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Tuesday, March 1, 2022

How To Make Cornpone, A Pioneer Recipe

How To Make Cornpone, A Pioneer RecipeIt’s Simpler Than Corn Bread and Has Been Around for Centuries.

Like many pioneer recipes, the origin and evolution of cornpone is unknown. Given the simplicity of its ingredients, it’s most likely an ancient recipe.

Cornpone is essentially a baked or fried combination of cornmeal, water, salt, and fat with varying other ingredients that have been added over time by everyone from pioneers to Civil War soldiers. It’s most likely a recipe that originated with Native Americans and has emerged and remains a popular food across the American south.

What’s a “Pone?”

A pone is a word sometimes used to define a small, round piece of bread or cake. There are actually a variety of small cake-like breads called pones including sweet potato pones and apple pones.

The word is thought to have originated With Native Americans who referred to anything baked as “oppone” or “supawn.” It has gone by other names from “Johnnycakes” to Ashcake, Hoecake, Mush bread, Shawnee cake, and even Axecake.

Cornpone in a Pan

It’s Not Cornbread

Cornbread is a little different. It has more ingredients that don’t commonly show up in traditional cornpone recipes like eggs, butter, buttermilk, and sugar. In that regard, Cornpone is more of a survival recipe with simpler ingredients.

Cornmeal in a Bowl

The primary ingredient is cornmeal. This is usually mixed with a gentle drizzle of boiling water, salt, and fat. Bacon fat was most commonly used. Over time, some simple ingredients were added like baking powder and, when available, milk was substituted for water.

Adding any additional ingredients like eggs, butter, or sugar starts to take it into the category of cornbread, but some contemporary Cornpone recipes still call for some of those additional ingredients.

The reason for the simplicity of Cornpone was driven by desperation and need. It was the only way to make palatable bread under difficult and limited circumstances. A pioneer’s life was often simple but rarely easy, and keeping a variety of foodstuffs in stock was always a challenge. In spite of the challenges, it tastes pretty good.

It was usually baked and often fried over an open fire in a cast iron pan. A thinner version of the basic recipe is the foundation recipe for corn tortillas. The difference is that cornpone was made into a thicker batter and was much thicker than a tortilla after cooking,

Cornpone Over Hot Coals

It was eaten hot or cold the same way bread was consumed at any meal. Today it’s often made to accompany barbecued meats, soups and stews, and chili.

Cornpone was a Civil War Favorite

Civil War Johnnycake

Armies of both the North and the South often made cornpone as a part of every meal. It was mixed and always cooked in a cast iron pan over an open fire. It’s where the name “Johhnycake” first emerged and was so named by union soldiers.

Two ingredients were added to the recipe during the Civil War that are a bit surprising given the extreme conditions of any war. One ingredient was baking powder, which was often used for making a variety of quick breads including Cornpone.

The biggest surprise was the occurrence of milk in place of water in many Civil War Cornpone recipes. Where soldiers of the time found milk is never explained, but it occurs often as an ingredient in Cornpone recipes from that era.

It was also popular with pioneer farmers and homesteaders and was sometimes cooked in the fields on a hoe or broad axe over an open fire leading to the name Hoecake or Axecake.

Hoecake or Axecake

Although the recipes vary, most Cornpone today is oven-baked, although a cast iron pan over an open fire or hot coals is still an easy option for camping or a rustic touch of the past.

We’re going to cover a range of Cornpone recipes and cooking styles just short of cornbread starting with the traditional pioneer recipe.

Pioneer Cornpone Recipe

Cornpone Batter in Pan


  • 1 cup of boiling water
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 cups of cornmeal
  • 4 tablespoons of bacon drippings (you can substitute any vegetable oil or shortening)


  1. Add the salt to the water and bring to a boil.
  2. Put the cornmeal into a bowl.
  3. Drizzle the hot water into the cornmeal stirring constantly with a fork to make a batter.
  4. Add the bacon drippings or your oil substitute and blend into the batter.
  5. Pour into a small, cast-iron frying pan.
  6. Bake at 425 degrees F or over an open fire for 20 to 25 minutes. If cooking over an open fire, flip the cornpone with a stick or spatula after 10 minutes.
  7. The classic test for doneness is to insert a toothpick into the center. If it emerges wet, give it a few more minutes. If the toothpick emerges dry, you’re done.
  8. Serve hot or cold.

