Indian Slapjacks

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Makes about


    ) cakes.

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“We had a splendid breakfast,” Hawthorne wrote in his American Notebooks, “of flapjacks, or slapjacks, and whortleberries.” A batter thin enough to be poured on a griddle, rather than shaped into hoecakes or johnnycakes, was called indiscriminately “flap”, “slap,” or “flatjacks,” sometimes “flips” or “slappers,” and eventually “pancakes,” “flannel cakes,” “flatcars,” and “sweatpads.” There is no end of names, any more than an end to the stack of cakes on a plate.

Americans, however, distinguished slapjacks from pancakes by ingredients as well as name. In Anglo-Saxon usage jack” like “John” meant a common fellow (as in jack-of-all-trades”); the jack” suffix in America implied a common man’s cake in “slapjack,” or a common man’s drink in “applejack.” Although H. L. Mencken takes “flapjack” back to the fourteenth-century poem Piers Plowman, in England the word became obsolete when “pancake” replaced it. In the colonies, however, flap- or slapjack meant a pancake with cornmeal in it, as in Amelia Simmons’ Indian Slapjacks.

Another influential New England cook-book author, Sarah Josepha Hale, clarifies the slapjack-pancake division in her New Book of Cookery (1852) when she calls cornmeal batters “Indian Slappers” and flour batters “Pancakes.” “Although egg forms the chief foundation of all pancakes,” she says, “they are yet made in various ways according to different tastes and countries.” The most “common sort” of pancake, made simply of egg, flour, and milk, is still more elegant than a slapper. And the better sort of pancake will be flavored with brandy or orange flower water, or perhaps a little lemon peel or Seville orange. Significantly Mrs. Hale puts Indian slappers in her chapter “Bread, Breakfast Cakes, Etc.,” but devotes a separate chapter to “Pancakes and Fritters,” which she models on the recipes of Hannah Glasse. The terms remained confused, however, for Lydia Child states that “Either flour, Indian, or rye, is good” for “Flat-jacks.” As for “Pancakes,” she likes to flavor them with New England rum or “Flip,” where “nothing is done but to sweeten your mug of beer with molasses; put in one glass of New England rum; heat it till it foams, by putting in a hot poker; and stir it up with flour as thick as other pancakes.”

The most unusual pancake recipe I’ve come across is Mary Lincoln’s in her “First Lesson in Batters” in her Boston School Kitchen Text Book (1896). These are Snow Pancakes appropriate to New England, since they call for flour, salt, milk, and a heaping tablespoon of “freshly fallen” snow. You are instructed to mix the salt with the flour, beat in the milk, and “fold in the snow,” before pouring the batter onto the griddle with, one would trust, all deliberate speed.

Below I’ve eschewed snow for a dash of New England rum to enliven a batter of cornmeal and white flour, flavored with spices and leavened with baking powder and egg.

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  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • ½ cup unbleached white flour
  • ½ teaspoon each baking powder and salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons each molasses and dark rum
  • ½-1 cup milk
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted


Moisten the cornmeal with the boiling water. Mix the white flour with the other dry ingredients. Beat the egg with the molasses and rum and then beat into ½ cup milk. Add to the cornmeal. Stir in the white flour mixture and 2 tablespoons melted butter. (Use the remaining tablespoon to grease griddle or frying pan.) If the batter seems thicker than you like, add more milk. Cornmeal takes longer to cook than wheat flour.

Brown cakes until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes on each side.