Like so many South County, Rhode Island natives, I grew up eating johnnycakes. My great-grandmother prepared them to start every “supper”. She would pile half-inch heaps of batter onto a cast-iron skillet, leaving them there for what seemed like an eternity before finally flipping them over to finish. She served hers savory, with a liberal application of salted butter.
Since her passing, I haven’t had many johnnycakes. But Kenyon Grist Mill’s Johnny cake Festival changed that for me this weekend. The festival takes place in scenic Usquepaugh village on the banks of the Queen’s River, and celebrates not only the johnnycake, but local food and businesses of all kinds. Children queried a stone carver on how she did her work. Adults gawked at alpacas and secretly envied children who got to pet a live duck.
But the primary attraction is the food. My Mom and I skipped the long line to sample johnnycakes, instead purchasing an entire plate each. Kenyon’s applied butter mixed with maple syrup, giving only a hint of sweetness to the golden brown cakes. The middle was a touch underdone, but it was understandable given the crowd’s insatiable appetite for the johnnycakes and the cook’s frustration with their clambering.
The best dish I sampled was the roasted corn and shrimp chowder made by Kenyon’s. The corn was sweet and firm, while the broth was flavorful and somewhat spicy. I suspect there may have been a scallop or two tossed in, as some the fish was a touch firm and dense for shrimp. Not that I cared. Between the two of us, my Mom and I had three cups. I will kiss whoever finds the recipe.
I hope to make the Johnny Cake Festival an annual addition to my fall festival circuit, and I hope the organizers continue to further pursue their mission, as described on their website:
At Kenyon’s Grist Mill, in the small village of Usquepaugh, we build a fire, add some water and put in the stones. This creates a venue where local businesses can come together, join a support system, and show off what they do best. By working together, we are strengthening our businesses and community in multiple ways.
As the Ocean State’s economy beings its slow crawl out of the recession, it looks back to its agrarian past as a path to a brighter future. I hope that next year, the Johnny Cake Festival is a farmer’s market on steroids. I want to eat Narragansett Creamery’s feta until I explode (washing it down with Narragansett Beer), only to pick up the shattered pieces of my person to indulge in some Munroe Dairy eggnog spiked with Thomas Tew rum, served in a handsome clay vessel from Peter Pots.
Until next year’s festival, I’m going to occupy myself by perfecting my own johnnycake recipe. I think Grandma would be proud, if a touch put off by the jalapenos I plan to add.