Cooking at the Covenhoven House
By Pati Githens (Partnership and Programs Manager)
Welcome to the Covenhoven House! Since we had to cancel our spring open hearth cooking, we figured we would bring a quick recipe to you virtually. Try it at home and let us know how the recipe comes out! And come visit the Covenhoven House in Freehold on West Main Street when we are open in the summer!
Today, we are making corn pancakes from a late 18th century receipt in Amelia Simmons’s cookbook called American Cookery from 1796.
Here’s the original receipt, or what we would refer to as a recipe nowadays.
One quart of milk, 1 pint of indian meal, 4 eggs, 4 fpoons of flour, little falt, beat together, baked on gridles, or fry in a dry pan, or baked in a pan which has been rub’d with fuet, lard, or butter.
Uhhhh, what?! Yes, in the 18th century, they used “f”s in place of beginning “s”s. Google the reasons why – I knew the reason a long time ago and it’s confusing to read until you are used to the new…I mean old….language!
Let’s take a look at it with a 21st century eye:
Indian Slapjack – a.k.a., Corn Pancakes, 18th century style
1 qt (4 cups) of whole milk
2-1/3 cups corn meal, yellow or white
4 tablespoons (maybe?) of all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
Looking at this recipe, there is a lot of liquid! The corn meal does soak up a fair amount. If you let it sit, it ends up not being as wet as you think.
How about the measurements? 4 spoons of flour in the original recipe – how big of a spoon were they using? Were those heaping spoons or leveled off with a knife? Who knows? It’s like reading a family recipe from your grandmother – a pinch of this, a scoop of that, cook until good enough. WHAAAAT?!
Oh, and did you notice anything missing from the recipe that we usually see in our current pancake recipes? How about some sort of leavening agent to make our pancakes fluffy? That’s right – the 1796 recipe doesn’t have any. It doesn’t mean that the cooks in the 18th century didn’t use any leavening agents. They certainly did, but they used ones that were different than what we use now.
If you were making a yeast-based bread in the 18th century, you used a sourdough starter or a mash. This starter would have gathered wild yeast from the air to make your bread rise.
If you were making a quick bread, such as pancakes, you would have used pearlash, which is an early form of baking soda, but made from soaking wood ashes in water. Because it’s very alkaline, it tastes more bitter than baking soda if too much is used. As in today’s cooking, a basic must be paired with an acid to react and form the bubbles in pancakes, muffins, etc. Today’s recipe doesn’t use pearlash, but we do have an early 19th century recipe by Sarah Corlies from our archives that uses saletarus, which is the leavening agent used between pearlash and baking soda coming onto the scene.
Back to our recipe….let’s start cooking! I mixed the wet ingredients together and the dry ingredients together. Then I poured the wet into the dry and quickly mixed them up. I heated up our griddle and greased it well. I then dropped spoonfuls of the batter on the griddle. They cook up pretty quickly! When the edges were dry, I flipped them over. After they were done, I paired them with some fresh strawberries to eat. Yummy!
To satisfy the 21st century palate, here’s what I would do to make them today:
Indian Slapjack – a.k.a., Corn Pancakes, 21th century style
1 cup cornmeal, white or yellow
1 cup all-purpose or cake flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
2-4 tablespoons of sugar, depending on taste
2 large eggs
Up to 1 cup of whole milk or buttermilk (even better with the buttermilk!)
¼ cup melted butter or oil
Mix dry ingredients – cornmeal down to sugar.
Mix wet ingredients – eggs, milk/buttermilk, and oil - but only use 3/4 cup of the milk for now.
Pour wet into dry ingredients and mix with a few quick strokes. If the batter seems dry, add the rest of the milk.
Pour by ¼ cupfuls onto heated and greased pan. Turn pancakes when the edges are dry.
And for a bit of entertainment, we have a video for you. I was a bit nervous, so have a laugh while drinking your coffee! Enjoy the recipes we've included and let us know how your pancakes turn out!
If you'd like to try your hand at a few more recipes, here are some more that we use when the students visit us at Covenhoven House. The gingerbread is delicious!