Sourdough Johnnycake Breakfast

Sourdough Johnnycake Breakfast

Sourdough Johnnycakes are a close cousin to Sourdough pancakes, at least they are these days. Their origins are tied to a New England tradition where when the Pilgrims arrived and much of the wheat they had carried from England was spoiled, the Pawtuxet, an indigenous tribe, showed the starving settlers how to grind and use corn. 

One thing these Natives baked was “janiken,” a word meant “corn cake” in their native language. Perhaps the colonists just anglicized the word to johnnycake.

Other historians that think the colonists, who often slurred their words, called these Shawnee cakes. But either could be the origin of the johnnycake, which is a cornmeal flatbread that is something between a tortilla and a pancake.

Other regional names for these include ashcake, battercake, corn cake, cornpone, hoecake, hoecake, mush bread, and pone. These were made with from thin batter using one cup of cornmeal, mixed with ¾ teaspoon of salt, a cup of water and half a cup of milk. They were fried up in bacon drippings and served with nearly any meal. Because these kept well, “journey cakes” as they were called,  were carried on long trips and could be rewarmed along the way.  The origin of the name for johnnycake is unknown, but it probably has nothing to with anyone’s name

As the recipe came west and with the development of baking powder, milk was substituted with buttermilk and baking soda or powder were added. Similarly, those carrying a sourdough start found that a cup of cornmeal with a cup of discarded starter was all the leavening they needed.

Here is a modern adaptation of this old-time recipe by Joe Pastry:

Sourdough Johnnycake Recipe

Recipe makes about a dozen 4-inch pancakes.



  • 1 cup (128g) cornmeal
  • 2 Tbsp. (25g) sugar
  • 1 tsp. (5.7g) salt
  • ¾ cup (180g) milk at room temperature
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten lightly
  • 1 Tbsp. (14g) melted butter
  • 1 cup (240g) sourdough starter, well-fed and bubbly
  • 1 egg white, whipped to stiff peaks

Joe writes:

  1. “In a large bowl combine the cornmeal, sugar, and salt.
  2. “Melt the butter in a small saucepan, then add the milk. Warm the mixture slightly, until the milk no longer feels cold to the touch, then take it off the heat and whisk in the yolk.
  3. “With a hand mixer or a whisk, whip the [egg] white to stiff peaks.
  4. “Assemble the batter by stirring the milk mixture into the starter.
  5. “Pour the milk-starter mixture into the cornmeal mixture and stir to combine.
  6. “Add more milk if the mixture seems too thick.
  7. “Lastly, [fold] in the whipped egg white.
  8. “Heat a cast-iron skillet, or [another] flat pan, over medium-high heat. Lubricate the pan with a little butter or cooking spray and griddle the cakes until brown on both sides.
  9. “Serve with sweet or savory condiment[s] of your choice! Johnny Cake”

In conclusion, Joe wrote: “Young Joan and I ate ours with syrup for lunch, but ultimately decided that these johnnycakes would be much more at home in a savory setting. A plated main course could be made of them by laying a couple out on a plate, topping them with a scoop of thick ham and beans. Crown the mound of beans with a little foof of micro-greens and you’ve got yourself a dining experience! Small ones would make a great appetizer served with some sour cream and chives.”

In the comment section below, tell us you like to prepare and eat Johnnycakes.

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