Hot Cakes

This is the final article in February of the School for Housewives 1909 series published on February 28, 1909, and is an article on hot cakes.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.

Hot Cakes

AN EMINENT English physician—the late Dr. Milner Fothergill—wrote to me of an article I had published, advising light and simple breakfasts for American families:

“You are on the right track. More power to your elbow! The almost in evitable feature of your national breakfast—buckwheat cakes—is an outrage of natural laws.”

I felt, then, that he was too sweeping in his condemnation. There is an old song that expresses the sentiment of the average “native” on this head:

Do you ask what I love best of all things to eat?
Let them come every day, or come without warning—
There is nothing in all the wide world so sweet
As sausage and cakes on a cold, frosty morning.

The rhymester hit the nail on the head in the last line. “The outrage” is most digestible and most toothsome in the keenest winter weather. The “cold, frosty morning” goes as naturally with the buckwheats as the sausage, and the addendum of maple syrup, which completes a satisfactory meal. Canny housemothers adapt diet to weather. Hot cakes belong to frost and snow, as ices and jellied tongue and crisp salads to the dog days. To the failure to accommodate food to the thermometric conditions is due much of the reproach under which this one of our national dishes lies. At the right season, and made in the right way, hot cakes never come amiss. Nobody denies their popularity. I suppose the proverb, “It goes off like hot cakes,” must be of American birth. We borrowed the germ from the aboriginal Indian. He pounded maize upon a flat stone, mixed it with water to a pulp, and baked it upon another flat stone heated in the embers. The hungry settler who chanced to be his compulsory or voluntary guest, eating of the hot corn cake, pronounced it very good, and improved upon it to the evolution of johnny cake and griddles.

That is the name they go by in Yankeeland to this day. At the South the are “batter cakes,” probably in contradistinction to the firmer dough of “pone” and “ashcake.” South of Mason and Dixon’s line they are but one of the numberless “hot breads” which furnish the breakfast table with the regularity of sunrise. It may be remarked in passing that in defiance of dietetic dicta dyspepsia is not so common a disease at the South as in New England. I do not account for the phenomenon; I merely record the fact.

It Stuck to their Ribs.

An intelligent widow, left as a young woman to bring up six children upon painfully narrow means, tabulated the results of gastronomic experiments upon the digestion and consequent growth of her brood. She writes, when they are all men and women:

“I found that a hearty winter breakfast of buckwheat or rice cakes and molasses satisfied them for the forenoon as nothing else did. As the oldest boy phrased it: ‘It stuck to their ribs longer.’ You will comprehend what he meant. It kept them from being hungry in school and while at work. They were sturdy and active and spent much time in the open air. That may account for the fact that buckwheats and molasses never disagreed with them. I was careful that the batter should be light, and the cakes were cooked with as little grease as possible.”

Had she made the experiment later in life, she would have learned that the cakes may be baked and not fried. The gain to the average digestion effected by the use of the soapstone griddle is inestimable.

The dietetic disadvantages of hot cakes lies chiefly in the frying process. Even when the griddle is at the precise degree of heat requisite to cook them through and brown them quickly some of the fat will strike into the heart of the batter and more clings to the surface of the cakes. The soapstone abolishes the evil. It should be cleaned thoroughly with hot suds, rinsed in two waters, dried and then rubbed with plenty of salt.

“But does madame know how much salt it do take?” asked one novice in the use of the utensil. To which I replied that salt is cheap, and bade her beware that not a drop of grease ever touched the griddle. If this admonition be obeyed there is no smell of hot fat in halls and other rooms than the kitchen—nor, indeed, there! The cakes leave the soapstone brown and firm and so free from oily matter that they do not grease the hot napkin enveloping them when served.

That they are far more wholesome than when fried goes without saying.

Old-Fashioned Buckwheat Cakes.

One quart of the best buckwheat flour, four tablespoonfuls of yeast, one teaspoonful of salt, one good handful of Indian meal, two tablespoonfuls of good molasses (not syrup) enough warm (not hot) water to make the ingredients into a thin batter.

Beat long and hard; much of the excellence of the cakes depends upon them beating. The old-fashioned cook beat the batter for ten minutes. Cover, set in a moderately warm place to rise, where there is no danger of a sudden chill during the night. In the morning it should be a spongy mass, nearly as white as cream and full of bubbles. Should it have a sour smell, beat in a very little soda dissolved in warm water. Mix at night in a great stone or agate-ironware pot, and leave some of the risen batter in the bottom—about half a pint—to serve as a sponge for the next night, instead of using a fresh supply of yeast. If the weather be cold, you may do this nightly for a week. Don’t try it for a longer time, for fear of mustiness. Add the usual quantity of flour, meal, salt and molasses every night, the old batter taking the place of yeast.

Some New England foremothers put into the batter two-thirds buckwheat flour and one-third oatmeal, and left out the cornmeal. To my way of thinking (and taste) the Indian meal makes the makes more porous and palatable.

Old Virginia Flapjacks.

One quart of buttermilk.
Two eggs, beaten light without separating whites and yolks.
Two tablespoonfuls of the best molasses.
One tablespoonful of melted shortening.
One tablespoonful of salt.
One teaspoonful of soda, sifted three times with the meal and flour.
Half a cupful of flour.
Two cupfuls of Indian meal or enough to make a good batter.
Sift together meal, flour, soda and salt. Do this three times. Stir the beaten eggs into the buttermilk with shortening and molasses. Put the sifted meal and flour into a great bowl; make a hollow in the middle and pour in milk, eggs, etc., stirring vigorously all the time. The batter should be a trifle thicker than that for flannel cakes. Bake at once.

Flannel Cakes.

One quart of sweet milk.
Three tablespoonfuls of yeast (or half a yeast cake dissolved in warm water.)
One tablespoonful of melted butter or other shortening.
Two eggs, the yolks and whites beaten separately.
One teaspoonful of salt.
About two cups of sifted flour—enough for a good batter.
Make a sponge of yeast, milk and salted flour overnight and cover. Leave in a sheltered corner to rise. In the morning add the beaten eggs and the butter. Some think these excellent cakes improved by the addition of a tablespoonful of molasses beaten in with the eggs and butter. They take on a richer brown if this be added.

Marion Harland

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