The Debated Origins Of Hushpuppies

It's time for another disputed history story! If you've ever been to a fish fry or a Southern restaurant you might have encountered the golden fried little nuggets called hushpuppies. Simply put, hushpuppies are spoonfuls of cornmeal batter that are deep-fried and served alongside fried fish, or other Southern delicacies. They're so delicious you may be wondering who invented them, but the truth is that their history is a bit of a mystery.

There are many legends about where the hushpuppy came from. According to What's Cooking America hushpuppy folklore runs the gamut. In one instance they are said to have been invented by a group of Ursuline nuns in New Orleans in the early 1700s who were adapting a croquette recipe to include corn meal, a local crop in the Americas. Another story is that they were invented by Confederate soldiers who made them to keep their hounds quiet if Union army soldiers approached during meal time. There's even a story that goes so far as to say the hushpuppy comes from a time when Southerners battered and fried salamanders (often referred to as water puppies) and that they called them hushpuppies so as to keep their neighbors from judging their meal choice, (also per What's Cooking America). So are any of these legends true?

Hushpuppies and tall tales

According to Serious Eats, it's not likely that any of these hushpuppy origin stories are fact. In most cases, they're just tall tales, passed down from generation to generation. Battering and frying food was not a new concept in the south during the 18th and 19th centuries. The hushpuppy recipe itself might have come from a formerly enslaved man named Romeo Govan in South Carolina (per Discover South Carolina). 

According to History Cooperative, Govan was a master at frying fish including, Redfish and Red Horse Fish. While hosting a fish fry, Govan would drop little bits of the batter in the frying oil, which he referred to as Red Horse Bread. His recipe became so popular that it was cooked up and down the South's eastern coast, and eventually, these delicacies were referred to as hushpuppies on the southern side of the Savannah River. As to how the name change occurred? No one is quite sure. But there's one fact that cannot be disputed, hushpuppies are a classic taste of Southern home cooking, and when you're eating them there's really nothing to say other than, "Mmmmm."