Down-home cooking

In By the Shores of Silver Lake, Ma Ingalls makes Johnny Cake and Laura wonders why it’s called Johnny Cake, since it wasn’t cake.

In the fourth grade we studied Westward Expansion in social studies and I remember bringing home a purple ditto sheet with recipes that pioneers ate. One was for Johnny Cake. It called for cornmeal, salt and water and you fried it. I tried it, unsupervised and without permission, and it came out pretty awful. Took all the romance out of traveling in a wagon train!

After a discussion of cornbread and its various methods of preparation I remembered that old Johnny cake recipe. The story is they were originally called Journey Cakes because they traveled well. In the South they call it hoecake. Supposedly Southerns cooked it on a hoe but I’ve also read that there was a kitchen utensil called a hoe so maybe they weren’t rummaging through the garden shed for something to cook on. But given some Southerners I’ve known and probably been related to I wouldn’t put it past them.

So I thought I’d find an old recipe and give it another try. This recipe was 1 cup cornmeal, 1 cup cup boiling water and a half-teaspoon of salt. I fried it in Canola oil but I’m pretty certain it would have been better fried in bacon grease! We ate them with butter as a side chili but they’re usually eaten with syrup, honey or molasses.

Hoecakes or Johnny cakes. They should be darker but this was a brown as I could get them.

Then, in case the hoecakes turned out to be inedible, I decided to try southern fried cornbread. This is just a regular cornbread recipe fried like you do pancakes. They were pretty good.

Fried cornbread


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