Corn originated in the Americas. All corn — some 250 kinds of it — is “Indian”, cultivated by the various tribes since antiquity as a food crop. For western civilization, the story of corn began in 1492 when Columbus’s men discovered this new grain in Cuba. Until this time, no one outside of the Americas had even heard of this food staple.

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.

Johnnycakes, johnny cakes, 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/pancake.

2 cups fine-ground white cornmeal
1 tablespoon sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups boiling water
1/2 cup milk
Butter (for the pan)

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together cornmeal, sugar and salt. Pour in boiling water and mix until you form a paste.
  2. Gradually add in milk and stir, stopping occasionally to check the consistency of the batter. It should feel like thin mashed potatoes. (you may not need all the milk, or you may need a little more than 1/2 cup to get the right consistency).
  3. In a cast-iron skillet or on a griddle, melt 1 tbsp butter. Spoon tablespoonfuls of the batter onto the skillet, spreading them out to about a 2-inch diameter. Cook on each side until golden brown, about 4-6 minutes. Make sure you have a generous layer of butter on the bottom of the skillet or griddle when making these so they soak up the flavor.
  4. Serve warm with syrup or your favorite pancake toppings.