Hundred-Year-Old Recipe for Apple Johnny Cake (Apple Corn Bread)

Apple Johny CakeCan I let you in on a secret? March is one of the most difficult months to eat local seasonal foods. Winter staples like squash, onions, cabbage. . . even apples are starting to seen humdrum. And, it will be at least a few weeks until local fresh produce is available. Usually, I cheat a little and buy strawberries and asparagus at the supermarket, and justify it by saying they are March fruits and vegetables. . . somewhere.

But, when I browse through hundred-year-old magazines, I’m keenly aware that people  actually ate local foods that had been stored all winter during March back then.

I decided to that today I was going to make an authentic March food and began flipping through the March, 1916 issue of Good Housekeeping. I came across an old recipe for Apple Johnny Cake that intrigued me.

This corn bread contains no sugar and feels healthier than modern sugared corn bread. The apples (I used Braeburn apples) embedded in the Johnny Cake are the sole source of sweetness, and work perfectly in this recipe.

The Apple Johnny Cake was good–though I must admit that I can hardly wait for the local spring fruits and vegetables to arrive on the scene (or I might cheat and buy some more Mexico, California, or Florida produce when I go to the supermarket tomorrow).

Here’s my updated version of the hundred-year-old recipe for modern cooks:

Apple Johnny Cake (Apple Corn Bread)

  • Servings: 8 - 10
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

2 cups corn meal

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups milk

3 apples, pared and thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Put corn meal, flour, baking powder, salt, and milk into a mixing bowl; beat until smooth. Stir in apple slices, and then put the batter into a well-greased 9 inch X 9 inch baking pan. Place in oven. Bake 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

And, here is the original recipe:

Source: Good Housekeeping (March, 1916)
Source: Good Housekeeping (March, 1916)

The Apple Johnny Cake was an interesting corn bread, but I wanted to also try eating it crumbled and served with milk as described in the recipe.

I broke a piece of Apple Johnny Cake into a bowl (and sprinkled it with a little sugar), then poured milk on it. It was surprisingly tasty. I can see why children enjoyed this dish a hundred years ago.

Apple Johny Cake in Milk

62 thoughts on “Hundred-Year-Old Recipe for Apple Johnny Cake (Apple Corn Bread)

    1. There’s still a piece of me that thinks the Apple Johnny Cake would be better if it had a little sugar in it (even though the original recipe didn’t call for any). If you make it, you’ll have to let us know what you think.

      1. Will do. Have you ever heard of Apple Grunt cake? My husbands grandmother used to make it when he was a kid. She passed the recipe on to his mother who gave it to me. Sort of like a cobbler. I tried the recipe once…. lol. Thank heavens there’re so many more to try.

        1. It sounds vaguely familiar. Next time I’m browsing through hundred-year-old cookbooks I’ll have to see if there any Apple Grunt Cake recipes. I love the name. . . perhaps I’ll have think about doing a future post on it. 🙂

    1. I had a similar thought. A hundred-year-ago apples would have been getting mealy by March, and they would have been looking for ways to use them.

  1. Sounds interesting! I love the way they say it can be cooled and served crumbled in milk for the children’s supper. My kids would have thought I had gone completely batty! Looking back I can see how everything was used wisely. Today we just assume food and produce will always be there. ~Elle

  2. Reading a bit on wikipedia it seems like Johnny Cake goes back to Native American Cultures and was traditionally unleavened. I know very little about this subject, but I think the adaptation of food/foodways through generation upon generation is a fascinating subject. All that said, I would have loved to have had this for dinner as a kid!

    1. Thanks for the information. It’s amazing how long some version of this recipe has apparently been around. I also find it fascinating how foods change over time to accommodate changes in technology and available ingredients.

    1. I found this recipe to be interesting – and I felt like it was very healthy and nutritious. That said, personally I would have liked it more if it had been sweeter. If I made it again, I’d be tempted to add a little sugar. If you make this recipe, you’ll have to let me know what you think.

  3. I’m more familiar with the RI type of Johnny cakes that look like pancakes and are made from cooked cornmeal. I wonder which type came first… I like the addition of the apples and serving it with milk.

    1. hmm. . . I have no idea. I think that I may have previously heard the term, Johnny Cake; but I wasn’t familiar with either type of Johnny Cake until I saw the old recipe in the magazine and began working on this post. I definitely preferred it with the milk even though that is not currently a very typical way of serving breads.

