Last year the Library of Congress posted Rosa Parks' personal documents online for the first time. Buried under postcards from Martin Luther King and lists of volunteers for the Montgomery Bus Boycott was an item that caught our eye: a pancake recipe, written on the back of a bank envelope.
There was something very unusual about this recipe -- it calls for peanut butter in the pancake batter.
And that made us wonder about a lot of things -- like why didn't we ever think of putting peanut butter in pancakes??? (Genius!) And did Rosa Parks love food and cooking?
We all know about her bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 --and her role in the civil rights movement. But how much do we really know about Rosa Parks?
This week on The Sporkful, we go in search of Rosa Parks' pancakes.
First we visit the Library of Congress to learn more about Rosa's life -- and to see that recipe firsthand. Then we travel to Detroit to share a meal with Rosa's nieces (below), who grew up on her home cooking. (They published some of their aunt's favorite recipes in their book, Our Auntie Rosa.)
In the process, we explore southern food history and African-American cooking traditions. And we get to know the Rosa Parks who nurtured her family and loved a good, slow-cooked meal.
"That's why we're making the pancakes -- because we have all these misconceptions about [Rosa Parks]," Nicole points out. "She's human, and the pancakes are the most human thing."
Special thanks to Penguin Random House for allowing us to include the recipe for "Auntie Rosa's Lemonade" from Sheila McCauley Keys' book:
lemons (any quantity you desire)
sugar to taste
Cut lemons, place in saucepan, cover with water, and set over medium-high heat. Bring to boil, and boil until lemons break down, rind, oil, and all. (This makes the lemon flavor stronger and more concentrated.) Strain out the lemon pieces, add water and sugar, to taste, to the lemon juice, and serve over ice.
Interstitial music in this episode from Black Label Music:
- "Pong" by Kenneth J. Brahmstedt
- "On The Floor" by Cullen Fitzpatrick
- "Summertime" by Jack Ventimiglia
- "Mellophone" by JT Bates
- "Legend" by Erick Anderson
Photos: Dan Pashman, FlickrCC/Richard,
Dan Pashman: Last year the Library of Congress posted a bunch of documents of the personal document's of Rosa Parks’ online for the first time. There are postcards from Martin Luther King, lists of volunteers for the Montgomery bus boycott and pages and pages of journals. In one journal entry she writes about what she learned from her grandparents, who had both been slaves. Curator Adrienne Cannon reads an excerpt.
Adrienne Cannon: "I learned to cook by observing my grandmother and could prepare a simple meal almost as soon as I was tall enough to reach the stovetop."
Dan Pashman: Buried in these trove of papers is another document that doesn’t have as much historical significance but it got my attention.
Adrienne Cannon: Sift together one cup flower, 2 tablespoons baking powder...
Dan Pashman: It’s a pancake recipe for featherlite pancakes, written on the back of an envelope.
Adrienne Cannon: Then 1/3 cup peanut butter, melted.
Dan Pashman: At first glance, this recipe may just seem like a charming footnote but I think it’s a lot more. It's a window into a time and place and a person. Today on The Sporkful, we’re going in search of Rosa Parks’ pancakes. And yeah you heard right. They’ve got peanut butter in ‘em. Turns out that’s not just a brilliant culinary idea, it’s also a big part of what makes this recipe historically significant in its own right. We’ll go to the Library of Congress in DC, to see the recipe and speak with the curator. Then to Detroit to meet Rosa Parks’ nieces, who wrote a book of her recipes. And finally to New York, to make the pancakes, with food writer Nicole Taylor.
Nicole Taylor: I was telling my husband this morning, I was like, "Yeah, Dan Pashman is coming over. We're gonna make Rosa Parks pancakes." And he laughed. He was like, "Oh, yeah. Rosa Parks, the woman who didn't get up from the bus and also she sued Outkast." And I was like, "Oh, right! She did sue Outkast." And I was like, "That's why we're making the pancakes because we have all these misconceptions about her," and she's human. And the pancakes is like the most human thing, right?
