Party Pointer: Presidential Pancakes

With President’s Day coming up, I have become interested in learning more about the favorite foods of our national leaders over the years. Presidential pancakes appeared in my research as an intriguing topic to share with you.

The modern pancake (batter cake, hotcake, griddlecake, flapjack, hoe cake, Johnny cake, journey cake, ash cake, cornpone, mushcake, spider bread, Injun bread, bannock, flannel cake) can date its origins back to 30,000 years ago, when Stone Agers made flour out of cattails and ferns, mixed it with water and baked it on a hot rock. Those pancakes may have seemed more like hardtack, but the concept was the same–a flat cake made from batter and fried.

This ancient form of food appeared in many cultures around the world–pancakes were probably the earliest and most widespread cereal food eaten in prehistoric societies. The ancient Greeks and Romans ate pancakes, sweetened with honey. The Elizabethans ate them flavored with spices, rosewater, sherry, and apples. They were traditionally eaten in quantity on Shrove Tuesday Mardi Gras) or Pancake Day, a day of feasting and partying before the beginning of Lent.  Pancakes were a good way to use up supplies of  perishables like eggs, milk, and butter which would be forbidden for the next forty days of Lent.

In the American colonies, these thin, round flat cakes may be made with different types of flour, eggs, milk and butter and cooked on a hot surface, often frying with butter or oil. The recipe made with buckwheat or cornmeal originated with the Native Americans but was adapted by slaves and European settlers. Pancakes in many variations were eaten in Virginia, the Deep South, New England and the Southwest.

Amelia Simmons’s American Cookery—thought to be the first all-American cookbook, published in 1796—has two recipes for pancakes, one for “Johny Cake, or Hoe Cake,” which calls for milk, “Indian meal,” and molasses; the other recipes is for “Indian Slapjack,” which eliminates molasses, but includes four eggs.

To In 1793, the American diplomat and poet Joel Barlow called the hoe cake “fair Virginia’s pride” in his poem, “The Hasty Pudding,” and also mentioned the New England johnnycake which “receives a dash of pumpkin in the paste.”

One of the favorite meals of George Washington, the first president of the United States, was this simple breakfast dish–hoecakes and honey. This staple of poor settlers and slaves frequently appeared on the Mount Vernon breakfast menu as was noted by many guests of the Washingtons, who often entertained in their home. It was said that Washington liked his hoe cakes “swimming in butter and honey.”

President Thomas Jefferson was so determined that he be served his favorite “batter cakes, fried apples, and hot breads served with bacon and eggs” cooked to his specifications that he had his governess brought up from his Monticello home to cook it.

He also sent a recipe home to Monticello from the President’s House in Washington, D.C., picked up from Etienne Lemaire, his French maître d’hotel (hired for his honesty and skill in making desserts). Lemaire’s “panne-quaiques” were what we would call crepes—made by pouring dollops of thin batter into a hot pan.  Modern pancakes generally contain a leavening agent and are heftier and puffier.

President Andrew Jackson, in keeping with his backwoods background, preferred buckwheat-cornmeal flapjacks with hot molasses or buttered maple syrup. President  Rutherford B Hayes was fond of cornmeal batter-cakes, and President Ulysses S. Grant liked flannel cakes and buckwheat cakes for breakfast.

President Woodrow Wilson’s first breakfast in the White House is recorded as including oranges, cereal with cream, bacon, eggs, steak, hot cakes, toast and tea and coffee.

One of President Warren Harding’s favorite breakfast choices was wheat cakes with maple syrup. President Calvin Coolidge may have been the original frugal gourmet, scheduling meetings at breakfast where he offered White House guests and dignitaries economical buckwheat cakes and Vermont maple syrup.

President Ike Eisenhower liked cornmeal cakes drowned in light molasses. German apple pancakes and waffles topped President Gerald Ford’s list of heavier weekend breakfast fare. George W. Bush flipped pancakes on the campaign trail and ate them when visiting the troops.

If you want to learn more about the presidents’ lives in the White House, check out this website:www.whitehousehistory.org

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