Oconee Swamp Bud Puppies
By Tim H. Martin
Beer Batter Delights from a South Georgia Hog Hunt.
Recipe Courtesy of the Curtis Purdee family, with special thanks to Nickie Purdee Oliver
Yields about 20
1 cup of self-rising yellow cornmeal mix
1 cup self-rising flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon garlic powder (optional)
Approximately 3/4 cup beer (in the swamp, we used Budweiser)
1 cup onion, finely chopped (preferably Vidalia)
Vegetable or peanut oil for frying
*Note: The highlight of this recipe is the beer-flavored undertone. Bud Puppies are simple, rustic and delicious, but there are no rules on a fish fry. Try adding other ingredients such as bacon bits, chives, Cajun seasoning, diced jalapeno, cheese, etc. Use this recipe as your base.
In a mixing bowl, combine cornmeal mix, flour, sugar, garlic powder and salt, and stir with a fork. Create a well in the center of the mix. Slightly beat an egg in the well, and slowly pour the beer in, using one hand to gently mix. Yep — put your fingers right in there! Add beer until the batter is not too runny, nor too thick. I like the consistency to drip just a little. Now, toss in the onions, and swirl the batter with your fingers. If it gets too runny, add a little flour.
Heat oil to 375 degrees. Use a spoon to drop batter into the oil. Fry in batches, until your fritters turn golden — about two minutes — turning occasionally. Remove puppies and reserve in a bowl lined with paper towels. Serve sooner than later.
Oconee Swamp Bud Puppies: Recovering the Recipe
— By Tim H. Martin
While writing about Cajun-fried bass fillets, I realized my family cookbook was incomplete without an exceptional hush puppies recipe. The best I’d ever eaten was on a hog hunt back in 1984. Those hush puppies were heavily hops-flavored and served by lantern light on the banks of South Georgia’s Oconee Swamp. I kicked myself for not jotting down the outfitter’s recipe, so decades later, it was long lost — or so I thought.
Curtis Purdee of Oconee Outfitters was to guide my father, my two brothers and me on a hunt for Russian razorbacks. But the swamp was too low for his dogs to bay pigs, so Curtis took us fishing instead. He also allowed us to hunt small game around his peanut fields to supplement a big fish fry he planned.
The burly Georgian fired up his fish cooker as the sun and mosquitoes descended on the camp. Our catches and kills for the day were battered and fried simultaneously: whole bass and chain pickerel, squirrel and rabbit parts, dove and quail breasts, an array of local sunfish, as well as the legs of one unfortunate bullfrog.
But the hush puppies came first.
Curtis cracked open a cold can of Budweiser, took a long sip, then poured a little into a bowl of meal mixture, eggs and onion. He measured nothing. With his bare hands, he mixed the slurry, adding beer and feeling for consistency. When it wasn’t too dense or too runny, Curtis used a spoon to plop batter into the roiling oil, one puppy at a time. Moments later, golden brown Bud Puppies bobbed to the surface and we popped them into our mouths as fast as Curtis could dip them out.
I was pleased by the yeasty beer flavor, which was so much better than water- or milk-based batter. The high oil temperatures created a crunchy crust while leaving the center moist. How could something so simple be so good?
Curtis’ Bud Puppies paired perfectly with our potpourri of fried swamp critters. Although the meal was rustic, it was one of the finest and most memorable of my life.
Sadly, Curtis Purdee passed away in 2006, so I figured his beer battered treats were one more food gem lost over time. Then it occurred to me to go online and search for his kinfolk. It would be a long shot, but perhaps someone had preserved the recipe.
I was able to locate Nickie, his granddaughter, and was thrilled to learn the Purdees had kept a handwritten recipe!
Nickie told me the story of how Bud Puppies came to be.
“When I was a kid, my grandfather came up with his own version of hush puppies sort of by accident. While having a family fish fry on the river, Pepaw forgot to bring a water jug, so he simply used his beer. Mostly, he just didn’t want to have to walk all the way back to the camper, ha ha! But we loved the way the hush puppies turned out, so that’s the way we made them from then on. My Uncle Mickey wrote down the recipe.”
Nickie’s story demonstrates the importance of preserving cherished family recipes. Thanks to her uncle’s forethought, I was able to taste Oconee Swamp Bud Puppies again.
At first bite, I was transported back 34 years, to the flicker of a dying campfire, the reflections of cypress trees dancing off swamp water, and a long night of scratching chigger bites inside a musty tent.
Curtis’ Bud Puppies were just as good at home as they were deep inside the Oconee Swamp so long ago.
No. I take that back.
Food always tastes better in the wild places than it does between four walls, but these Bud Puppies came pretty damned close.
— Photo Courtesy of Tim H. Martin