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.
OVEN TEMPERATURE: 400 degrees
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.