Related Article: 10 Pioneer Recipes That Still Taste Great Today

Civil War Cornpone

You would think a Civil War variation on Cornpone would be more primitive, but the soldiers actually took it up a notch with the addition of baking powder and often used milk as a substitute for water.

Civil War Cornpone

This was the Cornpone recipe sometimes referred to as Johnnycake.


  • 2 cups of cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 4 tablespoons of shortening and/or bacon drippings
  • 1 cup of hot milk


Add the salt to the milk and bring to a simmer stirring constantly so you don’t burn the milk.

  1. Combine the baking powder and cornmeal in a bowl and mix until blended.
  2. Drizzle the hot milk into the cornmeal stirring constantly with a fork to make a batter.
  3. Add the bacon drippings or your oil substitute and blend into the batter.
  4. Pour into a small, cast-iron frying pan.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees F or over open coals for 20 to 25 minutes. If cooking over an open fire, flip the corn pone after 10 minutes. The reason the oven temp is lower than the previous recipe is because of the rising effect of the baking powder. The same goes for cooking over open coals versus open fire if cooking outdoors.
  6. The classic test for doneness is to insert a toothpick into the center. If it emerges wet, give it a few more minutes. If the toothpick emerges dry, you’re done.
  7. Serve hot or cold.

Related Article: 12 Foods Soldiers Ate During The Civil War

Today’s Cornpone

Today’s Cornpone

The current recipe for Cornpone is a little more civilized and very close to a cornbread recipe. It’s the addition of the eggs and the sugar that takes it into cornbread land, although many cornbreads are made with corn flour or masa harina as it’s sometimes called instead of traditional cornmeal.

This Cornpone recipe also substitutes butter for bacon fat but that’s up to you. You could also substitute a natural sweetener like honey or maple syrup if you want to stay a little more traditional.


  • 3 cups of cornmeal
  • 4 cups of boiling water
  • 1 ¼ cups of white sugar (or honey or maple syrup)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 cups of room temperature milk
  • 3 room temperature eggs
  • ½ cup of melted butter


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Butter a Pyrex glass bread pan or 9×13-inch baking pan.
  3. Place cornmeal in a large bowl. Pour in boiling water and stir constantly until blended. Add sugar and salt; blend using an electric mixer.
  4. Beat milk and eggs together; slowly drizzle the mixture into the cornmeal, mixing and blending constantly. Add melted butter and blend well.
  5. Pour into the prepared pan.
  6. Bake in the preheated oven until the top is slightly browned, about 1 hour.
  7. Do the toothpick test with a toothpick stuck in the center when the hour is up. If the toothpick is wet, bake for another 10 minutes. If dry, it’s done.
  8. Slice and serve.
Cornpone Sliced

Some Cornpone Notes

  • Cornpone doesn’t keep well so you should try to finish it at any meal. If you have leftovers, wrap them in a plastic bag and keep them refrigerated and eat within 3 days after refrigeration.
  • Cornmeal is the standard ingredient but you can use cornflour if that’s all you have. You don’t have to use boiling water or hot milk with cornflour like you do with cornmeal. The cornmeal needs to soften up with the hot liquids and would be granular and give a gritty texture to the Cornpone if only mixed with cold water or milk. You won’t have that problem with granularity with cornflour so you can skip the water or milk heating step.
Cornpone on Chili

Leftover Cornpone is great as a thickener for soups and stews and perfect in a bowl of chili. Try one of these recipes if you get a chance and enjoy a taste of our pioneer past, and present.

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