Foods | Cooking
Hints & Tips
Johnnycakes, johnny cakes, jonnycake, ashcake, battercake, corn
cake, cornpone, hoecake, hoe cake, journey cake, mush bread,
pone, Shawnee cake, jonakin, and jonikin. These are all regional
names for this cornmeal flatbread.
The origin of the name johnnycakes
(jonnycakes) is something of a mystery and probably has nothing
to do with the name John. They were also called journey cakes
because they could be carried on long trips in saddlebags and
baked along the way. Some historians think that they were
originally called Shawnee cakes and that the colonists slurred
the words, pronouncing it as johnnycakes. Historians also think
that "janiken," an American Indian word meant "corn cake," could
possibly be the origin.
The settlers of New England
learned how to make johnnycakes from the local Pawtuxet Indians,
who showed the starving Pilgrims how to grind and use corn for
eating. When the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth in 1620, most of
their wheat brought from England had spoiled on the long voyage.
It is said that Myles Standish (1584-1656), the military leader
of the Plymouth Colony, discovered a cache of corn stored by the
An Indian named Tisquantum
(1585-1622), also known as Squanto, was helpful in the settlers'
survival during the winter of 1621. Tisquantum was one of five
Indians taken to England in 1605 by Captain John Weymouth, who
was employed by Sir Ferinando Gorges of the Plymouth Company and
set out to discover the Northwest Passage. In 1614, Tisquantum
was brought back to American, assisting some of Gorges' men in
mapping the New England coast. Tisquantum lived out the rest of
his life in the Plymouth Colony teaching the settlers how to
grow corn, pound corn into meal, and how to cook with it. He
also acted as interpreter and guide.
Johnnycakes are the New England
equivalent of tortillas, as they are a cornmeal flat bread. The simplest recipes call for nothing
but cornmeal, boiling water, and a little salt. The batter
should be fairly thin so that when fried on a hot griddle, the
batter is no more than a quarter of an inch thick. Rhode Islanders take their
johnnycakes so seriously that they hold baking and eating
contests every year. In Rhode Island, traditionally, the cake is
made only from fine white corn that has been ground by a water
Brunch & Breakfast,
Yields: 4 servings
Prep time: 10 min
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/2 cup milk
In a medium bowl, place cornmeal and salt.
In a medium saucepan over high
heat, bring water to a rapid boil; remove from heat. With the
saucepan in one hand, let the boiling water dribble onto the
cornmeal while stirring constantly with the other hand. Then
stir the milk into the mixture (it will be fairly thick, but not runny).
Generously grease a large, heavy
frying pan (I like to use my
cast-iron frying pan) with the bacon drippings and heat. When pan is hot, drop the batter
by spoonfuls. Flatten the batter with a spatula to a thickness of approximately 1/4 inch. Fry until golden brown, turn, and
brown on the other side (adding more bacon drippings as needed).
Serve hot with butter, maple
syrup, or applesauce.
Makes 4 servings.