our anniversary! He was a lot better at cooking in those days than cleaning up!

    For anyone who reads all of this, if you are the first through fifth persons to respond, you and another person might be invited to dinner in our kitchen — and that’s a treat that most people seem to like! [Respond at normanmorford@yahoo.com

    -30-

  2. Norman Morford says:

    Update: Pam and I celebrated our 60th anniversary and Janet Hollis Morford invited all of us to her home in College Station, Texas. Her husband Jose A. B. Cheibub teaches political science at
    Texas A. & M. Univ. Their two children Gabriel, of Wash., D.C., and Isabel, a student at Tulane U. studying for the year in Amman, Jordan. Also in attendance were Jan’s siblings Bob and Jill and
    their spouses Margaret Osborn Morford and Joachim Oberst and seven more grandchildren.

    Now that Nuvo is no longer in print, who will carry the banner for Indianapolis 2021?

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