My latest heroine has just taken on a job as a cook in a boarding house in the Old West. One problem. She’s a society girl who doesn’t know the first thing about cooking. She barely knows how to set a table. In that, we’re a lot alike. I can kinda, sorta, not really find my way around a kitchen. Then again, when I’m invited to a potluck dinner I tend to rush to the nearest grocery store, hit the deli counter and beg for a pretty

veggie tray STAT.

So what’s a writer to do when her heroine has to learn a skill she’s not exactly an expert in either. She buys an Old West cookbook and gets to work. That’s right. I found a cookbook from the 1800s. YAY me!

My heroine’s first attempt at cooking will be an Old West favorite. A Johnnycake. That’s cornbread to you and me. There’s some controversy over where the name came from originally. Most sources agree that the name came from the Narraganset word for corn, “jaunny.”

Virtually every recipe book of the nineteenth century includes a recipe for Johnnycakes. Most are simple, straightforward mixes. As cookbook writers became more creative, so did the recipes for Johnnycakes. Some include ingredients such as buttermilk and eggs, but the simplest mix contained cornmeal, salt and water. The recipe below is a basic, authentic recipe for Johnnycakes. It make be dry and lack the sweetness of today’s version, but this is what was served on western tables in the nineteenth century.



INGREDIENTS: 3 cups cornmeal, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 cups boiling water

Add all ingredients together and stir, stir, stir. It may take up to 15 minutes to get the mix frothy. The mixture should be pliable. Shape into cakes about 4 inches in diameter. Place on a well-greased cookie sheet. If the mixture is not pliable, pour into a baking pan. Place in oven. It is done when the edges turn brown the middle is bouncy.

Personally, I’m thinking…yuck.

Here is TODAY’S VARIATION~~To bring to modern taste and texture, add ½ cup buttermilk, 1 beaten egg, 1 cup flour, and 1 tablespoon granulated sugar; mix together. Place in oven, cook until an inserted toothpick comes out dry.

I’ll be sharing more recipes in the coming weeks, but today I wanted to start slow and easy. My poor heroine is already overwhelmed.

Leave a comment and I”ll put you in a drawing for the first book my Charity House series (a great place to start if you haven”t read any of my books).

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34 thoughts on “Johnnycakes”

  1. I’ve never been a big fan of cornbread. However, the grocery store where I work makes plain and some with blueberries in it. They can’t keep it stocked in the deli. It’s moist and everyone says it’s delicious!

  2. Good morning, Laurie G! I didn’t used to like cornbread, but I’m starting to reconsider. I’m not sure I’d go for the one with blueberries, though. Maybe…

  3. CateS, I could read cookbooks for hours. You know, if I committed half that time to my efforts in the kitchen I might actually be able to cook something. 😉

  4. I love cornbread or “johnnycake”. Southerners and cornbread just go together. However, I can’t eat cornbread with sugar, most Southerners don’t. But you will find a little sugar in a hushpuppie which are basically the same ingredients as cornbread.

    Loved learning where the name Johnny cake comes from.

  5. My sister says most cornbread you get in restaurants is more cake mix then cornbread mix. It’s very sweet today. The oldest version of the recipe is probably exactly what they had on hand. Sugar was a luxury and eggs were scarce. So to cook without them was necessary and a recipe that left them out was probably standard.
    I wonder if all the stirring was to whip air into it to make up for the complete lack of any leavening agent like eggs, soda or yeast.
    Me? I like the modern versions…it comes in a little box, you add eggs and milk and you’re done!

  6. I love cornbread. Thanks for the recipe, I look forward to checking out the others in the weeks ahead. I’m hoping to try the Johnnycakes one this weekend!

  7. Your blog is making me hungry, Renee. I have an old pioneer recipe with eggs and buttermilk. It’s incredible. But I always have to remember to get buttermilk. Mary, maybe I’ll try the mix.

  8. Instead of baking, try cooking johnnycakes in an oiled skillet on top of the stove, like you’d cook pancakes. They come out thin, crispy around the edges, and delicious (especially when smeared with butter). My mom and both grandmothers, all raised on ranches or farms, frequently made johnnycakes for breakfast (served with syrup) or as the bread to go with dinner or supper. No eggs or other leavening agents required — and for heaven’s sake, no sugar! **shudder** 🙂

  9. Ah, Mary, yes, excellent point. Eggs were scarce and sugar a luxury. I love your recipe. Now that’s one I could probably make (emphasis on probably!).

  10. Maria, let us know how it turns out. My heroine’s arm is sore from all that whipping. I bet you could use an electric mixer and no one would know the difference.

