Dabs: “similar to fritters, only baked instead of fried”

This is the recipe that started it all! I was thumbing through one of the new cookbooks I bought when we were in Savannah, The Savannah Cook Book, by Harriet Ross Colquitt. As I was flipping pages, one of the ingredients had me laughing–1 Wine Glass of Milk. Now that’s my kind of recipe! The ingredient was in a recipe for Dabs. I had never heard of Dabs, but now I wanted to try making them!

Notice the use of the word “receipt” instead of “recipe?” That is true Southern fashion! It’s a simple recipe and gluten-free because it only calls for corn meal, no flour. I was flying by the seat of my pants a bit as the recipe didn’t specify an oven temperature or how long to bake the Dabs. It called for lard, which I didn’t have (although I keep telling myself I should get some and make my own tortillas!). I pondered Crisco, butter, and then remembered I had a jar of bacon grease in the fridge. I could see a Southern cook using leftover bacon grease so I used that to “rub in” to the corn meal.

I had no idea how much “1 Wine Glass of Milk” equated to so I just grabbed a wine glass that we got from a visit to The Winery at Bull Run and poured some milk into it. I know, but I couldn’t resist! What better glass to use for a Southern dish than a wine glass from a winery in the middle of Civil War country? My idea was to combine all the ingredients and then add milk until the dough was a consistency that seemed right for a fritter.

I don’t think I even used half of what I poured.

The recipe said to “drop from spoon on buttered pan and bake.” I dropped tablespoon sized dollops onto buttered parchment paper on a cookie sheet.

I put the cookie sheet into an oven that was pre-heated to 475° because that’s the temperature I cook my biscuits at. I set the timer for 8 minutes and decided I would cook them until they were golden brown at the edges. This actually took about 10 minutes. As the Dabs were cooking, I looked back at the recipe and read the words “buttered pan” again. My favorite way to make cornbread is to heat a cast iron skillet on the stove top, melt butter or bacon grease until it’s sizzling, pour the cornbread dough into the hot butter/grease, and throw the skillet into the oven to finish baking. I wonder if the original recipe had the Dabs baking on a cast iron skillet. I’m going to have to try that next time!

The Dabs turned golden brown, and I pulled them out of the oven. I split them and added pats of butter. They tasted like a dense version of cornbread so the butter was a good addition to cut through the denseness. The Dabs recipe was in section of the cookbook for breads. There was a paragraph that described hoe cakes and corn dodgers as the forerunners to Johnny cakes. Hoe cakes were essentially corn meal mixed with water to the desired consistency and then spooned onto a hoe held over a fire to cook until done. Dabs are a step above that with the addition of milk and egg, but there is still no leavening agent, hence the denseness. As I told my oldest son who was my guinea pig, I’m sure they filled the belly, and we have the luxury of adding peanut butter and/or jelly for a quick breakfast on the go.

The corn meal I used is just what I found in our local grocery store. I wonder how much using a heritage corn meal from Anson Mills or Geechie Boy Mill would make a difference in taste and texture? I’m going to have to try that because that is really the only way to replicate the recipe in its true form!

Keep on rollin’!


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