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Johnny Cakes

Updated: Feb 22

© Len Kenna & Crystal Jordan

Sikh Hawkers at Jeparit, Victoria, cooking Roti otherwise known as Johnny Cakes by Australians who remember the hawkers. Photographer E. R. Pearce, Jeparit.

Flat bread, roti and damper are a type of unleavened flat bread made from corn meal or wheat flour, In many countries they were also known as Journey Cakes because they could be carried in saddlebags on long journeys. They were also known by many other names including Shawnee Cake which was cooked using corn meal by early North Americans and can be traced back to 1739 in North Caroline USA.

Damper was cooked In Australia by early pioneers, bushmen, drovers, and stockmen who needed to be able to carry food with them into remote areas because they were often away from long periods of time. First Fleeter William Bond, Australia's first baker who had a bakery in Pitt Street, Sydney is believed to have baked and named the first Damper. The name came about because he dampened the fire and covered the dough for the bread with ashes. The pioneers cooked Damper in the hot coals of the fire as it died down and also made smaller versions of Damper by rolling small amounts of dough into balls that were flattened and fried in a frying pan over an open fire these small Dampers became known as Johnny Cakes.

Many Australians remember the Indian hawkers that travelled throughout rural areas selling their wares. The hawkers mostly from the Indian Subcontinent were Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims. A small number of Muslims were from Kashmir. When the hawkers arrived at their destination at the end of the day they would set up camp and then light a fire and cook their traditional Roti which were also make from wheat flour, salt and water but much tastier than the Johnny Cakes or small Dampers made by the drovers and farmers since the time of Settlement in Australia. Children gathered around the hawkers when they arrived and watched them while they cooked their Roti. Hawkers are remembered for giving the eagerly awaiting children Roti served with butter or jam or sometimes both. Because Roti was cooked in a similar way to Johnny Cakes and Damper it also became known as Johnny Cakes. This memory has been cherished by many Australians who are always eager to talk about the hawkers and Johnny Cakes.

Song MP3: fourlittlejohnnycakes

Labels: Australian Folk SongBanjo PatersonDave de HugardFour Little Johnny CakesJohn Thompson (This song is another from Paterson's Old Bush Songs. From Dave De Hugard's Freedom on the Wallaby Album (1970).


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