  11. Elizabeth, I remember my grandmother always kept buttermilk in her icebox (not her fridge, her icebox!). I never think to pick it up, but I will today. I’m going to try both Johnnycake recipes this weekend. Wish me luck!

  12. Kathleen, that’s the way my grandmother used to make Johnnycakes. Wow, I completely forgot that until I read your post. So that makes 3 recipes I’m going to try this weekend. By husband’s going to think he died and went to heaven. 😉

  13. Very interesting, Renee! I never knew what Johnnycake was. I’m sure it wasn’t very tasty and probably dry since it didn’t use buttermilk or flour. But in those days pioneer women used whatever they had which was probably not very much. Your heroine sounds like me. I never was much of a cook. And that was because I really didn’t enjoy cooking. It’s pure drudgery. There are so many other things I’d rather be doing. Like writing stories about what life must’ve been like in the old west.

    Wishing you much success, Filly sister!!

  14. When I have read books and the women are cooking johnnycakes it always made me think if they really would taste like cornbread. I thought it was funny how a lot of the recipes that were passed down from families didn’t always have the correct measurements. Such as a handful something or a dash of this. I would so mess the recipe up if I didn’t have the correct terms and even with the correct terms I still mess them up. hahaha. But my family is a good sport.

  15. I remember my Grandmother making corn bread in a cast iron skillet but I don’t think she called it Johnnycakes. I love cornbread, even cold.

  16. Thanks for sharing the johnnycake recipe. I am so glad for today’s variation of johnnycake. The nineteenth century version doesn’t seem that appetizing.

  17. It has been so long since I last had some cornbread… never actually made any, but have made corn muffins… yum! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  18. It’s really interesting how taste buds have changed through the years. Now we’re conditioned to sweetness. Ketchup, maple syrup and even Kellogg’s corn flakes taste quite different today than they did back in 1800 B.S. (Before Sugar became a main ingredient).

  19. my family loves cornbread,,im from the south an we eat it frequently,,,an I made a mexican cornbread that my husband could eat a whole pone of,,,I serve either with Pinto beans an sometimes with cornchowder,,,fried potatoes

  20. Hi Renee, we are kindred spirits in terms of the kitchen, although I do know how to cook, I just don’t like it much. But hubby does and he’s great at it. I got sooo lucky. The pic today looks yummy, and indeed this fam loves corn bread. We’ve yet to try it in a skillet. I agree, the modern version sounds so much better. Good post today.

  21. I am not much of a cook, but I do love cornbread.. In fact I just had some at dinner on Friday night.. thanks for sharing these cooking tips…

  22. Hi Renee – I’m in love with anything “corn”, except on the feet I just made corn souffle over the weekend, and everyone gobbled it up. It’s fun to see the birth of some of these recipes!

  23. Ok ladies, you have all made me so hungry for cornbread. I’m throwing in the towel and making some for supper…with lots of butter.

  24. Hearing about Johnnycakes brought back good memories. I look forward to reading more of your recipes.

  25. Thanks for all the comments today. It’s so exciting to see all the cooks and the non-cooks here. I’m off to the store to buy my ingredients. Johnnycakes this weekend! WOOT!

    P.S. I’ll be announcing the winner of CHARITY HOUSE COURTSHIP later tonight!

  26. I know this contest is already over but just got on and wanted to comment. I grew up out in the country, in the South. There were 8 kids and our wonderful parents. Sometimes food was pretty scarce, and the women learned how to do with what they had. And, as for measuring, someone mentioned a pinch of this(usually salt) and a dab of that. If you helped in the kitchen you watched your mother, and learned how much that was. Also, they are the ones who came up with a lot of our best recipes,, by thinking what can I put together to make something good to feed my family. As for the cornbread, I’ve never known anyone who didn’t make it with cornmeal, thus cornbread. Some like it with a small amt. of sugar, some don’t. (not much). If you don’t have buttermilk, just measure the milk and add a teaspoon of vinegar, and magically you have buttermilk. In the south we grew up with breakfast, dinner, and supper. Up North, they had breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Now, Texas has folks from everywhere, so some call it one thing and some the other. Well, I love cornbread and had lots of it growing up. I know some say yuck when they hear this, but I say, “don’t knock it till you try it”. Quite a lot of nights we had a large platter of cornbread and a big jug of sweet milk. (or reg.) for our supper. We put the bread in a glass and added milk. Still one of my favorites. And, I learned after quite a few years, the cornbread comes out much better in a cast iron skillet than in a baking pan. Just saying! Maxie mac262(at)me(dot)com.

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