Whether called griddle cakes, hotcakes, flapjacks, slapjacks or flannel cakes, pancakes were enjoyed by everyone in New England in the 19th century. Humble folk and gentry alike devoured them.
Caroline Howard King, who grew up in a prosperous family in Salem, Mass., in the 1820s and 1830s, in recalling popular dishes, remembered that “pancakes … were great favorites, made of batter, sometimes raised with new-fallen snow.”
Snow pancakes sound poetic, like something woodland fairies would serve at a winter picnic. In reality, these are a cross between pancakes and apple fritters. When the batter hits the hot pan, the snow quickly turns to expanding steam, which leavens the pancakes.
My recipe for snow pancakes is adapted from one in “Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book: A Guide to Marketing and Cooking” of 1880. The author, Maria Parloa, was orphaned when young and learned to cook by working for private families and in hotels. She studied to become a teacher at Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield. Her training in teaching proved valuable as she made a secure living by teaching cooking and wrote an early textbook on domestic science. She was the author of eight more published cookbooks.
Parloa started the first cooking school in Boston, later taught at the famous Boston Cooking School, and opened another cooking school in New York City, where she gave free evening classes to immigrants. Her teaching experience helped her recipe writing. Most cookbooks of the time evidently assumed that the reader knew how to cook or had someone in the household to instruct her in the mysteries of baking, roasting, braising, frying, pickling, preserving and steaming.
In her preface, Parloa stated her intention to give “minute directions that are so wanting in cook-books, and without which success in preparing dishes was for many a person unattainable. It seemed … unwise to leave much to the cook’s judgment.” She tried to make her directions “clear, complete and concise.”
Snow pancakes were in the chapter devoted to dishes for breakfast or tea. Parloa’s instructions were fairly exact; however, she neglected to stipulate how much snow should go into the pancakes. I found that 3/8 to ½ cup will suffice. But keeping a larger quantity in a bowl ensures that the snow will not melt before you finish making all the pancakes.
If you are feeling decorative, you can use cookie cutters to cut designs out of the pancakes, e.g., hearts for Valentine’s Day, shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day.
1½ cups flour
¼ tsp. salt
1 cup milk
1 apple, pared and grated
1 qt.-bowl of snow
2 Tbsps. oil for cooking
Whisk the flour and salt together. Beat the egg until light and add the milk to it. Stir the grated apple into the milk mixture. Pour the milk mixture onto the flour and beat just until combined. The batter will be thick at this point.
Preheat a large frying pan with oil until a couple of drops of water will skitter across the surface and quickly evaporate.
Measure out about one-third of the batter at a time into a separate container and quickly stir in two rounded tablespoons of snow. Immediately drop this batter by spoonfuls into the hot frying pan. Cook the pancakes until the edges are set, turning them once.
Drain the pancakes on paper towels and keep them warm until served. Maple syrup and butter are natural accompaniments.