A Johnnycake in a cast iron fry pan
Alternative namesJonnycake, shawnee cake, hoecake, johnny cake, journey cake, and johnny bread
Main ingredientsCornmeal

Johnnycake, also known as journey cake, johnny bread, hoecake, shawnee cake or spider cornbread, is a cornmeal flatbread, a type of batter bread. An early American staple food, it is prepared on the Atlantic coast from Newfoundland to Jamaica.[1] The food originates from the indigenous people of North America. It is still eaten in the Bahamas, Belize, Bermuda, Canada, Colombia, Curaçao, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Saint Croix, Sint Maarten, Antigua, [2] and the United States.

The modern johnnycake is found in the cuisine of New England[3] and is often claimed as originating in Rhode Island.[1] A modern johnnycake is fried cornmeal gruel, which is made from yellow or white cornmeal mixed with salt and hot water or milk, and sometimes sweetened. In the Southern United States, the term used is hoecake, although this can also refer to cornbread fried in a pan.


Kenyon Corn Meal Company, a gristmill in Usquepaug, Rhode Island. The building shown was built in 1886, and company history dates from the early 1700s or earlier.[4]


The earliest attestation of the term "johnny cake" is from 1739 (in South Carolina); the spelling "journey cake" is only attested from 1775 on the Gulf Coast, but may be the earlier form.[5][6]

The word is likely based on the word Jonakin, recorded in New England in 1765, itself derived from the word jannock, recorded in Northern England in the sixteenth century.[7] According to Edward Ellis Morris, the term was the name given "... by the Americans to a cake made of Indian corn (maize)."[8]

Another suggested derivation is that it comes from Shawnee cake, although some writers disagree.[9][10]


The term hoecake is first attested in 1745, and the term is used by American writers such as Joel Barlow and Washington Irving.[11] The origin of the name is the method of preparation: they were cooked on a type of iron pan called a hoe. There is conflicting evidence regarding the common belief that they were cooked on the blades of gardening hoes.[12][13]

A hoecake can be made either out of cornbread batter or leftover biscuit dough. A cornbread hoecake is thicker than a cornbread pancake.[14]


Indigenous peoples of the Americas using ground corn for cooking are credited with teaching Europeans how to make the food.[15] It is also claimed that johnnycakes were made by the Narragansett people as far back as the 1600s.[16]

From this culture came one of the main staples of the Southern diet: corn (maize).[17] Corn was used to make all kinds of dishes from the familiar cornbread and grits to liquors such as whiskey and moonshine, which were important trade items. Cornbread was popular during the American Civil War because it was very cheap and could be made in many different sizes and forms. It could be fashioned into high-rising, fluffy loaves or simply fried for a fast meal.

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.[18]


Johnnycakes on a plate

Johnnycakes are an unleavened cornbread made of cornmeal, salt, and water. Early cooks set thick corn dough on a wooden board or barrel stave, which they leaned on a piece of wood or a rock in front of an open fire to bake.[19]

In the American south during the 18th century versions were made with rice or hominy flour and perhaps cassava.[20] A 1905 cookbook includes a recipe for "Alabama Johnny Cake" made with rice and 'meal'.[21]

The difference between johnnycake and hoecake originally lay in the method of preparation, though today both are often cooked on a griddle or in a skillet. Some recipes call for baking johnnycakes in an oven,[22] similar to corn pones, which are still baked in the oven as they were traditionally.[23]

Johnnycakes may also be made using leavening, with or without other ingredients more commonly associated with American pancakes, such as eggs or solid fats like butter. Like pancakes, they are often served with maple syrup, honey, or other sweet toppings.[3]

According to the manuscript of America Eats, a Works Progress Administration (WPA) guide to American food culture in the beginning decades of the twentieth century, Rhode Island "jonny cakes" were made in the 1930s as follows:

In preparation, [white corn] meal may or may not be scalded with hot water or hot milk in accordance to preference. After mixing meal with water or milk it is dropped on a smoking hot spider [pan] set atop a stove into cakes about 3"x3"x1/2"[a] in size. The secret of cooking jonny cakes is to watch them closely and keep them supplied with enough sausage or bacon fat so they will become crisp, and not burn. Cook slowly for half an hour, turn occasionally, and when done serve with plenty of butter.[24]



In Australia the bread usually known as damper, made with wheat flour rather than cornmeal and cooked as smaller, individually-sized portions, is sometimes called "johnny cake".[25][26][27] It is uncertain if this name was influenced by the term for North American cornmeal bread.[8] Australian johnny cakes are baked in the hot ashes of a fire or fried in fat in a frying pan (skillet).[25][8]

