No southern fish fry is complete without a large helping of hush puppies, deep-fried cornmeal fritters that taste like heaven and onions. You can make them from a store-bought mix or from scratch. Some folks dip them in butter or tartar sauce; others prefer cocktail sauce or lemon. They are soul food in a golden brown breading.

The story goes like this: fishermen would take their dogs on overnight trips. For supper, they would batter the catch of the day and fry it over an open campfire. The dogs, hungry for some fresh fish, would howl and bay at their owners. After frying leftover batter in the oily pan, the fishermen would toss cooled fritters to the dogs while saying "Hush, puppies!"

Hush puppies go best with deep-fried catfish--one, because their tastes are complimentary and two, because you'll already have a pan filled with hot oil. If you've never had hush puppies, I recommend buying a mix at the grocery store. You can usually find hush puppy mix in the same aisle as the cornbread, flour, and other baking supplies. Or, you can brave the rapids and make your own from scratch...

Here's how:

Ingredients

So. Put your cornmeal, flour, onion and seasonings into a bowl. Add your milk and your egg; stir it all together until the mixture is semi-smooth. It should be pretty thick. Set that aside and take your pan.

You should've already used it to fry fish, so the pan's full of warm oil and all ready to go. If not, have enough oil so that the bottom of the pan is covered (at least 1/8th inch deep, but don't be shy). Let the oil heat up to about 350° F.

With a regular spoon or fork, scoop up a dollop of batter and drop it into the oil. The hush puppies will be done when they start to "float" in the oil (or when they turn a golden brown color). Remove them from the oil and set them to cool and drain on a bed of paper towels.

Hush puppies are best eaten warm, so do try to prepare them last. You can eat them plain or with any number of condiments, the strangest of which I'd ever heard was vinegar.

Pseudo_Intellectual says re hush puppies: aw, you should have included the damning addendum The Joy of Cooking finishes its description off with - "Sailors would throw them to their baying dogs saying 'Hush, puppies!' Sometimes we agree this is the best use for them." 8)

No puppies were harmed in the creation of this write-up.

Hush Puppies are a brand of shoe. The original Hush Puppies were invented in 1957 by Jim Muir. Muir felt there was a need for a soft, casual shoe made using a new suede tanning process. He designed a set of Oxford shoes from the suede. But what to call his new shoe? He noticed a friend would give the hush puppy dish as described above to his barking hounds. The hounds were immediately quieted by this treat.1 Muir reasoned since aching feet were called "barking dogs", a brand of shoe called "Hush Puppies" would imply a comfy shoe that quieted your aching feet.

The shoes sold quite well in the '60s and '70. However by the 1980s and early 1990s the brand was thoroughly old fashioned. They were the ultimate dork shoes. It was the Oldsmobile of shoes. It was the shoe your 50something dad bought, had about 14 pairs in his closet, and never threw out. And with the boomers moving into their 50somethings, even they were still hip enough not to buy Hush Puppies.

Pretty much the Hush Puppies traditional clientele was dying off. The company that owned the line, Wolverine, was located in Rockport, Michigan. Not exactly New York or Paris or Milan when it comes to the footware trade. Sales were down to about 30,000 pairs and the company that owned the brand was about to kill off the line.

But then something strange happened. As Malcolm Gladwell documented in his book The Tipping Point, sales jumped in the space of a year. In 1994 sales went from 30,000 (an amount that would be considered a rounding error at Nike) to over 400,000. Pretty soon Hollywood celebrities and top fashion designers were walking around in what everyone had assumed was a terminally un-hip shoe.

The Hush Puppies people discovered the shoe's unhip nature was the appeal. A group of hip kids in New York decided to differentiate themselves from other kids by wearing a shoe even many parents would not longer be caught dead in. From there, the trend went from innovators to influential early adopters like rock stars and fashion models and then became a major fashion trend.

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1This was apparently a common way of keeping dogs quiet in the south. The dish seems to have gotten its name from that act. The legend goes during the Civil War, people would keep their dogs quiet by feeling them the cornmeal balls, thereby not altering any Yankee troops to their presence.

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