Dan Pashman: This is The Sporkful, it’s not for foodies it’s for eaters. I’m Dan Pashman. Each week on our show we obsess about food to learn more about people. Rosa Parks passed away in 2005, at the age of 92. I went down to the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, and met with Adrienne Cannon, who curates the Rosa Parks papers there. Now as I learned it in school, Rosa Parks’ stand on the bus that day in 1955 led to the Montgomery bus boycott, which led to the buses being desegregated, which enshrined her as a hero of the civil rights movement, the end. But as Adrienne Cannon explained to me, after Mrs. Parks refused to give up her seat that day, life in Montgomery for her and her husband was pretty brutal.
Adrienne Cannon: She had lost her job for taking a stand that she did. But she and her husband were receiving death threats. And she was struggling to find gainful employment again.
Dan Pashman: And isn't that in the end why they moved to Detroit?
Adrienne Cannon: This was why they moved to Detroit. This was why they moved to Detroit in 1957.
Dan Pashman: And then can you tell me about this one. This is the letter from her mother.
Adrienne Cannon: This is a letter from her mother and she begins it, "Dear daughter, received your telegram and letter. Was so glad to know that you had gone so far and safe alright. I'm doing fine now but Parks is about as usual when you are away." And Parks was what Rosa Parks and the family called her husband Raymond Parks.
Dan Pashman: And do we know in any more detail what she's referring to when she says basically, "Your husband gets a certain way, when you're not around?"
Adrienne Cannon: Well, he would get—he would get depressed. The stress of being unemployed and the death threats took a particular toll on him, emotionally. And she served, not only, as the main source for the families income but also as a source of emotional support for her husband.
Dan Pashman: And then we get to this last document here.
Adrienne Cannon: And this is the featherlite pancake recipe and it's written on the back of a banking envelope for Independence National Bank of Detroit.
Dan Pashman: 234 Estate Street.
Adrienne Cannon: Street, Detroit. Rosa Parks struggles financially all of her life. And she learned to be frugal. She recycled paper. She recycled aluminum foil and bags. And this particular recipe, you can see that it's written in red ink. And the ingredients for the featherlite pancakes are interspersed with direction. "Sift together one cup flour, two tablespoons....
Dan Pashman: Okay, you don’t need to hear the whole recipe, we’ll post it at Sporkful.com. But there is one part that’s really key.
Adrienne Cannon: 1/3 cup peanut butter, melted.
Dan Pashman: We'll get back to that in a minute.
Dan Pashman: What did you think when you first saw this recipe?
Adrienne Cannon: The recipe peaks your curiosity. And you have the sense of being able to connect directly with her. We are accustomed to viewing her as a Civil Rights icon. And what we find in both the recipe and in the notes that I read about her reflections on the bus boycott—we find certainly this love and the skill that she had with cooking, the emotional pain that she felt, the toll that her decision to rebel took on her personally. The collection gives you a fuller appreciation for Rosa Parks as a complex and fascinating woman.
Dan Pashman: Can I take out the recipe and hold it for a second?
Adrienne Cannon: Sure.
Dan Pashman: It's so cool. Rosa Parks actually held this piece of paper.
Adrienne Cannon: She held it and she wrote on it. And she probably at one time had money in it.
Dan Pashman: And I see—one of the things that struck me when I first saw the recipe—so it has one line that says, "1/3 cup peanut butter. And then on the next line, it says, 1 tablespoon shortening or oil. And then in between those two lines, sort of added after the fact is the word, melted. And when you read the recipe you added melted into peanut butter, the line above, but I wasn't sure if melted—
Adrienne Cannon: Melted is the short—well, you have a point. You think about the consistency of the peanut butter. And that being stiff, heating it, perhaps softening it melting it would have made it easier to mix.
Dan Pashman: That makes sense.
