Food and Wine
May 04, 2017 10:00 am

This article originally appeared in Food & Wine by Rebekah Lowin.

Surely we already have enough variations of the basic pancake recipe to go around. Right?

But this one, uncovered during a recent deep-dive by NPR’s Dan Pashman, is particularly special, endearing, and important. That’s because it’s the brainchild of legendary Civil Rights Movement activist Rosa Parks—and therefore a bona fide historical artifact.

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The unexpected recipe was found within a collection of Parks’ personal documents released back in 2015 by the Library of Congress and published online just last year. Included in the vintage treasures are postcards from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., volunteer lists for the now-famous Montgomery Bus Boycott, and, of course, the simple recipe, which looks almost like an afterthought, handwritten on the back of an envelope.

“Featherlite Pancakes” call for a handful of dry ingredients, many written in shorthand (1 cup flour, 2 “T” baking powder, 1/2 “t” salt, and 2 “T” sugar), to be sifted together. Separately, Parks lists several wet ingredients that should be mixed together before being added to the dry ones: 1 egg and 1 1/4 cups milk, 1/3 cup peanut butter, and 1 tablespoon melted shortening or oil.

“Cook at 275° on griddle,” the blueprint concludes.

And that’s it.

But what’s so special about these ingredients and the three succinct steps (sift, mix, cook) listed alongside them? And why do they fascinate us so? Food writer Nicole Taylor, author of The Up South Cookbook, offered her opinion on NPR’s popular podcast, The Sporkful. “We have all these misconceptions about [Rosa Parks]. She’s human. And the pancakes are the most human thing.”

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Library of Congress curator Adrienne Cannon added that the recipe, however brief, was “quintessentially African-American.” Peanuts, which find their roots (literally) in South America, were brought over to the Caribbean and finally to Africa. Eventually, because of the slave trade, the nuts were brought from Africa to the American South.

“It makes me look at [Rosa Parks] as more of a ‘normal person.’ She had to eat,” concluded Taylor. “She wasn’t just this person who was all about the civil rights movement. She cared about nurturing and feeding her family. The pancake recipe makes me feel closer to her.”

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