Have you seen the PBS show “Taste of History” with Chef Walter Staib, where he re-creates meals from colonial America? It’s one of my favorites, and it has inspired me to track down recipes from my own favorite era in American history – the late Victorian and early Edwardian years.
My first discovery in that search was “The Myrtle Reed Cookbook,” published posthumously by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in 1916, which pulls together the author’s earlier cookbooks. Books with such charmingly simple and straightforward names as “What to Have for Breakfast,” “How to Cook Meat and Poultry,” and “One Thousand Salads.”
I have been working my way through the book, and one section in particular that caught my attention was one devoted to pancakes. This is Myrtle Reed’s introduction to that topic:
“The edible varieties of pancakes are readily distinguished from the poisonous growths. The harmless ones are healthful and nutritious and grow in private kitchens. The dark, soggy, leaden varieties are usually to be found in restaurants, but have been known to flourish in private kitchens also.”
She goes on to explain the perfect consistency for a batter and the type of pan that should be used (“[a] soapstone griddle is best, but an iron one will do, and many a savory pancake has come from a humble frying-pan”).
She concludes with this cautionary note:
“Batter enough for one pancake should be dipped from the bowl with a cup or large spoon, as adding uncooked batter to that on the griddle even an instant after it has begun to cook will work disaster to the pancake—and the hapless mortal who eats it.”
I found Ms. Reeds’ recipes to be such a delight that it was her version of Sweet Pancakes that I was imagining when they’re mentioned in The Girl on the Vaudeville Stage.
Recently, after mail-ordering some orange-flower water, I set out to make them myself.
From the Myrtle Reed Cookbook
Mix two tablespoons of flour with a few drops of orange-flower water and a few grains of salt. Add the yolks of four eggs, well-beaten, and the whites of two. Fry by tablespoonfuls in butter, turning once, and sprinkling with sugar. Or, spread with Jelly, roll up, and sprinkle with powdered sugar.
The recipe yielded 13 pancakes, and I can’t say they resembled anything that I have come to expect of pancakes. I would describe them as thick, small crepes. Also, the amount of orange-flower water was not nearly enough to be detected. Still, the pancakes were good and they went quickly. I had a few with just the powdered sugar, sort of like a French Quarter beignet. And before my husband could even sample them, my picky-eater 3-year-old daughter smeared them with grape jelly and finished them off.
If anyone else gives them a try, I’d love to hear how they turned out for you.
If you’re interested in seeing more inspirations for THE GIRL ON THE VAUDEVILLE STAGE, check out my Inspiration board on Pinterest.
THE GIRL ON THE VAUDEVILLE STAGE is a richly drawn historical tale that takes readers behind the scenes of the exuberant, exciting, and often eccentric world of early New York vaudeville and one woman’s romantic journey to find the life she craves and the love she deserves — with a little help from the legendary showman Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr.
Photos by DeAnna Cameron. An earlier version of this post appeared on March 15, 2012.