Traill's Oatmeal Pancakes

Slow Food International calls for a return to the cooking traditions of our ancestors. Although the organization has received criticism for some false-historicizing of traditions and I have critiqued some of Slow Food U.S.A.’s past publications for their heteronormative, patriarchical representations of family and the gendering of cooking, I have found Slow Food’s call to look at the diet of generations past to be meaningful. Laura Schenone, in her book “A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove: a History of American Women Told through Food, Recipes, and Remembrances,” also speaks of these historical linkages that we are able to make through food. Perhaps we feel these ties due to the way that food invokes so many of our senses; through the sizzling sound of the griddle to the eye popping color of fresh tomatoes to the smell of sweet berries to the taste of freshly squeezed orange juice to the feeling of warm bread in our hands. I believe that by trying to cook the foods of groups of the past, using, when possible, the methods that they employed, and trying to best match the ingredients of their time, we are better able to understand historical subjects.

Our latest adventure with Canadian frontier cooking allowed us to make a connection with Canadians living more than 150 years ago. Catherine Parr Traill’s classic guide for newcomers to the region provided great fodder for the first meeting of the Historical Cooking Group. 

I was not born in Canada, but rather hail from sunny Southern California. Almost eighteen months ago, I moved to Quebec for graduate school. Although I was never Traill’s intentioned audience, as an immigrant a century and a half later, I find myself also trying to connect to the newness of this place. I am not living on the frontier and Californian culture is not so foreign as to make me feel fully uncomfortable.

However, I can sympathize with the idea of moving to a new home with a different climate and different ingredients at my disposal (even now in a world with a highly industrialized global food chain, my California diet was quite different than my current Quebec one). Last year, when I came across Traill’s work in a class about the British empire I thought about the “moving to Canada” guidebooks that I had read in the months before my arrival.  These works focused on laws and certain cultural practices, yet they omitted such a significant aspect of culture: food.
Perhaps we can no longer say that there is such a thing as Canadian cuisine, a question that writers such as Nathalie Cooke in “What’s to Eat?: Entrees in Canadian Food Culture” and the recently released “Edible Histories: Towards a Canadian Food History” (edited by Franca Iacovetta, Valerie J. Korinek, and Marlene Epp) have toiled with. Are poutine and ketchup chips Canada’s current legacy? I think the question of what is current Canadian cuisine deserves more space than this blog post allows. However, Traill believed that her recipes were all Canadian cuisine in 1854.  If all of these recipes were equally Canadian, at least in Traill’s eyes, why not pick the first one that looks appealing?

By this method, I decided to make the Oatmeal Pancakes.

As my peers have noted, Traill does not give a very detailed description of the quantities to use for each recipe. Her book came out decades before Fanny Farmer standardized cooking measurements in her Boston Cooking School Cookbook. Traill instead dedicated most of the oatmeal pancake entry to talk about the diet of the “English peasantry” and how they have survived on inferior grains. As such, I have included my modified version of the recipe with standardized measurements.  I used her technique of making the batter rise with baking powder from her Buckwheat Pancake Recipe rather than using barm (which would have required my making beer first since barm is the foam, or scum, that forms on the top of fermented alcoholic beverages and can be used as leaven for breads).  

Oatmeal Pancakes
Recipe yields approximately 35 pancakes.
Mix together:
1 cup whole wheat organic flour (Traill lived before the Green Revolution and massive agricultural pesticide usage)
3 cups of organic oat flour (In order to your own Oatmeal flour, pour 1/3 of a cup of oats into a clean coffee grinder and grind until powdered. 1 cup of oats yields 1 cup of flour.)

5 cups of water
1 tsp of baking powder

Next: butter a pan and heat the stovetop to the highest setting
Pour dollops of the batter onto the pan and cook on each side until brown
Repeat the process of buttering the pan and pouring the batter

Overall I was happy with the result of the pancakes. They are not sweet and rather resemble a buttery flat bread.

They tasted delicious when smeared with Kathleen’s apple jelly (see prior post:

(post by Alex Ketchum)