In a medium bowl, sift together cornmeal, salt, baking powder, and sugar. In a small saucepan, combine milk and 1 cup water and bring to a simmer. Once simmering, immediately remove from heat and whisk into cornmeal mixture, stirring until batter is smooth.
Grease a large cast iron skillet or hoecake pan with butter or bacon drippings and preheat over medium heat. Spoon batter onto hot skillet, forming 3-inch cakes and being careful not to crowd the pan. Cook, turning once, until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a platter and keep warm. Repeat with the remaining batter, greasing the skillet as needed. Serve hot with butter and syrup.