What is a Johnny Cake?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Cornmeal, the main ingredient in Johnny cakes.
Cornmeal, the main ingredient in Johnny cakes.

A johnny cake is a type of pancake or flatbread made from cornmeal. There are numerous regional names for johnny cakes, including corn pone, jonikin, mushbread, and Shawnee cake, but the recipe remains essentially universal. The ingredients in a johnny cake are simple and easy to assemble, and the variety lies in the toppings, which may be sweet, like maple syrup, or more savory. Many people associate johnny cakes with pioneers and the American Northeast.

Warm maple syrup is a sweet topping for johnny cake.
Warm maple syrup is a sweet topping for johnny cake.

Corn is a New World crop, and it made up an important part of the diet of many Native Americans. When European explorers first began to settle in the United States, corn was one of the first foods which they added to their diets, since the Native Americans showed them how to grow and prepare it. The original johnny cakes were baked on hot stones near an open fire; modern versions may call for griddle frying, baking, or even grilling in some cases.

Johnny cakes are a popular breakfast item for people on the move.
Johnny cakes are a popular breakfast item for people on the move.

Since johnny cake can be easily prepared by someone on the move, some people refer to it as “journey cake.” It has been suggested that “johnny cake” may actually be a corruption of journey cake, and that journey cake was the original name for this once extremely common and popular food. Whatever you call it, traditional johnny cake has only four ingredients: corn, salt, sugar, and water. Modern variants may include milk, eggs, other flours, and additional ingredients, although purists tend to stick with the original ingredients.

Some versions of johnny cake are sweetened or topped with honey.
Some versions of johnny cake are sweetened or topped with honey.

To make johnny cake, mix one cup of cornmeal with one teaspoon each sugar and salt. Add one and one quarter cups water, creating a thick batter. If you want your johnny cake thinner, add one half cup water or milk for a more rich flavor. Drop the batter onto a buttered or greased griddle, fry until pale brown, and flip to cook the other side. Serve the johnny cake warm with toppings of choice; butter and maple syrup are common, although jam and savory spreads can be used as well.

For variations on this classic griddle cake recipe, try mixing white and yellow cornmeal, or using molasses or honey for a sweetener, instead of sugar. You can also try serving these pancakes with fresh fruit, or creamed corn for an especially corny flavor. Johnny cake can also be eaten cold, and it may be rolled up with a filling so that it can be eaten as a cold sandwich later, or crumbled onto other foods.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

GlassAxe

One of the best meals I have had was Venison medallions served with Johnny cakes and wilted greens. This dish was one of the best I have ever had at a fine dining restaurant. The dish was simple, but unique and delicious. It was an expensive dish, but it was worth every penny. The Johnny cakes were delicious, and they soaked up the sauce from the venison perfectly.

The restaurant was called the Ye old England Inn in Stowe, Vermont. If anyone ever heads to the area for a ski vacation, it is definitely a place to stop by. This is a good old world English Pub with about 100 beers on tap, and delicious food.

ivanka

It seems to me that the cornmeal has to be fine when preparing johnny cake, not the coarse one that is used when making polenta.

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    • Cornmeal, the main ingredient in Johnny cakes.
      Cornmeal, the main ingredient in Johnny cakes.
    • Warm maple syrup is a sweet topping for johnny cake.
      By: karandaev
      Warm maple syrup is a sweet topping for johnny cake.
    • Johnny cakes are a popular breakfast item for people on the move.
      By: Magdalena Kucova
      Johnny cakes are a popular breakfast item for people on the move.
    • Some versions of johnny cake are sweetened or topped with honey.
      By: Nitr
      Some versions of johnny cake are sweetened or topped with honey.