Johnny-cake was a staple on the menu of almost every meal prepared in an Isabella Alden novel. That’s because johnny-cakes were inexpensive to make and they were filling and satisfying. They were much like pancakes, but were made with corn meal instead of flour. The basic recipe was simple:
To a quart of Indian meal (corn meal) add a teaspoon of salt, a tablespoonful of sugar. Sift, scald with boiling water so as to make a very thick mush. Let it cool a little, then thin with milk so it will drop from a spoon. Have a griddle hot and well greased, and drop a spoonful of the batter for each cake. When brown, turn and brown the other side.
Johnny-cakes were usually served hot with butter or honey.
In Household Puzzles, Maria Randolph could make a delicious creamy johnny-cake that was so good that after eating them, “the comfort of the Randolph family reached a height unknown for weeks.”
In Mara, easy-going Gertrude was so placid about planning her wedding, her mother accused her of being willing to be “married in her old brown serge, and to have johnny-cake and warmed-up potatoes for refreshments.”
And when Mrs. Adams decided to earn a bit of extra money by keeping house for the Ward family in The Hall in the Grove, she had to put together a quick dinner for the family:
It was just the simplest of dinners: a dish of baked potatoes, a platter of beefsteak, a plate of butter, a plate of steaming johnny-cake, and a pot of tea. No pickles, or fruits, or relishes of any sort.
There were probably as many variations of johnny-cake as there were cooks. Some cooks fried them in bacon grease instead of lard, which gave them an attractive gold color and added flavor.
Adding an egg or two, sour cream or buttermilk made johnny-cakes light and fluffy.
Instead of frying, some cooks baked johnny-cake in the oven in a large pan, which they cut after baking into several servings.
In warm months when fruit was plentiful, cooks added applesauce or bits of apple, sliced strawberries, stewed pumpkin or peach preserves to their batter for a special treat.
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