Nothing goes better with a plate of fried seafood than the deliciously crispy nugget known as the hush puppy. In the South, the golden brown bites are a favorite side dish. Great for any cookout or barbecue, hush puppies are a timeless choice. You may be wondering: what exactly is a hush puppy? The name is cute–and a little quirky. It’s merely a small, deep-fried ball made from thick cornmeal-based batter. While many cooks have put their own twist on the traditional hush puppy, they are almost always crispy on the outside and warm and doughy on the inside. Some variations on the hush puppy recipe include: shrimp-and-okra, crab, and even muffins. They’re classic and delightfully indulgent, but the story behind their origin is up in the air.
Here are a few popular legends associated with the treats:
Confederate soldiers preparing dinner around a bonfire heard the footsteps of the Union soldiers approaching. Afraid of being discovered, they gave their barking dogs bits of fried cornmeal and commanded them to “hush, puppies!”
More from Southern Living
Red Horse Bread
Red horse was said to be a common type of fish in the South Carolina rivers at the time the hush puppy was invented. In this tale, the globs of cornmeal were fried in the same grease as the Red Horse fish...hence the name Red Horse Bread.
WATCH: Chef Kevin Nashan's Hush puppies with Green Goddess Dressing
As the story goes, French nuns arriving in New Orleans in the early Eighteenth Century discovered cornmeal from local American Indian tribes and eventually created dough-based corn patties named croquettes de maise. There is no explanation for how (or why) the named shifted to hush puppies.
Shut That Dog Up
It’s the most common legend of them all. Fisherman would begin cooking their catch, and inevitably the dogs would start howling in anticipation. To keep the animals quiet, cooks would fry balls of dough, and feed them to the puppies in hopes they would hush up.
In this version, Southern Louisianans would batter up salamanders and call them mud puppies. Since the community frowned upon consuming lizards for dinner, the diners kept the practice hush-hush.
Amongst all the folklore, one thing is certainly true: Southerners have a passion for fried food and a good story.