Everything You Need to Know About Johnny Cakes

The United States of America is a country built by corn.

The United States of America is a country built by corn. It's the principal protein source for livestock, it helps fill our gas tanks, sweetens our snacks, and is the prime ingredient in most of our alcoholic beverages. Corn was one of the main dishes shared at America's first Thanksgiving; gifted to the Pilgrims by local Native Americans. Some historians suggest that the settlers could have possibly feasted on Johnny Cakes.

If you've never tried Johnny Cakes before, think of them as cornbread pancakes.

What Are Johnny Cakes?

According to the Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, Johnny Cakes were first mentioned in print in 1793 as, "Rhode Island Johnny Cakes" and in Amelia Simmons's American Cookery, which is thought to be the first All-American cookbook. The history of the name is still uncertain. Some people used to call these cakes "journey cakes" because they would be packed in their saddlebags and cooked along the trail. Some historians believe they were called Shawnee cakes by the Pawtuxet Indians and were mispronounced by English settlers, creating the word, jonnycakes. 

Traditionally made with Rhode Island ground flint corn, these small unleavened pancakes are a mixture of nothing more than ground cornmeal, boiling water, and salt. Modern recipes can sometimes contain the addition of milk, flour, baking powder, sugar, and even an egg. These New England johnny cakes can be compared to American pancakes and are usually topped with maple syrup or Southern sorghum syrup. 

What's The Difference Between a Johnny Cake and a Hoe Cake?

Hoe Cakes are said to have gotten their start in the American south. Stories suggest the cake got its name from slaves cooking cornmeal cakes on a garden hoe. Rod Cofield, author of the paper "How the Hoe Cake (Most Likely) Got its Name," shares that the story is only half-true. Back in the 1700 and 1800s, the terms "hoe" and "griddle" were used interchangeably. In fact, in a letter that Martha Washington penned shares a thoughtful insight. The letter included the sentence, "drop a spoonful at a time on a hoe or griddle (as we say in the south), proving how the terms were similar.

Other than the name, hoecakes and johnny cakes are the same recipe.

How To Make Johnny Cakes 

If you want it to be authentic, grab a box of Kenyon's white corn meal. In business since 1696, Kenyon's Grist Mill prides itself on selling the original and only cornmeal that will make a real Rhode Island Johnny Cake. 

To your dry mix, add sugar, salt, and boiling water. Heat your cast iron griddle and ladle on the batter, cooking until golden brown. To prevent the cakes from sticking when flipped, add a few drops of corn oil to the top of the raw batter before turning over with a spatula. These savory cakes are best served with a touch of unsalted butter.

Watch: 7 Breads You Can Make in Your Cast Iron Skillet