Tag Archives: breakfast

Buttermilk Pancakes!

For a lot of North Americans, breakfast is something often skipped during the work week. On the weekend however, time is made especially for preparing breakfast. One of my favourite things to make on a weekend morning is a big pile of pancakes, mostly due to their ease of preparation, and because of the sugary maple syrup splashed on top, a plateful of steaming hot pancakes feels like a treat set apart from the workday pace.

In preparation of writing this week’s blog post about pancakes, I did a bit of research on the subject. According to an online article by Rebecca Rupp about the history of pancakes from National Geographic’s special eight-month feature series, Future of Food, pancakes, or food like pancakes, are not a recent culinary invention. According to the article, anthropological researchers guess that Stone Age humans were cooking pancake-like foods over greased heated rocks due to the discovery and analysis of 30,000-year-old grinding tools that our Stone Age predecessors used to break down cereal grains, cattails, and ferns.

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A stack of pancakes can be dressed up any way you’d like–whether it’s with the traditional pat of butter and splash of maple syrup, or with cut fresh fruit and a blob of cottage cheese, pancakes are a pretty versatile breakfast component.

Both Rebecca Rupp’s National Geographic article, and Alan Davidson’s Oxford Companion to Food (1999) state that pancake-like foods made of cereal grains were made and enjoyed by the ancient Greeks and Romans, who would sweeten them with honey. In fact, Davidson attests that one of the earliest written records of a pancake-food was in Apicius, a collection of Roman cookery recipes generally thought to be from the late fourth or early fifth centuries CE. Generally speaking, pancake-foods consisted of a batter of ground cereal grains, milk, and eggs which was then fried into small cake-like portions.

Rupp also mentions in her article that pancakes featured in the daily lives and meals of colonial North Americans as well, and have since colonial times been a part of traditional North American breakfasts. According to Rupp, “pancakes—also known as hoe cakes, johnnycakes, or flapjacks—were made with buckwheat or cornmeal”, which would have been more easily produced and financially accessible in the American colonies than fine wheat flour. Comparatively, Rupp’s description of American ‘griddlecakes’ (as beloved by Thomas Jefferson) places this kind of pancake-food closer to today’s contemporary pancakes, as they contain a leavening agent, and thus are fluffier and more tender. Pancakes became a staple of the North American breakfast, and was a regular inclusion to the near-iconic bacon and eggs breakfast for Americans from then on.

In her book, Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal, author Abigail Carroll describes how Victorian-era culinary writers and intellectuals commented on the state of mid-nineteenth and late-nineteenth century breakfasts in America. According to Carroll, prospering middle-class families in America often had breakfasts that included “a combination of cold and hot meat as well as baked goods and porridge” (136) and that breakfast was, for many American families then, “the second-largest meal of the day” (136).

Carroll says that this sort of big-breakfast was considered generally acceptable for Americans that engaged in arduous chores long before actually sitting down for their breakfasts (136). Farmers, travelers, and general labourers were often working for several hours in the morning before returning to their kitchens or to local cafes, taverns, and restaurants for their breakfast meals. It makes sense then that these Americans were tucking in to large, calorie-heavy breakfasts—they were making up for the energy already spent in country or factory toil.

Big breakfasts were beginning to become a regular inclusion in the average morning for many Americans, including the richer classes. The big breakfasts that the richer classes were eating were similar to those of the lower classes and often included syrup-soaked pancakes alongside fried eggs, bacon, toast, porridge, and cups of coffee and tea. According to Carroll, “the tremendous size and complexity of meals, including breakfast, contributed greatly to the dyspepsia pandemic” (that is, a pandemic of chronic indigestion), as did “shifting work patterns in an urbanizing and mechanizing nation” (137). As workers began to shift from the workspaces of fields and factories to those of offices and desks, Carroll states that many late-nineteenth century writers and social commenters were writing published papers about dyspepsia, and that they were citing it as a “disease of civilization” (137). Carroll sums it up succinctly by stating that “the traditional farmer’s breakfast was simply no longer appropriate to a modern urban lifestyle, at least not for the majority of the middle class” (137).

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Pancakes take so little time in the frying pan, it’s easy to get them to the table while they’re still piping hot.

Big breakfasts, or farmer’s breakfasts, are far less frequent in contemporary North American diets than they were during the mid- and late-nineteenth centuries. The Victorian dyspepsia concerns have also faded as current eating habits have shifted to reflect the increasingly urbanized, mechanized, and fast-paced work schedules and business environments of today. Modern breakfasts have changed to suit the workday schedule and its requirements of convenience. Pancakes, therefore despite their quick preparation (especially since the twentieth century advent of manufactured box mixes), have largely become a weekend, treat breakfast food. Often pancakes are made and served as a breakfast meal on their own just as often as they are included in a large and leisurely Sunday morning breakfast spread.

This Sunday’s breakfast was a batch of pancakes served with heated, pure maple syrup. Despite a 1898 parenting manual’s inclusion of pancakes as breakfast foods as part of a “graveyard diet” (138), and associated Victorian-era dyspepsia concerns, I would encourage readers to make pancakes from scratch as a weekend treat. Box mixes are all well and good, but pancakes made from scratch with fresh buttermilk, vanilla extract, and egg are a welcome break from a work week of breakfasts of coffee and soggy breakfast cereal.


Baking Powder Biscuits and Tea!

This Sunday morning I was awake long before the rest of my family. Usually I take full advantage of the weekend and sleep in late, but for whatever reason I couldn’t sleep past seven o’clock. I was just kind of knocking around the house for a while on my own, working on homework, and running a load of laundry before anyone else got up. I thought about shoveling the snow from the walkway, and while the weather’s been a lot milder than it has been earlier in the month, I still chickened out from venturing out into the snow, and stayed inside where it was warm and dry.

Lately the city’s caught something of a break from frigid temperatures that were hanging down around -40 (with the ever-present wind chill taken into consideration, of course). And to be honest, aversion to snow-shoveling chores or not, since about midweek last week, the weather’s been downright bearable outside. Watching the birds visiting the feeder just outside the kitchen window, I thought I’d make something special for Sunday’s breakfast. Maybe I could use the ‘but I made breakfast!’ as an excuse to shirk shoveling the walk. To better my odds, I decided that I would make one of my family’s favourite things to have on snowy winter mornings: baking powder biscuits.

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A cup of hot tea and flaky, soft biscuits with butter and raspberry jam is as good a start to a Sunday as anything!

The recipe my family uses to make these biscuits is pretty basic, and can be doctored in all sorts of ways. You can add in a bit of sugar, dried currants, and swap the skim milk for rich cream and make the biscuits closer to the sort served during elegant afternoon teas. Or the biscuits could be turned into a more savoury variety with diced chives and grated sharp cheddar cheese incorporated into the dough and baked to be served alongside a hearty soup or stew full of tender beef, caramelized onions, and thick rounds of sliced carrots and parsnips.

Still, I think my favourite way to make them is without any fancying up. Simple and plain baking powder biscuits served hot with a cup of tea, and with a small pat of butter and raspberry jam dabbed in the middle of each biscuit is my favourite. You can set your kettle to boil and steep any kind of tea you like to have with your biscuits, but I like a nice black tea like Irish Breakfast with my biscuits and jam. Tempered with milk and sugar, the bitterness of the black tea is lessened, but it still has strong flavour and suits the biscuits nicely.

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You know you haven’t overworked the dough if the biscuits pull apart nicely into halves.

Under the ‘read more’ cut is the recipe that my family uses when we make baking powder biscuits. I’m not sure where this recipe originally came from my mums collection of handwritten recipes we keep in the kitchen. Possibly it’s an adaptation from another recipe, or maybe it’s a recipe Mum copied down while talking to one of her sisters on the phone. Either way, I hope that you’ll try making them this weekend—it’s pretty difficult to botch them up (even if your oven has a tendency to bake things unevenly like ours). Breaking each biscuit open with your hands and watching a curl of steam escape from the flaky, soft, snowy dough is a pretty lovely and comforting thing—and especially when you’ve made the biscuits yourself.

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