Johnny Cake Origins
Based on many historical accounts, johnny cakes originated in Rhode Island’s coastal towns. Gray’s Grist Mill in Adamsville, RI is one such example where Narragansett Indian Flint Corn has been ground since at least the early 1700s. It all started back in the days when transportation was limited and folks had to rely on homegrown produce. Townspeople needed grist mills to grind their grain into usable meal. Since wheat was not well adapted to New England soil or climate, bread in the form of johnny cakes was commonly made from corn meal.
How Johnny Cakes Got Their Name
There are a couple theories behind the funny name given to these thin, corn meal pancakes. One is that their name is derived from their ability to travel along with early settlers. Easily stuffed into knapsacks, they were portable hence “journey cake” helps explain the preferred spelling which omits the “h”.
Another theory is that the name stems from “joniken”, the Native word for cornmeal cakes. Some even speculate that Roger Williams himself, founder of Rhode Island first learned about johnny cakes from tribes surrounding Providence. Legend has it that he enjoyed the cakes so much, he studied their preparation and taught his fellow colonists how to prepare them. But spelling issues aside, johnny cakes were first made by Natives and later adapted by the colonists.
What we do know for sure is that today’s Rhode Islanders still enjoy these little corn cakes and continue to pass on the secrets of their preparation. Featured fare at “May Breakfasts”, area diners, and even a few gourmet restaurants, the johnny cake is a state institution.
Try This at Home:
Combine 1 cup of corn meal and a pinch of salt (1 tsp. sugar optional).
Add 2 cups milk to make thin batter, more if necessary.
Melt butter or margarine on a hot iron griddle.
Drop tablespoon amounts of batter onto griddle and cook until edges are crispy.