Adrienne Cannon: But you also think about the significance that peanuts had to Alabama and particularly to Tuskegee Alabama, where Rosa Parks was born. because at Tuskegee Institute we have George Washington Carver.
Dan Pashman: George Washington Carver, of course, is synonymous with peanuts. But he did not in fact invent peanut butter, that's a misconception. But he is more responsible than any other American in history for popularizing peanuts. He also, by the way, worthy of his own Sporkful episode because, I mean, born into slavery, he was freed after the Civil War. And he managed to become a renowned expert on agriculture and botany despite the fact that almost no school in the country would let him in. He was the first black student and first black faculty member at Iowa State University, then he spent 47 years at Tuskegee Institute. He was the first black person to testify before Congress. By the 1920s George Washington Carver was a household name, especially in the south. His goal was to help black farmers plant cash crops other than cotton, so they could support themselves better. Enter the peanut.
Adrienne Cannon: The title of the bulletin that George Washington Carver publishes in 1916, is how to grow peanuts and 105 ways of preparing peanuts for human consumption. And by 1940, peanuts are second only to cotton in terms of their production in the south.
Dan Pashman: And what year was Rosa Parks born?
Adrienne Canon: And Rosa Parks was born in 1913. Now in 1920, it's interesting, George Washington Carver addresses the National Peanut Association in Montgomery Alabama, which is where Rosa Parks had family. I mean that to me is—it's the peanut connection.
Dan Pashman: Right but I had never—the thought of putting peanut butter in pancakes had never occurred to me until I saw this recipe. Before you saw this recipe, had you ever heard of putting peanut butter in pancakes?
Adrienne Cannon: I hadn't heard of putting peanut butter in pancakes but I think that in terms of African-American cuisine, peanuts have a strong history. Even before George Washington Carver.
Dan Pashman: Peanuts are actually indigenous to South America. They made their way to the Caribbean and later to Africa, where they were infused into African cuisines. Peanuts came to the American South via the slave trade.
Adrianne Cannon: They were cultivated by African slaves to supplement their diets. They were also fed to hogs but it wasn't really until Carver's publications in the early 20th century, it becomes a kind of loved by product by not just Africans-American but by the rest of the populants, particularly in the south.
Dan Pashman: But so even though you had not seen peanut butter in pancakes, it seems like if there was any logical place for the idea of peanut butter in pancakes to form, it would be from southern African-American food traditions.
Adrienne Cannon: I think so. I think so. It seems to me that perhaps this recipe is quintessentially African-American.
Dan Pashman: Coming up, I take a copy of the recipe to Rosa Parks’ nieces in Detroit, to see what they can tell me about it. They’ll cook up some of Auntie Rosa’s specialties, and share memories of her in the kitchen…
CLIP (SHEILA MCCAULEY KEYS): She would be in that kitchen and you were not invited in. You would just hear pots, pans but eventually when it came out, it was the best thing ever.
Dan Pashman: After that, I’ll meet up with food writer Nicole Taylor to cook, and eat, Rosa Parks’ pancakes. Stick around.
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful, I’m Dan Pashman. I want to ask you to help us out real quick by reviewing The Sporkful in the Apple Podcast app, or in ITunes, however you get there. But if you can go there and give us a good review, that helps other people discover our show. It'll take a second, you can do it right now while you're listening, thanks.
Dan Pashman: Rosa Parks and her husband never had kids of their own, but it’s clear she loved children. She had 11 nieces and nephews, who she cared for and cooked for all the time. In fact last year her niece, Sheila McCauley Keys, published a book entitled, Our Auntie Rosa: The Family of Rosa Parks Remembers Her Life and Lessons. The book includes many of Mrs. Parks recipes. I went to Detroit to meet Sheila McCauley Keys and her sister Deborah Ann Ross. As I walked in the door I heard pots and pans rattling. They were making some of Auntie Rosa’s specialties – chicken and dumplings, cornbread griddle cakes, cabbage and bacon. And lemonade…
Sheila McCauley Keys: Our aunt had a special way of making lemonade. She would boil the whole lemon. She would cut it in four pieces and boil it down for half an hour til it virtually just comes apart. And then after she does that, she strains it and she'll sugar to the heated liquid and the whole house would smell good just from you making Auntie Rosa's lemonade. So I really like that. And it's really tasty. I want you guys to try that.
