Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of touring the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum in Wytheville with co-founder, Farron Smith. Smith, along with her husband, Bill, established the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Foundation in 2006 to improve, preserve, and renovate Mrs. Wilson’s birthplace and childhood home for historic, literary, charitable, and educational purposes.
The First Lady and second wife of President Woodrow Wilson, has been deemed “The Secret President” for her assumed role in governmental duties during Wilson’s term after he endured a stroke in 1919.
During the tour, it was immediately apparent to me that the museum would not be the treasure that it is today without the Smith’s vision and passion. It is truly a labor of love that has involved cross-country travel from California to New York to establish and maintain close, personal ties with Mrs. Wilson’s family and relations.
During one such visit, Mrs. Wilson’s nephew, Cary Fuller, of Port Chester, New York made her closely held hoecake recipe, which dates back to a time when the Bolling family gathered for meals in their Wytheville home, available to the Smiths.
The word hoecake dates back to 1745 and originates from its early methods of preparation by plantation field hands. Made from ground Indian corn, the mixture was cooked on a shovel or hoe held over an open flame. Hoes designed for cotton fields were large and flat with a hole through which a long handle would slide. To cook hoecakes, the handles would be removed from the blade, and the blade would be placed over a fire to cook the hoecake much like a griddle is used today.
The Smiths blended and packaged the traditional recipe into Mrs. Wilson’s Hoecake Mix™, which is distributed by the museum. I brought home a bag and was pleasantly surprised by how much I preferred the taste which, to me, was otherwise a pancake with the added texture of corn meal.
But don’t take my word for it. Come to Heartwood this Thursday and decide for yourself. The Smiths will be serving up free hoecakes and sausage at 10 a.m. to the first 100 pre-registered guests. All you need is an appetite and a reservation, the latter of which can be made by calling (276) 492-2400.
The Taste of History Breakfast kicks off Wytheville Community Day which runs through 4 p.m. Thursday, July 26 at Heartwood: Southwest Virginia’s Artisan Gateway. Heartwood is located at Interstate 81 Exit 14 in Abingdon, Virginia.
Karen Quina-Doyle | Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Foundation
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