Corn was a staple food in North American before European settlers came ashore. Native Americans grew corn widely . When the Europeans arrived they adopted the practice, and today corn is the most widely grown crop in North America, for better or worse. Every region of the country has corn dishes–cornbread, johnnycakes, hoe cakes, hush puppies, tortillas, tamales. In the gold rush days, the miners would often make hotcakes or flapjacks (a thinner version of a hotcake, or pancake) from cornmeal and cook them over an open fire. If they were very lucky they might have a bit of bacon to accompany. This recipe contains eggs, but they were probably rarely available and the hotcakes can be made without them. This recipe also calls for leavening, but if that was unavailable, this would be a johnnycake (an unleavened cornmeal pancake).
A couple quick pancake tips–1. Do not over mix. When you add the wet ingredients to the dry, mix until they are just barely combined. 2. There should still be lumps. Don’t obsess about the lumps. Just like biscuit dough, a good pancake dough should be kind of ugly. Try to make it smooth and perfect and you will have tough cakes. 3. Flip only once. 4. In the case of these cornmeal pancakes, use only organic cornmeal. Most conventionally grown corn is GMO and sprayed with toxic chemicals, the long term effects of which have not been studied on human health or the environment. Also, Monsanto, the company that owns the genetic code for 80% of the corn grown in this country, makes a habit of bankrupting small farmers across the nation. Corn, soybeans and potatoes are crops that I just won’t buy unless they are organic, both for the health of my family and because I am morally opposed to what is happening to small farming families today in America. It seems a little silly to say that we vote with our pancakes, but we do. Vote with your pancakes!
This recipe is adapted from From Fingers to Fingerbowls, A Sprightly History of California Cooking by Helen Walker Linsenmeyer.
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 2 TBLS sugar or honey
- 1 cup boiling water
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 2 TBLS melted butter or bacon fat
- 1 cup flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Pour the boiling water over the cornmeal. Let sit 10 minutes.
- Add the honey, eggs, buttermilk and melted butter. Mix well.
- In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet and combine until just mixed.
- Fry in a medium hot skillet.
- *If you want light fluffier pancakes, you can separate the eggs and whip the whites to soft peaks. Fold the whipped whites in at the very end. I almost never have time to do this.