Deep-fried johnnycakes filled with cheese, common in the Caribbean Netherlands

The Bahamas

In the Bahamas, "johnny cake" refers to a bread made with flour, sugar, butter, and water. After being kneaded, the bread is baked until lightly browned, and has a soft and malleable middle. This bread is usually eaten with soup or on its own.[citation needed] The common bread consumed in the Bahamas in 1725 was made of corn and flour. According to Mark Catesby, an English naturalist who visited North America and the Caribbean in the early 1700s, "Their bread is made of Maiz, or Indian Corn, and also of Wheat; the first they cultivate but not sufficient for their consumption. Wheat is imported to them in Flower from the Northern Colonies."[28]

The Boney M music disco group sang about Johnny Cakes in their song, “Brown Girl in the Ring”, eating fried fish and Johnny Cakes on Saturday night.

Dominican Republic

Dominican style Yaniqueques
Belizean johnny cakes

Yaniqueques or yanikeke are a Dominican Republic version of the johnnycake, supposedly brought over in the nineteenth century by English-speaking migrants (possibly of Afro-Caribbean descent). These cakes are made with flour, baking powder, butter and water; they are typically deep-fried.[29] They are a popular beach snack, especially in Boca Chica.[30][31]

Caribbean Netherlands

Johnnycakes refer to flat discs of deep-fried wheat bread dough in Curaçao, other Dutch overseas territories and areas with significant Dutch Antillean communities. They are usually leavened with baking powder or soda and generally do not contain cornmeal. They are usually eaten filled with a slice of Gouda cheese or salted cod.


Fried johnnycakes, also called fried dumplings, are a traditional staple across the island.[32] They are made of flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, margarine or butter, and water or milk. The kneaded dough is fried in oil.


Within the Belize Settlement, the British imported flour, with rations given to the enslaved. In the early Belize Settlement, “Johnny Cakes,” also known as “Journey Cakes,” were prepared over a firehart and eaten by the enslaved woodcutters. Belizean Journey Cakes are a small baked bread, leavened with baking power and scored on top with the kiss of a fork during proofing, to prevent “puffing” of the bread. Merchant Baymen of the Bay of Honduras (Belize), were linked to the New England Colonies.

United States

The modern johnnycake is a staple in the traditional cuisine of New England,[3] where it is believed to have originated in Rhode Island.[1][16] A modern jonnycake is fried gruel made from yellow or white cornmeal that is mixed with salt and hot water or milk, and sometimes sweetened. In the Southern United States, the same food is referred to as a hoecake.

See also


  1. ^ 3 by 3 by 12 inch (76 by 76 by 13 mm)


