Johnnycakes, also known as journey cakes or johnny bread, have a rich history dating back to Native American tribes in the Americas. These flat cornmeal griddlecakes were a staple food for many tribes, including the Narragansett, Wampanoag, and Nipmuc.
One of the earliest references to johnnycakes can be found in Roger Williams' 17th-century book "A Key into the Language of America." Williams, a Puritan minister and founder of Rhode Island, described the use of cornmeal by Native Americans, stating, "Their ... corne, they boyl it in water in the hotte ashes, after their kneading it with their handes, they make of it cakes, and when they are roasted by the fire they eat them." (Williams, 1643).
The simplicity and convenience of johnnycakes made them ideal for nomadic tribes who needed portable and filling food during long journeys. The cakes could be easily prepared over an open fire or on a hot stone, making them a practical and versatile choice for Native Americans. These cakes were regularly used in soul food and eaten by African Americans and minorities in the South as well:
"To a far greater degree than anyone realizes, several of the most important food dishes that the Southeastern Indians live on today is the "soul food" eaten by both black and white Southerners. Hominy, for example, is still eaten ... Sofkee live on as grits ... cornbread [is] used by Southern cooks ... Indian fritters ... variously known as "hoe cake", ... or "Johnny cake."... Indian boiled cornbread is present in Southern cuisine as "corn meal dumplings", ... and as "hush puppies", ... Southerners cook their beans and field peas by boiling them, as did the Indians ... like the Indians they cure their meat and smoke it over hickory coals." - quote from the section called "A Conquered People" from the book The Southeastern Indians.
Williams, Roger. "A Key into the Language of America." London, 1643.