New England Breakfast

March 31, 2009

Residents of the tiny state of Rhode Island celebrate their independence day with muffins and johnnycakes.

Mark Boughton

Rhode Island renounced its allegiance to the British crown on May 4, 1776, and ever since, residents have celebrated the date as the state's official Independence Day. To mark the occasion, Rhode Island turns into one big all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet featuring traditional New England foods-jonnycakes and muffins, baked beans and clam cakes.

Cranston's Oak Lawn Community Baptist Church hosted the state's first May Breakfast in 1867 to raise money for a new church building. Today dozens of Rhode Island organizations–churches, clubs, granges and volunteer firehouses–sponsor fundraising all-you-can-eat breakfasts between late April and the second weekend in May.

Fellowship is the main draw, says Patricia Robinson, who chairs the 49-year-old May Breakfast at the First Baptist Church in East Greenwich. "It might be the one time each year people get to sit down with their neighbors. The whole community comes, including the politicians."

Then, of course, there's the food. Old-time New England and Rhode Island dishes are served alongside the more familiar eggs, ham, coffee and juice. Most May Breakfast menus feature jonnycakes. These unleavened pancakes are derived from an Indian recipe using flint corn, a variety of hard kernel corn that thrives in the fog and salty air of the Ocean State. Early settlers stuffed the small, hard cakes, then called "journeycakes," into their pockets or saddlebags for sustenance on long trips.

Today, the jonnycake and the May Breakfast where it's served signify an enduring Rhode Island tradition.

—Carolyn Wyman, a food writer in Philadelphia, Pa.

cornmeal muffins

Cranberry Cornmeal Muffins

Make these crusty muffins for breakfast on Thanksgiving morning.


East Bay–Style Rhode Island Jonnycakes

Thick or thin, made with water or milk—Rhode Island Jonnycakes bring fresh flavor to the breakfast table.


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