Wednesday, October 8, 2014

In Praise of Pancakes...ancient food--timeless yumminess

The Pancake Bakery, 1560, by Pieter Aertsen
With the welcome nip of autumn in the air, glowing orange displays of pumpkins in every American town and strewn throughout the countryside, often with a backdrop of dried cornstalks, I had a hankering for something corny, pumpkiny, and yummy. And, voila! I found the perfect combination when I ran across several recipes for Pumpkin Cornmeal Pancakes.

The Pancake Baker,  1625, by Andriaen Brouwer
This led me to websites featuring fascinating facts about the history of pancakes. It seems frying thin layers of batter and serving them with a variety of toppings (or simply bare) is a culinary creation that’s been around about as long as the human race and made in one form or another around the world. Focusing on English and North American varieties I found they’ve been called many different names including: pancakes, flapjacks, johnnycakes, hoecakes, and Indian cakes (if made with cornmeal.) Up until the 1800s, they were made without any leavening agent (baking powder) and were, therefore, flatter and denser than what we are accustomed to eating. 

The recipe below, combines the traditions of Colonial era American cooking with the more modern addition of baking powder. Following the directions, I’ve included an excerpt (odd spellings and all) from The Country Housewife’s Family Companion, an English cookbook published in 1750 that devotes an entire section in praise of pancakes. It includes “receipts” of pancakes for “poor people,” pancakes for “rich people,” and even pancakes made from beer and ale! Who knew?!

Pumpkin Cornmeal Pancakes
Corn, The Food of the Nation, 1918, USDA
(thanks to for this recipe)
-serves 2- increase ingredients as needed
The Elder Family in Kitchen (making pancakes!) 1759 by Jan Josef Horemans
½ cup cornmeal
½ cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
½ cup pumpkin (pureed, from a can) 
1 teaspoon grated orange peel
¼ cup brown sugar
¾ cup milk1 egg
1 cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
Maple syrup

1. In a large bowl, whisk to combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt, and spices.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk to combine pumpkin, milk, egg, brown sugar and orange peel.
3. Add wet ingredients to dry, stirring to combine (but don’t over mix).
4. Heat a large frying pan or griddle over medium heat. Grease pan with a bit of oil or butter (I use a tad of both…butter for flavor, oil because it doesn’t scorch in the pan), and cook pancakes in batches, flipping once when bubbles form and burst on the surface of the cakes.

5. Serve warm, topped with toasted walnuts and maple syrup.

Family Companion

How commodiously Pancakes answer the Farmers, the Yeomens, and Gentlemens Interest.
Pancakes are one of the cheapest and more serviceable dishes of a farmer's family in particular; because all the ingredients of the common ones are of his own produce, are ready at hand upon all occasions, saves firing, are soon cook'd, are conveniently portable, and supply both meat and bread; insomuch that in harvest, and at other times, they become a pleasant part of a family subsistence, to the saving of much expence and trouble in a year, by causing the less consumption of fleshmeat, &c. This piece of frugal œconomy likewise affects the yeoman's and gentleman's family; for altho' the master and mistress of these can afford to eat better than the plain sort of pancakes, yet their servants may be often supplied with them as a changeable, light, and pleasant diet, for either breakfast, dinner, or supper. And that a proper sort may be made for both masters and servants uses, I shall be the more particular in giving various receipts for the same as followeth,viz.

The Hertfordshire plain cheap Pancakes for Farmers Families, &c.--Are made with wheaten flower, milk, eggs, and powder'd ginger. To a pottle of wheat-flower they put two quarts of new milk, four eggs, and some powdered ginger; these they stir together into a batter consistence, and fry them in hogslard; when one side of the pancake is fried enough, our housewife, or her maid-servant, turns it in a clever manner, by giving it only a toss with the frying-pan, and when this is dexterously done, it is the best way of turning them. Thus she goes on frying pancake after pancake, and as she lays them one upon another, in a platter or dish, she sprinkles some coarse sugar for their sauce; but takes what care she can that the family eats them hot, for the hotter they eat them, the less danger there is of rising in their stomachs, if the lard should be rankish. But whether they eat them cold or hot, if the ingredients are fresh and good, they are agreeable victuals; and though I mention sprinkling of sugar over the pancakes after they are fry'd, as sauce to them, yet some think it the better way to mix sugar in the batter, for mixing it the more regular to the taste.
Woman Holding Pancakes, about 1625, by Jan van Bijlert

How a Woman made three Pancakes that dined herself and three Men.--This housewifely woman, that lives in our neighbourhood, made her batter for her pancakes thus: In the first place, she pared, cored, and chop'd her apples very small, then prepared her batter with wheat-meal, four eggs, milk, and powder'd ginger; these being all mixed, she put some of the batter into a large frying-pan, with a good quantity of hogslard, and though she laid her batter in thinnish, the pancake came out thick, because all the several ingredients contributed to it. And when she had fry'd three of these pancakes, herself and three men eat them without any sauce, saying, They had a dinner to their satisfaction.

How Small-Beer or Ale Pancakes are made.--These are sometimes made, not only by the poorer sort of people, but also by farmers and yeomens wives, when milk cannot easily be had; for although most farmers and yeomen keep cows, they are not always in milk, as being in calf, or that they go, what we in Hertfordshire call, guess or dry: In this case milk may be supplied by the use of small-beer, or better with ale; but whenever either of these are wanted, it should be of the mildest newest sort, and free from the bitter taste of hops. Then mix this liquor with wheat-flower, a few beaten eggs, sugar, and ginger, and fry it into pancakes with lard or other fat. I must own, that a pancake made with malt liquor is not so palatable as one made with milk; but where the bellyful is mostly consulted, it will do well enough. 

