Mount Vernon hoecakes cookout celebrates Washington’s birthday

Chef Michelle Poteaux, with Bastille Restaurant in Alexandria, cooks hoecakes at Mount Vernon at the kickoff for a three-day President\'s Day celebration. (WTOP/Kathy Stewart)

Kathy Stewart,

WASHINGTON – Three days of festivities kicked off at Mount Vernon with a hoecake cookoff on Saturday — all in honor of George Washington’s 280th birthday.

Don’t know what a hoecake is? You are not alone.

It just happens to be one of our first president’s favorite breakfast foods.

“A cornmeal pancake, the 18th century version of a pancake,” says Melissa Wood, Mount Vernon spokeswoman. She says that George Washington loved his swimming in butter and honey.

As a cooking tribute to Washington, four area chefs left the comfort of their kitchens and weathered the cool morning Saturday. Outdoors, they cooked up their own version of hoecakes. They came to Mount Vernon armed with a cast iron skillet and their own ingredients, and over a fire pit, the chefs got to work.

Chef Cathal Armstrong, with Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, says he had never heard of a hoecake before this.

“I did a relish with things that they probably grew on the farm here, like cherries obviously and some apples and pecans,” he says.

Chef David Guas, from Bayou Bakery in Alexandria, jokes that Washington was really from Louisiana and not Virginia. Guas says he was using a pepper jelly and Louisiana cane syrup in his Creole or Cajun version of hoecakes.

“Believe it or not, [Washington] actually grew cayenne chili peppers,” he says.

Visitors got to taste test all four versions of the hoecakes. Joann Binette, from the Mount Vernon area, says, “These are amazing, very, Very good.”

Wood says she expected more than 3,000 visitors at Mount Vernon on Saturday. She says the name hoecake comes from early American field workers and slaves and actually using a hoe, a farming tool, to cook their cornmeal pancakes on.

Also, a new cooking exhibit opened Saturday called “Hoecakes and Hospitality: Cooking with Martha Washington.” It’s a behind the scenes look at the first family’s kitchen.

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