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: