Pioneering was all about being self-reliant, innovative and making do with what they had. Though many of us would like to be self-reliant, few of us would be as willing or adept to survive as the pioneers did out of necessity. We could learn a great deal from the survival skills of the early pioneers.
Early pioneers likely did not have many cooking utensils, they were heavy cast iron when they did have them, that added to the weight in the wagons, that were already burdened with essentials and as history has indicated when the terrain got difficult, many of the non essentials were unloaded from the wagons and left on the wayside. Because of this the women had to devise ways to cook even without the cooking vessels or cast iron ovens. No doubt this is where *Ash Cake* came from; an innovative way to still have *cake and eat it too*.
Ash cake was actually a pioneer type bread, using cornmeal, a bit of water and pinch of salt to form a workable dough. It was then formed into patties and laid out on the hot ashes of an open campfire. Ashes would adhere and penetrate the dough as it browned. As the pioneers settled and built their cabins, they may also have laid this batter on the open hearth to bake. Few would have had the convenience of the cast iron cook stoves until much later in history. If berries or dried fruits were available, they may have added some to the dough and if they had molasses or honey, they may have drizzled some on the hot cake as a sweet treat.
I would imagine that cowboys on the frontier cattle drives, likely would have made this same type of bread to go with the beans and rice that were staples on the trail. This type of *cake* may also have been common among the Native American tribes that grew corn, and ground it with stones. Much history has been lost to obscurity, so we can only surmise where some methods and recipes came from, but be assured many were developed out of need, with non-perishables that were available and easy to substitute as necessary.
This would be a fun youth campout project. If you're a brave soil and would like to try it, make sure the hot ashes you are using are fruit wood ash or sage, rather than the beef and buffalo chips that made up a lot of pioneer fires.
1 c. Stone-ground Cornmeal (white or yellow)
1 pinch of salt
1/2 cup water (or enough to make a thick dough like batter)
Mix all the ingredients together. Form into patties. Set on hot ashes, turn if necessary.
NOTE: These can also be baked on the hot rocks surrounding the fire pit.
Johnny Cakes were similar to Ash cakes. However the cooking method was different. Refer to my link for making and cooking Johnny Cakes. http://justfowlingaround.weebly.com/stories/johnny-cakes
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