Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Pancakes nourish, entertain children

Midnight Gourmet

By Nick Tolbert

It is a joy preparing pancakes for kids, watching them bounce around waiting for the pancakes to cook. I prefer to make pancakes from scratch, but if I can't, I grab a box of mix. If it is the Quaker Oats brand Aunt Jemima pancakes mix, usually the first question from one of the children is: "Who is that black woman on the box?"

After taking a good look at the box recently, I noticed Aunt Jemima's new look. Most of her old features are gone (like a Michael Jackson makeover!). But the question remained: Who is she?

The Aunt Jemima trademark began around 1888 by Chris L. Rutt and Charles G. Underwood, Southern businessmen who owned a mill. They needed to sell a product that used a lot of their flour, such as pancakes. They experimented with many recipes, developed a good product and began the search for a name that would attract attention to their new pancake mix.

While visiting a vaudeville house in St. Joseph, Mo., in 1889, Rutt and Underwood saw a team of black-face comedians known as Baker and Farrell. One of the songs the minstrels performed was called "Old Aunt Jemima."

Rutt and Underwood not only liked the name, but the likeness of the Southern African-American woman emblazoned on the lithographed posters advertising the act.

They chose this character to represent their new product based on the following ideology: During that period, when most wealthy households in the North and South had African-American servants, it was well-known that the servants, especially the women, were admired for their cooking skills.

With this in mind, Rutt and Underwood began a new era in advertising. It would be the first time a character of a living person would be used to personify a company trademark.

By 1926, the Quaker Oats Co. had bought Rutt and Underwood's company. True success came when Quaker Oats decided to use women to bring Aunt Jemima from label to real life. The first to portray Aunt Jemima was Nancy Green, who was born a slave in Montgomery County, Ky. Her dramatization was so successful that police had to be assigned to keep the crowds moving at her cooking exhibitions.

Anna Robinson also portrayed the character. After her death, there would be five more women to portray Aunt Jemima.

While we may not like the social and/or economic policy that was in force during those times, often it takes a child to ask a simple question to get us to thinking. This time, it prompted me to learn a little more about Aunt Jemima.

Crepes Du Airelles(Cranberry Pancakes)

11/2 cups cranberries (chopped)

1/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons finely shredded orange peel

11/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg slightly beaten

1 cup buttermilk

3 tablespoons butter (melted)

1/2 cup orange juice

In a small mixing bowl, combine cranberries, sugar and orange peel; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In a third mixing bowl combine egg, buttermilk, butter and orange juice. Add to the flour mixture. Stir until combined but still slightly lumpy.

Fold in the cranberry mixture.

Heat a lightly greased griddle or heavy skillet over medium heat until a few drops of water dance across the surface. For each pancake, pour about 1/4 cup batter on to the hot griddle. Cook over medium heat until pancakes are golden brown, turning to cook second side when pancake surfaces are bubbly and edges are slightly dry (about 1-2 minutes). Serve immediately or keep warm in a loosely covered oven-proof dish in a 300-degree oven. Serve with apple butter and maple syrup. Makes about 16 pancakes.

Contact Nick Tolbert by e-mail at

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