Dan Pashman: Let's do that.
Sheila McCauley Keys: Yeah. So...
Dan Pashman: Cheers.
Sheila McCauley Keys: Cheers to you.
[glasses and ice clink]
Dan Pashman: Ohh, it's so good.
Sheila McCauley Keys: It is good. It's very good.
Dan Pashman: All the food was fantastic, my personal favorite was the cabbage and bacon, the cabbage was just the right level of firm and crunchy while still being tender, and the smoky salt from the bacon, especially with the lemonade alongside it. So good.
Dan Pashman: So I wanted to show you guys, I have the print out from the Library of Congress...
Sheila McCauley Keys and Deborah Ann Ross: Ohhhh.
Dan Pashman: Oh Auntie Rosa's pancake recipe.
Dan Pashman: Deb took one look at the recipe and had the same reaction I had..
Deborah Ann Ross: Peanut butter...
Sheila McCauley Keys: Wow.
Deborah Ann Ross: Oh she put peanut butter in some pancakes. Okay.
Sheila McCauley Keys: I never had this.
Deborah Ann Ross: Yeah, I never had any of her pancakes.
Sheila McCauley Keys: She did like peanut butter. She liked it.
Dan Pashman: I think it's worth noting that this recipe, which is so connected to Rosa Parks’ birthplace in Alabama, is written on an envelope from a bank in Detroit. This piece of paper is southern food culture migrating north. Rosa Parks, actually spent more than half her life in Detroit. The bus where she staged her protest is in the Henry Ford Museum there. And as I drove to see Sheila and Deb outside the city, I took the Rosa Parks Highway. But they say growing up, their parents didn’t tell them their aunt was famous. And Auntie Rosa, she wasn’t one to toot her own horn. They were well into grade school before they made the discovery. Sheila says with her own kids and grandkids, she’s taken a different approach.
Sheila McCauley Keys: When my children were born, I wanted to make sure that they knew who this woman was and her contribution to the United States of America and around the world. I wanted them to know. That's something to be very proud of. My grandchildren, they do ask a lot of questions about her. And they do ask why did they make her get off the bus. I took my grandsons to the Henry Ford, where the bus is. And that was the first thing my oldest grandson asked. He's only seven. He said, "Why did they make Auntie Rosa..."—he said, "Look at all these seats.", because in his mind, he does not—he can't comprehend. He can't understand there's plenty of seats. I said, "I know." So I had to explain to him and that's hard to do to explain to a little child why people would do such a thing.
Dan Pashman: So how did you explain it to him?
Sheila McCauley Keys: At the Henry Ford, they have like a little video where you can watch and you could see some of the things that were going in during that era. And I did explain to him, and I told him there were some people who were really mean. And I explained to him like that, that there were mean people and there are good people.
Dan Pashman: It's interesting like there's so many misconceptions about that day on the bus.
Sheila McCauley Keys: Mm-hmm.
Dan Pashman: One of the most obvious things—one of the first parts of the story that people always hear is that she sat down in the seats that were for the white passengers.
Sheila McCauley Keys: Mm-hmm.
Dan Pashman: But technically, she didn't, right? She said she sat in the first row that was marked for colored, right?
Sheila McCauley Keys: Right, she did not sit in the wrong place but this was something I didn't know either. The rule was—the segregation Jim Kroll Law, there had to be a row of seats separating, as if the color of somebody's skin was gonna rub off on you, a row in front of you. So you got to get up and move. So they gonna come up to her and say, "You have to go. You have to get up and move."
