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Sleepy Hollow Corn Cakes

"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" inspires more than just Halloween fright - it encourages us to embrace the harvest that is autumn.

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As Ichabod jogged slowly on his way, his eye, ever open to every symptom of culinary abundance, ranged with delight over the treasures of jolly autumn.  On all sides he beheld vast stores of apples; some hanging in oppressive opulence on the trees; some gathered into baskets and barrels for the market; others heaped up in rich piles for the cider-press.  Farther on he beheld great fields of Indian corn, with its golden ears peeping from their leafy coverts, and holding out the promise of cakes and hasty pudding; and the yellow pumpkins lying beneath them, turning up their fair round bellies to the sun, and giving ample prospects of the most luxurious of pies; and anon he passed the fragrant buckwheat fields, breathing the odor of the bee-hive, and as he beheld them, soft anticipations stole over his mind of dainty slapjacks, well buttered, and garnished with honey or treacle, by the delicate little dimpled hand of Katrina Van Tassel.
- Washington Irving
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” will forever be linked in our minds with the fearsome Headless Horseman.  As a child, I watched the cartoon version and the image of the lanky schoolteacher trying in vain to outrun pounding hooves and a flaming jack-o-lantern head is the one that stuck.  It is definitely the piece of this story that has been preserved in perpetuity as a classic Halloween reference.  So when I picked up Washington Irving’s short story for the first time a few years ago, I naturally expected a gothic tale filled with gloom and brooding.  

But I was surprised at how little of the story is devoted to this mood.  While it is true that the narration maintains a delightful eeriness in the vein of superstition–the people of the secluded Sleepy Hollow take their ghost stories seriously–and Ichabod’s fateful midnight ride is definitely climactic, much of the text is pleasantly pastoral: it describes the idyllic simplicity of country life.  Irving’s rural landscapes come to life with striking imagery and playful personification–can’t you just see the boughs of the apple trees, laden with fruit, hanging low in “oppressive opulence” or those plump, lazy pumpkins “turning up their fair round bellies to the sun”? 

    The harvest "treasures" that come with the cooler weather always inspire my menu, and the cinnamon-scented apple crumble that comes out of the oven on that first chilly afternoon is the essence of fall. Squat pumpkins picked by my kiddos congregate on my doorstep, but cans of their relatives line my pantry shelf to be turned into pie, pancakes, and even pasta (try browning some crumbled sausage and making a sauce out of pumpkin, cream, and sage...delish!). If apples manage to survive being consumed raw, I turn them into whatever fall dessert my cooking magazines suggest, and enjoy with a cup of coffee laced with AppleJack brandy. And let's not forget about those ears of corn, still "peeping from their leafy coverlets". These corncakes make a fun little fall breakfast, snack, or side dish, and the honey butter is a must. When I'm at my kitchen counter, stirring these up while looking out the window at those gorgeous orange leaves, I love thinking about this story and the rich morsels of language nestled in the prose. Like Ichabod, my mind drifts to food when I stroll through that orchard or pumpkin patch. Maybe next time you, too, will linger a bit longer savoring the possibilities. Just be sure to make it home before midnight.



Jolly Autumn Corn Cakes with Honey Butter

For the honey butter:

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

3 tbsp honey

¼ tsp fine sea salt

For the cakes:

¼ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup cornmeal

½ tsp baking powder

1 tbsp sugar

½ tsp kosher salt

1 egg, lightly beaten

½ cup whole milk

1 tbsp butter, melted

2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels

Vegetable oil, for frying

To make the honey butter, combine the softened butter with the honey and salt.  Set aside until you are ready to serve.  

To make the corn cakes, whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a small bowl.  In a larger bowl, whisk together beaten egg, milk, and melted butter.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until combined.  Fold in the corn kernels.  Heat a large skillet over medium heat.  Add about 1 tbsp vegetable oil to the pan and swirl to coat.  Spoon batter into skillet to form small cakes, about 2-3 inches in diameter.  Cook until golden, about 2 minutes per side.  You may need to add a little more oil if you are cooking multiple batches.  Serve the honey butter alongside for slathering.

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