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Cas City Forum Hall & CAS-L  |  Special Interests - Groups & Societies  |  The American Plainsmen Society (Moderators: Caleb Hobbs, Tsalagidave)  |  Topic: Flipping Flapjacks - A vanishing camp skill 0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic. « previous next »
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Dave Rodgers

« on: October 05, 2017, 02:54:32 pm »

Flipping Flapjacks
More Than Just a Weekend Tradition, the story of Our Pioneer Ancestor’s Favorite Bread Also Represents a Vanishing Skill

From the pioneer frontiersmen, 49er’s, soldiers, and other settlers to come, the ubiquitous “flapjack” actually dates back to prehistoric times.  It has served countless generations as a convenient bread source that keeps well on long journeys and can be prepared quickly.  It goes under many names such as “hotcake”, “pancake”, “griddle cake”, or “blanket”; and the varied listings of different recipes could easily fill a large cookbook.  That said, the focus here is on the basic frontiersman’s fare that you can easily prepare at your campfire and then dazzle your friends  with the acrobatic skill of “flipping”…or give them years of laughter at the results of you trying too hard to show off.

The artful manner of “flipping flapjacks” has been documented in numerous writings.  Among these were in the observations of Journalist, Albert Richardson as he traveled the gold fields of Colorado in 1859.  “Flapjacks were the substitute for bread…At every camp, one saw perspiring men bending anxiously over the griddle, or turning the cake by tossing it skillfully into the air. To a looker-on, such masculine feats were decidedly amusing.” Civil War veteran John Billings recounted in his 1887 book “Hardtack and Coffee” that “A little experience enabled the man to turn them without the aid of a knife, by first giving the fry-pan a little toss upward and forward.  This threw the cake out and over, to be caught again the uncooked side down – all in a half second.

The recipe is simple.  According to D.C. Beard (1860-90s era outdoorsman and founder of the BSA), “Put a large tin cupful (2 cups / 1 pt.) of flour in a pan, add half a teaspoonful of salt, one heaping  teaspoonful and one level teaspoonful of baking powder; mix the salt and baking powder well with the flour while it is dry.  Then build your little mountain or volcano of flour with its miniature crater in the middle, into which pour water little by little.”  From there, follow these steps:

•   Continue the process until it forms a batter that is thin enough to spread out rapidly but not watery.
•   Then grease a pan LIGHTLY. Use either a bacon rind or a piece of cloth moistened in cooking oil. A heavily greased pan makes a gross pancake; outdoorsmen of the period such as D.C. Beard warned emphatically against this transgression of culinary etiquette. 
•   Next, pour the batter into the skillet but have a care to not fill the bottom of the pan entirely.
o   Be sure that the batter is not too runny or it will stick to the pan.  It must be just loose enough to pour but nowhere near as viscous as melted ice cream.
•    Once the center bubbles up and the edges solidify and form bubbles, use a knife tip to gently prod under the edges of the cake to loosen it. 
•   Finally, now that it is sliding free in the pan, dip the skillet down and then bring it up sharply enough to eject the cake into the air so that it will flip over back down onto its uncooked side.  This requires a lot of practice and yes you will make mistakes but remember, it’s only flour and the bloopers are hilarious.  (Quick note: The "penalty" according to Mr. Beard, of dumping your cake is that you must eat it ashes and all.) 

*Note:  Baking powder (2 parts cream of tartar : 1 part saleratus) did not come about commercially till the 1840s but fortunately, many early recipes exist in the countless cookbooks from previous centuries that survive today.  A great example is from William Ellis’ “Country Housewife’s Family Companion” (1750) and it is superbly demonstrated in a cooking video by James Townsend and Sons (my favorite supplier of period home goods).   In that recipe, all that’s required for “common milk pancakes” are (2c. of flour, ˝ tsp salt, ˝ tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp ginger (mixed dry), then add milk and mix/whisk till it is of perfect consistency.)

From numerous accounts from the California and Colorado Gold Rushes alone, pancakes seemed to fit the bill as the most common and convenient source of bread.  I find them a delicious breakfast with honey, maple syrup or molasses but they are equally good with beans or wrapped around bacon, pork, or steak. 

Happy cooking to you, all my friends out there on the other side of my bacon smoke.


* Flapjacks 1859.png (244.35 KB, 435x517 - viewed 112 times.)

* HC Flapjack 1887.png (96.65 KB, 389x448 - viewed 114 times.)

Guns don't kill people; fathers with pretty daughters do.
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Cas City Forum Hall & CAS-L  |  Special Interests - Groups & Societies  |  The American Plainsmen Society (Moderators: Caleb Hobbs, Tsalagidave)  |  Topic: Flipping Flapjacks - A vanishing camp skill « previous next »
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