  4. I’d put maple syrup in it! With your interest in eating local, have you read the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle? It’s by novelist Barbara Kingsolver, about her family’s commitment to local– really interesting!

    1. Maple syrup definitely works for me. :). I haven’t read this book by Barbara Kingsolver, but I’ve written myself a note to look for it when I go to the library next week-end. Thanks for the suggestion. I’ve read several of her novels and think that I would enjoy it.

  5. Yum those look good and bring back a fond memory for me! When I was a little girl, my nanny used to make my sister and me Johnny Cakes and we loved them! She used to also make us Rice pudding! I think next weekend I shall try your recipe out! I hope you had a wonderful Easter! Hugz Lisa and Bear

    1. I had a lovely Easter. I hope that you also had a fantastic Easter. I’m glad this post brought back some good food memories. I have a lot of fun pulling together the posts, and it’s wonderful to hear when someone particularly enjoys a post.

  6. Cornbread and milk for Sunday supper or snacks was common when I was growing up. There even was a certain sort of china called a “mush cup” that was designed to be used that way. It was like a giant coffee cup and saucer: here’s one compared to other cups and saucers. I had four, but sold three, and now I regret it. Sigh. Of course, I regret everything I sold — even though I enjoyed the profit!

    It’s funny. We always called it cornbread. I never heard the term “Johnny Cake” until I became friends with a woman from Minnesota, about fifteen years ago. Cooking and food terms are as interesting as the recipes.

    1. It’s interesting how it is much less common it is to serve breads and other similar foods with milk now than what it was in the past. I wonder why food trends change over time. Thanks for sharing the pictures of the mush cups. That’s a new one for me. They are lovely. Hopefully the ones that you sold went to a good home where someone proudly displays them.

  7. Find the old recipes interesting. I must try this as we have lots of apples now but I have not used cornmeal before. Just one thing – how did “Johnny’ get to be in the name of this recipe?

    1. Old recipes often have such intriguing names. I’m not sure how it got its name, but I think that I saw somewhere that it might have originally been called Journey Cake because it was a good food to take when traveling, and that somehow it ended up getting changed to Johnny Cake.

  8. I just finished a post in the drafts of a heirloom cornbread recipe. You will enjoy this one because it has carrots in it. A older relative gave it to me in the 1970’s. Johnny cakes were flat and I still was able to get them in southern eateries when I was driving truck. They are made in a skillet and browned on both side. They are a little heavier then a pan cake. They also used to have a nick name called hoe cakes. That was because they could be made over an open fire on metal shovel or hoe. It was part of the diet of Civil War soldiers. In Tennessee they made them inside the oven in little tin cans that are about the size of a tuna fish can now is. They would save these little cans to use in their coal or wood stove ovens. They were call Tennessee tin cakes. They used what they had then.

    I will get that cornbread posted so you can compare.

    1. Thanks for the interesting information. I’ve previously heard the term hoe cakes, but had never known why it was used. People sure knew how to make-do with the tools and equipment that they had readily available back then.

    1. Thanks for sharing the link. The recipe looks awesome. The carrots make the cornbread so colorful, and it sounds delicious. It was very kind of you to link that post back to this one.

  9. I love that this recipe uses apples as the lone sweetener rather than sugar and it appears so easy to make, too. If not sweet enough, a little honey drizzled on top might be nice. I’ve been buying lots of asparagus and raspberries lately.

    1. If you make it, you’ll have to let us know how it turned out. I always think that it’s helpful for other people reading these comments to get as much information as possible about the recipes I post.

  10. There used to be a song on the radio when I was a kid that had the line “I was raised on cornbread and buttermilk.” Cornbread in milk was a staple evening meal at our house many times, and literally, my father was raised on it.

    1. Great line in the song – it sure suggests much how much times have changed over the years. People knew how to stretch their food dollars in ways that provided basic, yet satisfying meals, in days gone by.

  11. I didn’t realize that Johnny Apple Cake was Apple Cornbread. That is so neat. I’ll probably be making this soon. It sounds delicious and what a fun way to sweeten up cornbread.
    Thanks so much.

  12. Reblogged this on The Purple Almond and commented:
    As many of you know, I’m a huge fan of vintage and old style cooking. I stumbled across this wonderful blog, that publishes 100 year old recipes. They have a new fan, I can tell you. Here is a unique corn bread recipe, that includes apples! What’s not to like!

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