  1. ^ a b c Kurlansky, Mark (2009). The food of a younger land: a portrait of American food; Before the national highway system, before chain restaurants, and before frozen food, when the nation's food was seasonal, regional, and traditional: from the lost WPA files. Penguin. p. 86. ISBN 9781594488658.
  2. ^ Porter, Darwin; Danforth Prince (2009). Frommer's Bermuda 2010. Frommer's. p. 41. ISBN 9780470470626. Retrieved 14 March 2010.
  3. ^ a b c New England Country Store Cookbook by Peter W. Smith (iUniverse 2003)
  4. ^ Meehan, Mary Beth (2 August 2006). "Jonnycakes from the Kenyon Corn Meal Company". Boston Globe. Retrieved 6 November 2008.
  5. ^ "Johnny-cake". Oxford English Dictionary. 1989.
  6. ^ Harper, Douglas. "johnny-cake". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 31 May 2012.
  7. ^ Hess, Karen (1998). The Carolina Rice Kitchen: The African Connection. University of South Carolina Press. p. 125. ISBN 978-1-57003-208-0.
  8. ^ a b c Morris, Edward Ellis (1898). Austral English: A Dictionary of Australasian Words, Phrases, and Usages, with Those Aboriginal-Australian and Maori Words which Have Become Incorporated in the Language and the Commoner Scientific Words that Have Had Their Origin in Australasia. Macmillan. p. 223.
  9. ^ Randolph, Mary (1824). The Virginia House-wife. Univ of South Carolina Press. p. 277. ISBN 978-0-87249-423-7.
  10. ^ Stavely, Keith W. F.; Fitzgerald, Kathleen (2004). America's Founding Food: The Story of New England Cooking. Univ of North Carolina Press. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-8078-2894-6.
  11. ^ "Hoecake". Oxford English Dictionary. 1989.
  12. ^ "How the Hoe Cake (Most Likely) Got Its Name" (PDF). Historic London Town and Gardens. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 September 2012. Retrieved 28 July 2013.
  13. ^ Bartlett, John Russell (1860). Dictionary of Americanisms: A Glossary of Words and Phrases Usually Regarded as Peculiar to the United States (3rd ed.). Little Brown. p. 197. Retrieved 15 March 2010.
  14. ^ Starr, Kathy (1989). The Soul of Southern Cooking. University Press of Mississippi. p. 141. ISBN 9780878054152. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  15. ^ Keane, Augustus Henry (1908). The world's peoples: a popular account of their bodily & mental characters, beliefs, traditions, political and social institutions. G. P. Putnam's sons. p. 256. Retrieved 16 March 2010.
  16. ^ a b Lukas, Paul (13 November 2002). "The Big Flavors Of Little Rhode Island". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 July 2018.
  17. ^ Dragonwagon, Crescent (2007). The Cornbread Gospels. Workman Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7611-1916-6.
  18. ^ Hudson, Charles (1976). "A Conquered People". The Southeastern Indians. University of Tennessee Press. pp. 498–499. ISBN 0-87049-248-9.
  19. ^ Paraphrased: Johnny cake boards made for this purpose, were about ten inches wide, fifteen inches long, and rounded at the top. After one side baked brown, the turned the johnny-cake over to treat the other side the same way. If no suitable board was handy, the cook might take the metal blade of a hoe, and clean it and grease it with bear's oil. The dough baked on this metal surface was called a hoe-cake. Vogel, William Frederick (1954). Home Life in Early Indiana. p. 18.
  20. ^ Weir, Robert M.; Hess, Karen (1998). The Carolina Rice Kitchen: The African Connection. University of South Carolina Press. p. 127. ISBN 9781570032080. Retrieved 12 May 2012.
  21. ^ Wilcox, Estelle Woods (1905). The Original Buckeye Cook Book and Practical Housekeeping. Reilly & Britton Company. p. 31. ISBN 9781557095152.
  22. ^ Dojny, Brooke; Scott Dorrance (2006). Dishing Up Maine: 165 Recipes That Capture Authentic Down East Flavors. Storey Publishing. p. 211. ISBN 9781580178419. Retrieved 15 March 2010.
  23. ^ Hundley. Social Relations in Our Southern States. pp. 87–88. Corn-dodger, corn-pone, and hoe-cake are different only in the baking. The meal is prepared for each precisely in the same way. Take as much meal as you want, some salt, and enough pure water to knead the mass. Mix it well, let it stand for fifteen or twenty minutes, not longer, as this will be long enough to saturate perfectly every particle of meal; bake on the griddle for hoe-cake, and in the skillet or oven for dodger or pone. The griddle or oven must be made hot enough to bake, but not to burn, but with a quick heat. The lid must be heated also before putting it on the skillet or oven, and that heat must be kept up with coals of fire placed on it, as there must be around and under the oven. The griddle must be well supplied with live coals under it. The hoe-cake must be put on thin, not more than or quite as thick as your forefinger; when brown, it must be turned and both sides baked to a rich brown color. There must be no burning—baking is the idea. Yet the baking must be done with a quick lively heat, the quicker the better.
  24. ^ Kurlansky, Mark (2009). The food of a younger land: a portrait of American food; Before the national highway system, before chain restaurants, and before frozen food, when the nation's food was seasonal, regional, and traditional: from the lost WPA files. New York: Riverhead Books. ISBN 9781594488658.
  25. ^ a b The Macquarie Dictionary. St. Leonards, N.S.W.: Macquarie Library. 1981. p. 954. ISBN 0949757004.
  26. ^ Santich, Barbara. "Bold Palates, Australia's Gastronomic Heritage". Archived from the original on 4 March 2021. Retrieved 13 February 2021.
  27. ^ Eley, Talisa (23 August 2017). "Food for thought at NAIDOC Week 2017". The Source News. Griffith University School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science Journalism Media Centre. Retrieved 13 February 2021.
  28. ^ Catesby, Mark (1999). Feduccia, Alan (ed.). Catesby's Birds of Colonial America. UNC Press Books. p. 165. ISBN 9780807848166.
  29. ^ Benady, Ilana (2005). Aunt Clara's Dominican Cookbook. Lulu. pp. 12, 25. ISBN 9781411663251. Retrieved 16 March 2010.
  30. ^ Cambeira, Alan (1997). Quisqueya la bella: the Dominican Republic in historical and cultural perspective. M.E. Sharpe. p. 226. ISBN 9781563249365. Retrieved 16 March 2010.
  31. ^ Pariser, Harry S. (1994). Adventure Guide to the Dominican Republic. Hunter Pub. p. 236. ISBN 9781556506291. Retrieved 16 March 2010.
  32. ^ Donaldson, Enid (1996). The Real Taste of Jamaica. Warwick Publishing. ISBN 9781895629644.

Further reading