The Queer Art of Pancake Failure

Over the past year we have experienced many triumphs on the blog— remember when the ice cream didn’t melt in the 500 degree oven!!! We have also had our fair share of failures. Remember that gross cake I made? Yuck! 

Judith/Jack Halberstam reminds us in The Queer Art of Failure about finding alternatives to conventional understandings of success in a heteronormative, capitalist society.  So since Halberstam so convincingly argues that failure sometimes offers “more creative, cooperative, and surprising ways of being in the world, even as it forces us to face the dark side of life, love, and libido,” I have decided to embrace my personal failings.
And yes, reader, I know it might be hard to believe that I am not perfect, but yes, I do have some flaws: one of which is that I am terrible at cooking foods that require flipping. There’s a reason I usually elect to scramble my eggs instead of making an omelette… and it’s not because I prefer the texture.

Thus there is a bit of an irony that I have chosen to make pancakes for this blog over and over again. To tell you the truth, it’s because I am a masochist—another one of my flaws. No, no. I'm just kidding. It usually is due to time constraints and utilizing the ingredients I have in my fridge. I also like to make pancakes because you never know what you are getting with a pancake.

What do I mean? Pancakes aren’t too mysterious right? You can just go to your local IHOP (International House of Pancakes) and clearly see what a pancake is. BUT NO!!! You can’t! Pancakes are, in fact, very diverse. I first learned this lesson in 2008 when I was in Beijing and was  served pancakes with every meal. They were made of a variety of different ingredients at each restaurant but they had one thing in common — they were flat.

As culinary historian William Rubel poetically reminds us in Bread: A Global History, “although many breads are nutritionally fungible, culturally they are rarely interchangeable” (41).  So while pancakes are actually a diverse group of bread products, since in the “European bread hierarchy a loaf bread, however constructed, stood above all forms of flatbreads, including …pancakes” (47) we often respect pancakes less. Still, though, we do have some diversity in North American pancake cuisine.
Take for example in this month’s cookbook, La cuisine Créole à l’usage des petits ménages (1904). There were two recipes for pancakes. The one I selected, which was apparently a contribution by Aunt Sue SC, was a kind of savory pancake.

The directions were quite simple. All I had to do was use eggs, flour, milk, and salt.
The instructions were to “beat the eggs well in a basin. To every egg add one dessertspoonful of flour, one teacupful of milk and salt to taste. Mix these to a fine batter, then let stand for four hours in a cool place. Have frying-pan very hot. Put in a piece of butter the size of a walnut. Put in half a teacupful of the batter, and fry to a light, nice brown. Roll and serve while hot with sugar and lemon” (56).

First of all I knew that these weren’t going to be any IHOP type pancakes because the batter didn’t contain any sugar. Also, I guessed that these weren’t intended for breakfast since the recipe called for the batter to stand for four hours, no more and no less. I know that in my hungry morning state I won't wait four hours to rest before frying.

Well, I followed the recipe and ended up with a really gross, buttery, plain tasting pancake that was only tolerable due to the sugar I sprinkled on top.
I told you I was terrible at making foods that require flipping and here is my failed result.

Halberstam’s words have helped me embrace this failure... I’m sure I learned a lesson in there somewhere.