Add the cornmeal to a heatproof medium bowl, preferably one with a spout for pouring; stir in the salt.
Place the bowl in the oven for 5-8 minutes to warm the meal through and toast it lightly.
Remove it from the oven as soon as it begins to deepen in color.
Pour the boiling water into the warm cornmeal, about ½ cup at a time, being cautious of the hot bowl.
Stir vigorously, eliminating any lumps; then mix in the milk.
The batter will resemble a thick gruel; warm a griddle or large heavy skillet over medium heat.
Add just enough drippings to coat the surface with a thin film.
Spoon the batter by tablespoonfuls onto the griddle, leaving several inches between the dollops.
With the back of a spatula, squash the batter down into cakes about 3 inches in diameter (the batter should bubble merrily; if it splatters menacingly, the griddle is too hot; lower the heat before continuing).
Make as many cakes as you can fit without crowding.
Cook the cakes until the batter appears quite firm (3-4 minutes); these take a little longer than traditional wheat-flour pancakes).
Turn carefully and cook cakes on the other side until medium brown and crispy (about 3 minutes).
Repeat with the remaining batter, adding a bit more water to the batter if it thickens and more fat to the griddle if necessary.
The cakes are best right from the griddle but you can keep them warm in a low oven on baking sheets while you finish the entire batch; don’t stack the cakes until serving time.
Serve the hoecakes stacked on warm plates, topped with plenty of butter; pass the syrup separately to drizzle lightly over the cakes, if desired.