Johnnycake, also known as hoe cake, jonakin, ashcake, and johnny cake, has been described as New England’s answer to the tortilla, since it is said to have originated in Rhode Island, where starving settlers learned from the Shawnee Tribe how to make food from ground corn. It remains an immensely popular regional dish to this day.
Johnnycake roots also run deep in Black, Indigenous and Caribbean cultures, where corn has long been a recipe staple.
Some believe the name “johnny” is a mispronunciation of “Shawnee,” while others believe it was derived from “journey,” as the dish was durable enough to be taken on long trips. There are so many theories regarding the johnnycake that its origin story has become a bit controversial.
No matter its true identity, there is one thing about johnnycake that everyone can agree on: it’s crazy good.
Originally made with just a few simple ingredients—mainly cornmeal, salt and water—johnnycake is often considered the original pancake. Today, it’s not uncommon to add some sugar and flour for added flavor and texture. This recipe is a cross between an original johnnycake and cornbread. It’s got a cake-like texture and corn flavor. (You may recall chef Kyl used a similar recipe to make some [link https://www.chefsteps.com/activities/kyl-s-crispy-corn-pancake johnnycake pancakes].)
It probably goes without saying, but it can’t be stressed enough: The quality of your johnnycake has to do with the corn. Store-bought cornmeal will work just fine, with one modification—blending it as fine as possible. This will result in a more delicate texture than regular cornbread, creating an end result that is yellow cake-like.
This is a great starting point for johnnycake newbies. If you want to jump right into the deep end, you can level up your cake by sourcing some heirloom dried corn and milling your own flour. We’ll get to that a bit later.
For now, batter up!