How Water Pancakes are made by poor People.--This pancake is made by many poor, day-labouring mens wives, who when they cannot afford to make better, make this; by stirring wheat flower with water instead of milk, for if they can get milk, they generally think it put to a better use when they make milk porridge of it for their family. The flower and water being stirred into a batter consistence, with a sprinkling of salt and powder'd ginger, they fry the pancakes in lard, or other fat, and without any sugar they and their family make a good meal of them.
Mmm...pancakes  by Jeffrey W. Wikimedia Commons

How Pancakes are made for rich People.--Rich pancakes are made by some to eat as the finishing part of a dinner; to make such, they melt three quarters of a pound of butter with a pint or more of cream; when this is done, stir into it as much flower as will make a common batter for thickness; fry with butter or lard, and turn each pancake on the back of a pewter plate; strew fine sugar over them, and they'll be rich pancakes indeed: But for a farther choice of rich pancakes, I shall add the receipts of several authors.--One author by an old receipt directs, that to make good pancakes, three eggs should be beat till they are very thin; this done, beat them up again with an addition of water, powder'd cloves, mace, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a little salt, next thicken them with fine flower, and fry them with lard or sweet butter into a thin substance till they are brown, then strew some white sugar over them, and they are ready for eating. Upon which this ancient author remarks and says, there be some, who in pancakes mix new milk or cream; this, says he, makes them tough, cloying, and not crisp, nor so pleasant and savoury as clear water makes them.--Another author says, make use of eight eggs to a pottle of flower, powder'd ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, and some salt: Make, says he, these into thin batter with milk, and beat the whole well together with half a pint of sack; then put the pan on the fire with a little butter or other fat, and when hot, rub it with a cloth; the pan being thus cleaned, put in a sufficient quantity of fat to melt, and your batter on that, very thinly spread, which in frying must be supplied with little bits of butter, lard, or suet; toss the pancake to turn it, and fry it crisp and brown.--Says another author, for making pancakes in the thinnest manner, mix eight eggs with a quart of cream, six spoonfuls of flower, six of sack, one of rose-water, a pound of butter, and two grated nutmegs; the butter must be melted with the cream, and the whole mixed together into a batter. Observe also to butter the fryingpan for the first pancake, but not afterwards, and spread the batter as thin as possible each time you fry. This pancake, says he, being so very thin, needs no turning, for if one side of it is brown, it is enough, and this quantity of batter will make above thirty pancakes; and as they are fry'd, strew fine sugar over each pancake and lay one upon another for eating; or (says he further) if you think fit, you may beat up the eggs with a pint or a quart of water instead of cream, which when mixed with the other ingredients, will make good thin pancakes; but you must take care you do not burn them in frying. Also, that if you make this sort of batter early in a morning, to stand till dinner time, it will make the better pancakes.

Apple Pancakes for Gentry.--For this, after you have pared your apples, cut them in round slices, first taking out the core part; these fry in fresh butter; next beat up twelve or sixteen eggs in milk, or better in a quart of cream, which mix with ginger and nutmeg powder'd each two drams, powder'd sugar six ounces; then pour this batter on the fry'd apples, and fry altogether: Sprinkle with sugar, and they'll be good eating. Others mince the apples, and then mix them with batter.

A quick and plain Way to make Apple Fritters.--In Hertfordshire, to make these, we cut large apples in thin slices, and only dip them in batter, and fry them in lard or dripping.

A quick and plain Way to make pickled Pork Pancakes.--To do this, we make no more to do in Hertfordshire, than to cut thin slices of pickled pork, and dipping them all over in batter, we put them among batter in the fryingpan, and fry them in large pancakes.
Vegan Pancakes by Suzette, Wikimedia Commons

The Dugdale Flower Pancake.--This is a wheaten pancake, because it is made with wheat-flower, tho' with one of the coarsest of English wheat. Yet it is well known to many yeomen and farmers, who sow this Dugdale or Rivet-Wheat, that if the flower of it is sifted fine, it makes the best of pancakes, because its flower or meal is of a sweet short nature.

To make fine Pancakes fry'd without Butter or Lard, according to an old but good Receipt.--Take a pint of cream and six eggs, beat them very well together, put in a quarter of a pound of sugar, and one nutmeg, and as much flower as will thicken it like ordinary pancake batter. Your pan must be heated reasonably hot, and wiped with a clear cloth. This done, put in your batter as thick or thin as you please.

To make Rice Pancakes.--The same author says, boil a pound of rice in three quarts of water till it is very tender, then let it stand covered in a pot a while, and it will become a sort of jelly; next scald a quart of milk and put it scalding hot to the rice jelly, when this is done, mix 20 eggs, well beaten, with three quarters of a pound of butter first melted over a fire, and stir all these together with salt, and as much flower as will hold them frying in butter. This mixture is best done over night.

The Hertfordshire Bacon Pancake, or what some call Bacon-Fraise, for Plowmen and others.--Cut the best part of bacon into thin pieces, about two inches square, then with milk, flower, and eggs make a batter; when the eggs are well beaten, mix all of them together, and then put into your fryingpan hogslard or good dripping, which when thoroughly hot, lay in your bacon batter according to discretion, and as the pancake fries, cast some of the fat on it;--when it is enough on one side, turn it. This pancake needs no spice nor sugar, and serves well to fill our plowmens and others bellies instead of intire flesh.

See for a digital copy of the entire cookbook.

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!

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