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Cornmeal is the Secret to These Hearty Pancakes

Phoebe Fry

July 30, 2019

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Photo: Scott Suchman

We often treat pancakes as an excuse to eat dessert for breakfast, folding chocolate chips or blueberries into the batter and drowning everything in maple syrup. While there’s nothing wrong with this ultra-sweet approach, pancakes have savory potential, too! Take johnnycakes, the cornmeal pancakes that trace their roots from contemporary Southern cooking all the way back to Native American foodways. This version of the American standby comes from Sweet Home Café Cookbook, a celebratory tome of African-American cuisine by JBF Award winner Jessica B. Harris and Beard Award nominee Albert G. Lukas. Variations of the ever-simple, satisfying johnnycakes were a recurring motif in early African-American cooking. The cornmeal gives the cakes heft, color, and a crisp crust when fried in a hot skillet.

Lukas and Harris begin by sifting the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Next, they pour the whole milk and water into a saucepan and bring the mixture to a simmer. Once heated, they whisk the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients until a smooth batter has formed. Then, they spoon small amounts of batter onto a greased, hot skillet to form 3-inch cakes. It’s a speedy process—just 3 to 4 minutes on each side. You’ll know they’re done when they’re puffed up and golden brown. When serving, you can either take the johnnycakes in a sweet direction, with butter and syrup, or go the savory route and treat them like cornbread with dinner—it’s up to you! Get the recipe.

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Phoebe Fry is the media intern at the Beard Foundation. Find her on Instagram.