Some say they’re named after the vessel in which they’re cooked. Pancakes are made in a frying pan, griddle cakes on a griddle and, yes, hoecakes are made on the blade of a hoe. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a large, flat hoe was used in the cotton fields of the American south during the 1700s. At lunchtime a fire would be built, the hoe blade would be washed in a nearby stream and heated, and a cornmeal based batter would be cooked. The result was commonly called a hoecake.
Others say they’re simply regional names for the same flat, round, leavened cake. Battercakes are cornmeal based pancakes often associated with the American south. Flannel cakes are associated with the Pennsylvania Dutch, and some suggest that the word pancake itself is a corruption of an older term, Penncake. And johnnycake? Sometimes called journey cake (it travels well), it is a New England term for a cornmeal based flatbread. By some accounts the word johnnycake is a corruption of the Shawnee cake that European settlers learned to make from Native Americans. Flapjack is an English term, with flap being colloquial for flipping, and drop scones, too, are thoroughly British, as evidenced by the Queen’s own recipe, given below. No matter how the terms originated, they all sell like, well, hotcakes.
In 1957, five years into her reign, Queen Elizabeth II made her first visit to the United States as a guest of president Dwight D. Eisenhower. Two years later, in August, 1959, she hosted Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, at Balmoral, the royal estate in Scotland, and there the President became enamored of the Queen’s drop scones. She sent him the recipe five months later enclosed with the following letter (hand written on Buckingham Palace stationery), now housed in the National Archives. Although the thought of an apron clad Elizabeth flipping pancakes conjures images of Marie Antoinette milking cows, the letter adds instructions to the recipe, suggesting that she’s actually dropped some scones:
Dear Mr. President,
Seeing a picture of you in today’s newspaper standing in front of a barbecue grilling quail, reminded me that I had never sent you the recipe of drop scones which I promised you at Balmoral.
I now hasten to do so, and I do hope you will find them successful. Though the quantities are for 16 people, when there are fewer, I generally put in less flour and milk, but use the other ingredients as stated. I have also tried using golden syrup or treacle instead of only sugar and that can be very good, too. I think the mixture needs a great deal of beating while making, and shouldn’t stand about too long before cooking.
We have followed with intense interest and much admiration your tremendous journey to so many countries, but feel we shall never again be able to claim that we are being made to do too much on our future tours!
We remember with such pleasure your visit to Balmoral, and I hope the photograph will be a reminder of the very happy day you spent with us.
With all good wishes to you and Mrs. Eisenhower.