Dan Pashman: Right. She was in the first row—the first colored row.
Sheila McCauley Keys: Mm-hmm.
Dan Pashman: Some white guy came and sat down in the last white row.
Sheila McCauley Keys: Right.
Dan Pashman: To make them have to get up and move.
Sheila McCauley Keys: Yup, it was a game. He was just agitating and testing and she said she tried to deal with what really happened—the press liked that story about the bus being full. They liked that story, so they ran with it. So she said, "Well, let that go and I know what happened."
Dan Pashman: Another one of the misconceptions is, she was—there's this sort of idea of she had a long day at—I mean, I'm sure she was working hard but like they were saying that she was kind of too tired to to get up.
Sheila McCauley Keys: Mm-hmm.
Dan Pashman: Or this idea that somehow she sort of stumbled into being this seminal figure but she was actually—I mean, she knew exactly what she was doing. She was ready to make a principled stand at that point in her life. She was already active in the NAACP.
Sheila McCauley Keys: Yeah. She was an activist, yes. She was already on board with trying to make some changes, make something happen. That's something she'd say too. If you want something different to happen, you have to do something. She was a great organizer. Her house was crazy looking but she was a great organizer. If you ever went to her house, you'd be like, "Oh my lord." She had stacks and stacks of stuff, everywhere. But that's how she was.
Dan Pashman: Tell about how she organized the kitchen. Like what was the scene in the kitchen when Auntie Rosa was cooking?
Sheila McCauley Keys: Pretty neat and orderly, wasn't it?
Deborah Ann Ross: The kitchen was neat.
Sheila McCauley Keys: The kitchen was neat.
Deborah Ann Ross: No dirty dishes. No—everything in its place. They had a little pantry.
Dan Pashman: And did you guys ever cook with her?
Sheila McCauley Keys: Later on, I do recall that I did help her cook in her kitchen. And she cooked very slow. Like with the lemonade. For goodness sake, I'm thirsty. Nooo, she's gonna take this lemonade, boil those lemons. That's gonna take a good thirty minutes plus fifteen more. You'd be like dropping from thirst. I just want some lemonade. Sheila, you want a cool drink? Yes! But okay, I thought you meant today. But see, you can't say that—I thought you meant today!—No, you can't say that to her but she would be in that kitchen and you were not invited in. You would just hear, like rattling. You hear pots, pans, something's going on in there and be like, "Come on with the lemonade," but eventually when it came out it was the best thing ever.
Dan Pashman: How does it feel now, just like sitting here, eating these foods, having these memories and it brings those memories back?
Sheila McCauley Keys: Oh, it's an emotional experience and it's happy. It's a happiness. Cause I know, I know that she's watching. She's probably watching us cook this food and saying and rolling her eyes, "Oh lord, they cooking again. They cooking again.", but I like to think about the good things. She was a really good aunt. She was the one that was with us and that helped to raise us because our parents have been dead for twenty years. She walked my sister down the aisle.
Deborah Ann Ross: She did.
Sheila McCauley Keys: She gave my sister Deb away. She did all those things that a parent, mother and father, would do. All rolled into one. So she was a dynamic person. So it was really hard losing her. She was our parent.
Dan Pashman: So Sheila was very close with her aunt. But when she went to the Library of Congress to see the papers there herself, she realized there was another side to Auntie Rosa.
Sheila McCauley Keys: Oh her letters to my uncle, which I thought were the greatest things ever. Love letters I didn't think my aunt had a love life but she did, writing a letter to her darling husband. My aunt was a stern person. She was good but I could never imagine "your loving wife", signing off like that. Now, that made me cry.
Nicole Taylor: Good morning.
Dan Pashman: Hey Nicole, it's Dan.
Nicole Taylor: You downstairs?
Dan Pashman: Yeah, I am. I wasn't sure which buzzer to press...
