Rosa park’s pancake recipe helps us to see the human side of heroes.
In 2015, after a decade of legal battles, the library of congress released a series of Rosa Parks personal documents. The newspapers were first launched last year. Among them are postcards from the Martin Luther King jr. ‘s group, Montgomery bus boycott lists, and journal pages and pages.
Buried in the park collection is another document that doesn’t have much historical significance – but it caught my eye. This is a pancake recipe written on the back of an envelope.
At first glance, parkes’ “Featherlite” recipe looks like an attractive footnote, especially because of the novelty of adding peanut butter to pancake batter.
But as we discovered in this week’s The Sporkful food podcast, this recipe is actually a window of time and place, and most of us know little about it.
“We have all these misconceptions about [Rosa Parks],” said food writer nicole Taylor, author of the southern cookbook. “She’s human, and pancakes are the most human thing.”
What’s in the envelope?
Parks wrote the recipe on the back of the envelope, in the bank and the bank in Detroit, the fact tells us a lot about her life after December 1, 1955, when she refused to give up her bus seat in Montgomery, Ala.
“She has lost her job,” she said, in charge of planning for Rosa Parks documents at the library of congress. “She and her husband are both receiving death threats and she is trying to find gainful employment.”
The discrimination eventually forced parks and her husband to move to Detroit, where she eventually spent half her life. They often struggle financially, and she has to be thrifty, which is why she USES recipes like paper envelopes for recipes.
A ‘typical African American’ recipe.
When I take formula one copy to Detroit, and showed it to the Rosa Parks’ niece sheila Macaulay case, she was very surprised: “why do you want to put peanut butter in the pancakes?”
Food writer nicole Taylor has a similar reaction. “You don’t see a lot of peanut butter in the pancake mix,” she said. “But then it was tuskegee.”
The “Featherlite pancake” recipe in Rosa Parks requires peanut butter.
Library of congress
Or, as the curator Adrienne Cannon puts it, “peanut relations.”
Rosa Parks was born in 1913 in Alabama tusk pawtucket, home to the tuskegee institute, George Washington carver in George Washington carver reputation for peanut works. His goal was to help black farmers in the south grow cash crops other than cotton, so that they could support themselves better in the years after slavery. By the 1920s, carver was a household name, and by 1940, peanut production was second only to southern cotton.
But the link between African American food and peanuts is deeply ingrained. Earth goes to South America, peanuts go to the Caribbean, and then to Africa, where they feed African food. Peanuts came to the south through the slave trade.
“They were bred by African slaves to supplement their diet,” explains cannon. “They were fed to pigs, but it wasn’t until the early 20th century that Carver’s publications really made peanuts not only African American, but also loved by other people.”
Neither cannon nor Taylor had ever heard of peanut butter in pancake batter before seeing Rosa Parks’ recipe. But if the idea came from anywhere, it would come from the southern African American food tradition.
“This recipe is typically African American,” cannon said.
This is a typical Rosa park. She is not only in Alabama’s governor, George Washington carver working there at the same time, and her niece’s bora Ann Ross told me: “she loves to eat peanut butter, which may be her to write down.”
Library of congress
Rosa is in the kitchen park.
The park and her husband never had children of their own, but apparently she loved them. She often takes care of her eleven nieces and nephews. Her niece, sheila McAulith, wrote a book, including many of her “aunt Rosa’s” recipes.
When I visited Keys and Ross in Detroit for the Sporkful podcast, they made a couple of aunt’s recipes – chicken and dumplings, corn bread pie cake, cabbage and bacon, lemonade.
Aunt Rosa’s lemonade involves simmering the lemon in the water for 30 minutes, and on hot days it may take a long time to get a drink.
As nicole Taylor and I cooked the peanut butter pancakes, we found ourselves thinking a lot about how to cook with Rosa Parks. Did she wear the formal clothes she wore in the kitchen, or was she more comfortable? Which kind of flour does she prefer? As nicole has done, will she approve of putting buttermilk instead of milk in the batter?
One thing is for sure: when we had our first bite, we found that the name of the pancake was real – a feather stone.
While making peanut butter pancakes, food writer nicole Taylor and I imagined what it would be like to cook with Rosa Parks.
“You can taste peanut butter, and peanut butter will soon touch your tongue,” Tyler says. “I ate two flavors that didn’t have syrup, which is a lot.”
“It makes me look more like a ‘normal’ Rosa Parks,” Taylor said while making and eating pancakes. “She had to eat. She wasn’t just the civil rights activist. She cared about nurturing and feeding her family. The recipe made me feel closer to her.”