“Buckeyes, Corncrackers, and Suckers: Culinary Episodes in Ohio History”
Alan J. Rocke
Western Reserve Symposium, October 2002
(Not to be reproduced or cited without permission from the author.)
The title of my paper is taken from the title of what is said to have been the first cookbook published west of the Alleghenies that was more than just a knock-off of earlier East Coast or British recipe collections. The author was the otherwise completely unknown Mrs. Philomelia Ann Maria Antoinette Hardin, it was published in Cleveland in 1842, and the full title was: Every Body’s Cook and Receipt Book: But More Particularly Designed for Buckeyes, Hoosiers, Wolverines, Corncrackers, Suckers, and All Epicures Who Wish to Live with Present Times.1 Of course, we know that Buckeyes, Hoosiers, and Wolverines were the names applied to inhabitants of the Old Northwest states of Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, respectively, though the origins of these nicknames are still uncertain. Corncrackers and Suckers are even more obscure. The best evidence seems to favor the identification of Corncrackers with Kentucky, and Suckers with Illinois, though these nicknames are no longer used (thankfully, I have to say, since I was born and raised in Illinois). Literally speaking, corncrackers were actually preparers of corn mash whisky, and suckers were a kind of river fish. The first known reference to the word “sucker” as a gullible fool dates to 1836, and by this date, “cracker” was an uncomplimentary epithet referring to what some today inappropriately call “poor white trash.” It is not surprising that these geographic nicknames then quickly fell out of currency, at least as self-referential monikers.