“Well, they’re certainly not Yankees!” determined my mother as she watched in horror, out of the corner of her eye, as the people at the table next to us poured maple syrup over their jonnycakes. We were in a local restaurant where jonnycakes were served as an appetizer, already an aberration. When our order of the corn meal cakes arrived, she was further appalled to discover that they had been fried in oil. “Grandmother would never approve of these,” declared my mother in disgust.
My great-grandmother served jonnycakes three meals a day, three hundred and sixty-five days of the year. She cooked them up for the farm hands’ breakfast and the noontime dinner, then served the leftovers, cold, for supper. Jonnycakes accompanied everything from ham and eggs to meat and potatoes.
The family recipe calls for good judgment rather than careful measuring. Coarse grist meal is a must–none of that finely-ground stuff you find in most supermarkets. For authentic cakes, first heat the corn meal in a pan on the stove, being careful not to scorch the coarse grit. Then add boiling water–just enough to moisten the meal. “Your water must be jumpin’ boilin’,” decreed Uncle Cyril, my great uncle, who was over ninety years old when I gleaned this family secret from him.
Let the mixture sit for a few minutes, then add enough milk for the consistency you prefer–the thinner you like your jonnycakes, the more milk you use. Now you are ready to griddle them. Notice that I said “griddle,” not “fry.” According to family tradition–dare I say decree?–you don’t use oil in your pan when you cook jonnycakes. My mother taught me to cut a raw potato and rub it over a cast-iron griddle to prevent the jonnycakes from sticking.
When I was growing up, my mother served creamed chipped beef with her jonnycakes. Never maple syrup. After all, they’re not pancakes!