With only cornmeal and water, New England colonists discovered a dietary staple - the jonnycake.

Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island in 1636, wrote that the Narragansett Indians called it " `nokehick,' . . . parch'd meal, which is a readie very wholesome food, which they eat with a little water, hot or cold, every man carrying a little basket of this at his back, and sometimes in a hollow leather girdle about his middle."From use by travelers, the "journey cake" evolved to a "jonnycake," a name spelled that way through Rhode Island legislative decree.

Descendants of the early settlers decreed permanent recognition for the historic pancake through the establishment of the "Society for the Propagation of the Jonnycake Tradition in Rhode Island." An educational society, the group works with other non-profit historical, educational, agricultural and ecological organizations and with grist mills and restaurants to promote the jonnycake.

But even all Rhode Islanders fail to agree on the perfect recipe for a jonnycake.

People in all regions of the state agree that stone-ground flint cornmeal is necessary, but South County people scald the meal with boiling water before making it into thick-battered cakes.

East Bay residents, according to State Rep. Benjamin Boyd, "take the meal just as it comes off the stone, and we mix it with a little skim milk and a pinch of salt, and we put it on the griddle so as it will run out nice and thin. We don't scald the pep out of it, and we never wash the griddle. We aren't ashamed of the taste of real corn and sausage grease."

Folks unfamiliar with either recipe may find the pancake dry, heavy and gritty.

Jonnycake connoisseurs, however, bury it with butter, molasses or maple syrup, serve it with sausage or bacon on the side or cover it with creamed cod or chipped beef. Sometimes eaten with applesauce or smothered with day-old pot roast gravy, the pancake provides a variety breakfast.

Early Utah settlers, lacking variety in their scanty rations, likely created johnnycakes (they added an `h' to the name) from their staples, cornmeal and flour. According to Winnifred Jardine's "Famous Mormon Recipes," "a simple kind of johnnycake was undoubtedly made right from the first - consisting of cornmeal, flour, buttermilk, molasses and possibly some soda. Later the johnnycake became more tasty with the addition of eggs and butter."

Whether thick or thin batter, eggs or not, the old-fashioned jonnycake lends a change of pace to everyday breakfast menus.

- Note: Stone-ground white cornmeal is available by mail order from Kenyon's Cornmeal, Usequepaugh Village, West Kingston, RI 02892, (401) 783-4054. Prices range from about $2.50 to $5.50 for 1-3 pound boxes, not including shipping charges.


Recipes listed:

Thick Jonnycakes

2 cups Rhode Island white cornmeal

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups boiling water

1/4-1/2 cup milk or cream

Mix dry ingredients; slowly add boiling water, stirring thoroughly so each grain of meal is moistened. Let rest until meal swells. Thin with enough milk to achieve consistency of soft mashed potatoes.

Drop by spoonful on hot, greased frying pan or griddle to make cakes about 1/2-inch thick and 2-3 inches across. Fry 6 minutes or more on each side until the inside is cooked and a golden crunchy crust is formed. Turn only once - when they turn easily, they are ready to turn. Makes 10-12.

Thin Jonnycakes

2 cups Rhode Island white cornmeal

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup cold water

1 1/2 cups milk

Combine meal, salt and water. Add milk, stir to remove lumps. Batter will be thin. Fry 3-inch cakes in well-oiled skillet at medium heat about 2 minutes until edges are brown. Flip over to cook other side.

Note: For either type of jonnycake, use salt or sugar to taste. A cast iron skillet or griddle is preferable, but Teflon electric pan can be used. Grease with corn oil, bacon fat, lard or goose fat. Serve plain or with butter and/or maple syrup. Delicious with bacon or sausage and applesauce or pot roast and gravy or creamed codfish.

Mormon Johnnycake

2 eggs, beaten

2 cups buttermilk

2 tablespoons molasses or honey

2 cups cornmeal

1/2 cup flour

1 teaspoon soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons butter, melted

Beat eggs until light. Add buttermilk and molasses or honey. Combine dry ingredients and stir into batter along with melted butter. Pour into greased 9-by-13-inch pan and bake at 425 degrees about 20 minutes or until done. Makes about 24 pieces.

Quahog Jonnycakes

3 cups stone ground Rhode Island cornmeal

3 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups clam juice

1 cup water

3 tablespoons heavy cream

2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons butter

1 1/2 cups minced quahog clams

1/2 cup minced onions

In a bowl, combine cornmeal, sugar and salt. In a saucepan, scald clam juice and water, skimming off any surface foam. Strain through a fine sieve.

Slowly stir scalded liquid into cornmeal mixture. When all is incorporated, add heavy cream and pepper. Set aside; cornmeal will absorb liquid.

In a saute pan, melt butter and cook the minced clams and onions, covered, over medium low heat for 5 minutes. Stir into cornmeal mixture. Spoon mixture by 1/4-cups onto a well-greased griddle and flatten to make 31/2-inch diameter cakes. Brown about 5 minutes on each side. Makes 18 cakes.

Cornmeal Pudding

6 tablespoons melted butter

3/4 cup stone ground Rhode Island white cornmeal

1 cup boiling water

3 eggs, beaten

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup corn, (whole kernel, frozen, canned or fresh)

Put 2 tablespoons melted butter in mixing bowl. Add cornmeal and scald it with the boiling water, stirring until all the meal is moistened, smooth and free of lumps. Add remaining melted butter and stir. Beat eggs lightly, add milk and baking powder, beat again. Beat into cornmeal mixture. Add corn and stir well. Put in buttered 1-quart casserole and bake at 375 degrees for 35-40 minutes. It should be a bit custardy, puffed and golden brown. This cooks well in a Dutch oven with coals beneath and above. Serve with bacon, sausage, ham or kielbasi. Makes 6 servings.