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Back to the Basics: Johnnycakes with Stone-ground Indian Flint Corn

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I recently attended a social where a good friend and I exchanged small gifts. I gave her something you might call "cute," but she gave me something much nicer: a trip down memory lane.

It was a bag of water powered, locally stone-ground, white Indian Flint Corn for making Jonny Cakes. They go by many names, such as “journey cakes,” a name earned because they are easy to transport and last a long time--great for hunters who carry some in a leather pouch, probably next to the leather pouch with their pemmican.

All versions have basically the same ingredients: white corn meal, boiling water, sweetener, salt and shortening of some kind.

As a child, I recall having them quite frequently either for breakfast or with vegetables for dinner. The ones my grandmother made were “lacy” around the edges. Later I learned this was because she used a thin batter; they were delicate and very tasty. Sometimes I put syrup on them and other times butter.

I have made them with an addition of leftover, cold wild rice, and with quinoa. The wild rice addition was better, I thought.

As with other Native bread recipes, each cook claims his or hers is the best.

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I still have many ears of flint corn that my husband grew. The stalks were fifteen feet high. The dried kernels are very tough, but very tasty and more nutritious than commercial steel rolled corn. Steel rollers take away the oily corn germ, which is then made into corn oil. Stone ground corn meal is also beneficial to people with allergies to wheat gluten. The corn that we grew and ground by hand was perfect for johnny cakes or a handed down recipe for corn pudding.

Basic Johnnycakes

1 cup white cornmeal
1 teaspoon brown sugar, maple sugar, or molasses
½ teaspoon salt

1½ cups boiling water

Mix ingredients; batter may be a little thick. Put a tablespoon of shortening (corn oil is good) in a heavy frying pan, cast iron if you have it. Warm pan to medium-hot; drop batter by the tablespoon. Cook each side to golden brown.

For wild-rice johnnycakes, use 2 cups of cooked wild rice, ½ teaspoon salt, 4 tablespoons white corn meal, and ¼ cup bacon drippings.

Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with them and her husband in Madison, Connecticut.