Early American Road Food: Indian Bread/Corn Pone

Just when American women were hoping to get back to normal in their kitchens after the American Revolution–even able to drink real tea again– many of them packed all their belongings on wagons and oxcarts and set off to settle new lands. Areas that had before been contested or firmly controlled by the English King’s rule were now wide open for American settlement.

We followed Elizabeth Hubbard How Barrett‘s journey from Paxton MA to New York state  with her son, and the journey a year later of  Israel Stone and his wife, Lydia Barrett from Rutland MA to Marietta and then Rainbow, OH. (Elizabeth was Lydia’s mother. I wonder if they compared notes?) Not only was the ride rough and uncomfortable, and sometimes definitely dangerous, but somebody had to pack enough supplies and figure out how to feed a family on those journeys.

corn meal for corn pone

corn meal

Benjamin Franklin Stone, son of Israel and Lydia, lists in his journal some of the foods they ate in the wilderness, including Indian Bread.

Principle items of food were Indian bread, pork, potatoes and other garden sauce, occasional venison, bear and raccoon, opossums, squirrels, wild turkeys.

I have seen Indian Bread referred to in other books about 16th-18th century America, and was never sure exactly what it was.

Living in the southwest, Indian bread generally means “fry bread”–the flat disk of flour and water and baking powder that is deep fried and served with honey or beans.  But I suspected that was not the Indian bread of the east coast that was introduced to the first settlers there.  I most like the explanation from A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove, where author Laura Schenone imagines the interchange.

I envision a wary meeting of an Indian woman dressed in deerskins and an English housewife wearing her heavy linen skirts and long sleeves…The Indian woman uses hand gestures to demonstrate the making of a bread called pone.  She takes dried corn powder, enlivens it with water, molds it into cakes and then boils and bakes it on the hot stones of a fire.

As Schinone says, history has given us a version where the male Indian Squanto imparted wisdom about food to the Pilgrims. But she says women were there, too.

How else did they learn the preparations and the words for Indian dishes such as hominy, no-cake, pone, sucotash, suppawn, and samp?  All this from Squanto?  I think not.

corn for hominy

All of the dishes mentioned here are made from cornmeal, which I have discussed before here. Cornmeal was a new concept–as was corn–to the Puritan women, so they set about adapting Indian recipes and using corn meal to substitute for familiar oats, barley, rye and wheat flour until they were able to grow their own grain. And of course, by that time, they had become rather attached to all those concoctions made with corn, so it became an important part of the American diet.

Corn pone dough

Corn pone dough

So–Indian bread, I believe, is what we now call corn pone, because “Indian meal” was corn meal.  There are myriad versions, but this one would be the easiest to make with ingredients Elizabeth could pack on that oxcart. And as a bonus it is gluten free!!

Indian Bread – Corn Pone

Serves 6
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 30 minutes
Total time 45 minutes
Meal type Bread
Misc Child Friendly, Freezable, Pre-preparable
Website Indian Humanities


  • 2 cups corn meal
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup lard (or butter)
  • 1/2 cup sour milk (or buttermilk)
  • 3/4 cups water (boiling)


1. Mix cornmeal and salt well.
2. Add lard or butter (no need to mix, water will melt the shortening)
3. Pour in boiling water and stir well.
4. Add sour milk or buttermilk and stir well again.
5. Form into 12 balls about 1 1/2" in diameter.
6. Pat the balls into small round cakes.
7. Heat oven to 375 degrees and put 2 T of fat in an iron skillet. Put the skillet in the oven until the fat melts.
8. Put the flattened cakes into the skillet. (No need to leave space between).
9. Bake for thirty minutes.
10. Serve hot, preferably with butter and honey or maple syrup.


If you do not have sour milk or buttermilk handy, you can put 1/2 tablespoon of vinegar in 1/2 cup of milk to sour it. You can also substitute sour cream or plain yogurt.

I needed an iron skillet plus a pie pan to accommodate 12 small cakes. You could pat them thinner if you like, and if you have enough pans.
I turned them over after the 30 minutes and let them brown on the 2nd side.

They would cook just fine on a hot rock by the campfire.

They make a crunchy bread for dinner, and you can eat the leftovers for breakfast, crumbled in a bowl with milk. Not gourmet fare, but definitely filling after a day of riding in a covered wagon.

corn pone with honey

corn pone with honey

“From Rutland to Marietta: Leaves from the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin Stone”, New England Magazine, New Series Vol 16 (1897) p. 210 ff. Both the entire book (1873) and magazine available for search at Google Books.

A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove by Laura Schenone (2003), New York: W. W. Norton & Company

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

I am a grandma and was named for my grandma. I've been an actress, a political strategist and a writer.I grew up in various places, went to high school in Killbuck, Ohio and graduated from Ohio State University. My husband and I moved to Arizona after graduation and have three adult children. I love to travel and read. I ponder family as I cook. Look for my DNA profile on Ancestry.

