I'm taking a break this week from the usual witches, monsters and weirdness to ask a few questions:
1. Has your physician told you that you need to get more rum in your diet?
2. Have you ever wondered what a pirate might eat for breakfast?
3. Did you ever want to put vinegar on your pancakes?
If you answered yes to any of those questions I have a recipe you need to try.
I found it The Old Farmer's Almanac Colonial Cookbook, which was published by Yankee Magazine in 1976. This was given to me many years ago by my friend Dave, and it used to belong to his mother. The Colonial Cookbook contains lots of unusual recipes, like partridge in vine leaves, green corn pudding, and snow griddle cakes. It also has a recipe innocuously titled "rye pancakes."
In addition to rye flour, which you don't often see in pancake recipes, the recipe includes molasses and rum. It's very Olde New England (and also very piratey). I've never eaten pancakes with rum in the batter, so I thought I'd give the recipe a try.
Here's the recipe:
3 cups rye flour
1 cup flour
1 cup molasses
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 cups milk
1/2 cup New England rum
Combine ingredients, beat, fry!
A few things to note about this batter and these pancakes. First of all, the batter is very, very thick. The recipe warns that "These are very rich." That's an understatement. The batter is thick like a bread batter. I had to plop it into the pan, not pour it.
I also have to note that sadly most of the rum cooks away, leaving just a slight flavor but no real intoxication. The predominant flavor is molasses. Happily I love molasses!
Finally, these come out really brown. I realized while making these pancakes that a lot of New England cuisine is brown. Brown bread, Indian pudding, apple pie, roast turkey, New England pot roast, switchel, etc. It is the cuisine of a region where winter is long and summer is very, very short.
The Colonial Cookbook says the following about this recipe: "Here's a recipe that dates back to the early 1700s, when great fields of rye swayed in the wind all along the Taunton River in Massachusetts. The molasses or sugar required for these pancakes was brought up the river in smalls sloops or brigs... A cherished family tradition handed down from generation to generation." The Yankee Magazine web site says the recipe was submitted to them by a Miss Helen H. Lane.
I have no way of knowing if this recipe really dates to the 1700s, but the ingredients do make it seem possible. For example, the early New England settlers found that rye grew better than wheat in this cold climate, and it featured prominently in their baked goods, like brown bread. They always preferred wheat, though, and once New England became more prosperous they imported wheat from other states.
Rum and molasses also have deep roots in New England history. Yankee merchants would trade rum for slaves in Africa, and then trade the slaves for sugar and molasses in the Caribbean. They'd bring the molasses and sugar back to New England to make rum, which they'd then trade in Africa for slaves. They'd repeat this over and over, turning a profit with each transaction.
This exploitative economic system (known as the Triangle Trade) made the merchants quite wealthy, and also infused New England cuisine with Caribbean flavors. Molasses, rum, and spices like cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg are all essential to New England cooking, but all actually come from the Caribbean islands. It's strange to think that the so-called pumpkin pie spices, which are so homey and comforting, have their origin in such a dark period of history.
One last thing about these pancakes. Rather than topping them with butter and syrup, the Colonial Cookbook recommends topping them with vinegar and sugar. It says, "Fill a cereal bowl with sugar. Add enough vinegar to make the resulting mixture spreadable as butter. As you eat the pancakes, dab them with the mixture."
I thought this might be gross, but it was actually kind of delicious. The sour vinegar cut through the sweetness. The combination of vinegar and sugar is also an old New England one. It doesn't show up much these days, unless you are lucky enough to find someplace serving switchel.