Johnnycakes: An Early American Staple

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The history of Johnnycakes can be traced back to the Indigenous peoples of North America, particularly the Narragansett tribe in what is now Rhode Island. They made a simple cornmeal flatbread; a form of food which is also known as "jankee", "spider cornbread", "Shawnee cake", and "journey cake,"; which was an essential part of their diet. As European settlers arrived in the 17th century, they adopted and adapted this Indigenous staple. It was easy to make since cornmeal is basically a flour that is produced from dried corn and can be used to create a variety of different foods, but johnnycakes have been related to North America since the days of Native Americans.

One of the earliest written mentions of Johnnycakes is found in a book titled "The English Huswife" by Gervase Markham, published in 1615. Markham describes Johnnycakes as a "cake made of corn, which is the Englishman's Indian bread" (Markham, 1615).

During the American colonial period, Johnnycakes became a popular food due to their simplicity and versatility. They were a staple for soldiers during the American Revolutionary War, providing sustenance on long journeys and at camp. Johnnycakes were cooked on griddles over an open fire or baked in ovens, making them accessible to both settlers and Native Americans alike.

Today, Johnnycakes are still enjoyed in various forms and with regional variations throughout the United States. In Rhode Island, they are typically thin and crispy, while in the Southern states, they are often thicker and served with butter and syrup.


Markham, Gervase. "The English Huswife." 1615.

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