14 thoughts on “Early American Road Food: Indian Bread/Corn Pone

  1. Lucy orta

    I’ve been trying to find these forever. My grandmother who is deceased but born in 1815 used to make them. Her mother died at age 29 and my grandmother took care of her family and brothers. Her fathers mom was Yaqui. They were from Old Tubutama Sonora Mexico, a ranch called la Sangre de Cristo.

  2. Jennifer Page

    I grew up on this cornbread except it was just a mixture of cornmeal and water, spooned into skillet and fried in oil. It’s delicious with beans and chow chow. I fixed it a few weeks ago. I never knew I had Native American ancestry until I was grown. This cornbread recipe came from my grandmother who was of Cherokee descent.

    1. Linda Caldwell

      I’ve been looking for a fried bread using cornmeal, salt & water. I saw this recipe years ago in an old cookbook. It was called Squaw Bread. I would truly appreciate if you can email me your recipe.
      Linda from Eufaula, OK

      1. Avatar photoVera Marie Badertscher Post author

        I’m not sure what you are looking for. I don’t have a recipe for Fry Bread made with cornmeal other than the corn pone recipe here. If you mean the flour, water, baking powder Fry Bread, you can Google for Navajo Fry Bread or include recipes made with lard or oil but using “Indian Fry Bread.”

    2. Connie Roberts

      Yes, that’s how my grandmother and mother and aunts all fixed it! I am English; however, they first were early in the VA Colony and were indentured servants who earned their freedom and moved into Eastern Carolina. The family still makes what you refer to as Squaw Bread.

  3. Jennifer Page

    I’m writing again about the fried cornbread I grew up on. I think you are right about this was the fry bread of the East coast because my Grandmother’s side of the family never left North Alabama like the rest her Cherokee family did.

  4. LeAaron Thompson

    My family is 100% Lumbee native American, formerly known as the Croatan tribe of north Carolina, We created the city of Lumberton and still live there. My Tribe knew the settlers of Roanoke. I spoke to over a dozen families in my tribe we know nothing of this corn pone you mentioned but we do know of cornbread. We still make it the same way every day 300 years ago. Elders say our sister tribe introduced it on the first Thanksgiving.

    1. Avatar photoVera Marie Badertscher Post author

      Thank you so much for writing. It would love to see the recipe your people have been using for so long. As I say at the end of the article there are many variations of a cornmeal bread called pone. The one I chose does not have baking powder or baking soda because those would not have been known in the 17th century. And it doesn’t have eggs because travelers would not be likely to have eggs at hand. But I’d love to try your version of cornbread since it sounds like a really historic recipe.

      The word ‘pone’ is tricky and no one is sure if it might have been a mispronunciation of an Indian word or, if corn pone was a later, non-Indian creation, a word from a regional dialect of English. Here’s an article that explains the connection between the word pone and American Indian languages. https://www.southernfoodways.org/cornpone-a-borrowed-term-for-a-borrowed-staple/

      I hope you will share your recipe.

      1. Philip Brett

        It comes from Ahpon or Abon which are Algonquian (many tribes, Lenape and Abenaki included) words for the bread made of nixtimalized corn meal (in mexican cooking known as Masa Harina) and was made into cylindrical rounds cooked in corn husks much like tamelas or into cakes and cooked on a griddle as I have seen on the web just now.

      2. Emily

        Quick question: why does this article say the west was “wide open” to white settlers?

        It was in fact populated by indigenous people, who were systematically killed and removed.

        It’s very important that we reframe these conversations.

        1. Avatar photoVera Marie Badertscher Post author

          Thank you for your comment. I did not indicate the history of how those lands became wide open to the European settlers, but by this time the Indian wars were basically over, as were the struggles with English, French and Spanish colonizers. I do not mean to minimize the destruction wrought by the colonization of America, but simply to state a fact. As far as the American settlers were concerned,after the Revolutionary War, they had a freedom they had not experienced earlier.

  5. Jeanne Babinski

    I am trying to find the receipe for Native American Indian corn bread I had it several years ago and made it for my husband who is native American.
    I loved it, and said it was like Annie Little Pigeons.
    I lost the rwceipe. It had dark malaise it it and corn meal. But I can’t remember what else. Help!!
    Receipes here sound interesting, but aren’t the one.

    1. Avatar photoVera Marie Badertscher Post author

      Are you saying it had molasses? I found several corn bread with molasses recipes by googling, but wonder if you are thinking of the dessert called Indian pudding. Although these recipes may have “Indian” in the title the word refers to “Indian corn” as they did not use molasses before the arrival of Europeans. Of course native’s cooking and European cooking borrowed from each other as the years went by. Sorry I can’t be more help.


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