Dan Pashman: Now of course, this journey wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t make and eat Rosa Parks Featherlite Pancakes. I met up with my friend Nicole Taylor, she’s a food writer who knows a lot about southern food history and culture. You may remember her from our series Other People’s Food. Nicole grew up in Athens, Georgia, she lives in Brooklyn now. I asked her what her first reaction was when she saw the pancake recipe.
Nicole Taylor: The handwriting, that was the first thing. I was like, "Whoo, look at the handwriting. Nice cursive Mrs. Parks.", and kind of the simplicity of the recipe but it wasn't simple because peanut butter—adding peanut butter into a pancake mix, you don't see that a lot. But then the Tuskegee thing...
Dan Pashman: Right.
Nicole Taylor: So when I think Tuskegee. The first thing that comes to my mind is obviously Tuskegee University and Dr. George Washington Carver.
Dan Pashman: When I first saw the recipe, the first thing that jumped out at me was peanut butter. And I was like, "Peanut butter in the pancake batter?" That sounds genius, first of all. like I need to eat that. But it wasn't until i was down at Library of Congress and talking to the historian there that I that I feel stupid that I didn't make the connection that like—they way she described it was, this was a quintessential African-American recipe.
Nicole Taylor: Well, I would say definitely having peanuts. My entire life, peanuts have always been around. You know, either peanuts in the shell, roasted peanuts, boiled peanuts. It is a southern pantry staple. I grew up in Athens, Georgia and I would say I ate so many peanut butter sandwiches growing up. I used to call the "choke sandwiches".
Dan Pashman: And what are some foods that you grew up with that have peanuts or peanut butter in them that maybe since you've come up north, it might strike folks not in the south as being novel to have peanuts or peanut butter in there.
Nicole Taylor: Well, I mean, it's funny. I was, this morning, on the phone talking to my friend, who is a chef in Charleston. Chef BJ Dennis. He cooks a lot of gullah geechee food, which is basically food directly from West Africa that came over to coastal Georgia and South Carolina. He does like peanut butter and collard greens. And I think people freak out over that. There was a big collard green gate with Whole Foods, because they posted a recipe with peanut butter and collard greens but it's a very common thing. I mean, if you got to West Africa...
Dan Pashman: But what was collared green gate? People thought it was a strange combination?
Nicole Taylor: People were like, "My grandmother would be mad if I put peanut butter in my collard greens."
Dan Pashman: Who has that reaction?
Nicole Taylor: Twitter, black Twitter. I mean, there are a few black food
scholars, or people who are really into food was like, "No, no no. Backup, wait. This is a traditional African diaspora dish and peanuts or groundnuts (other people call them groundnuts) are a part of our culture and a part of our food." We may not put a lot of peanut butter in certain things but I definitely think the pairing of peanut butter and vegetables is a big thing but people don't understand it.
Nicole Taylor: Alright, so we're all gonna get started here.
Dan Pashman: Let's do it. The instructions do say, "Cook at 275 degrees".
Nicole Taylor: Ha, yes. I saw that and I'm like, "Oh, okay." My assumption there, as a cook, that she means medium-high....She uses shortening?
Dan Pashman: She said shortening or oil.
Nicole Taylor: Yeah, I'm gonna use butter because I can't tell you the last time I used shortening, which is very...
Dan Pashman: That's old school.
Nicole Taylor: Very old school.
Dan Pashman: You got your buttermilk there?
Nicole Taylor: I have buttermilk. I was shocked that Ms. Parks didn't use buttermilk. But I'm gonna use buttermilk because I keep buttermilk in my refrigerator and I rarely have regular milk.
Dan Pashman: I like that you're not afraid to put your own spin on this, Nicole.
Nicole Taylor: I mean...I think that's what good cooks do. They don't follow the recipes like—I'll say this. Rosa Parks probably made these pancakes a million gazillion times. She probably did not look at this envelope. What do you think?
Dan Pashman: It's certainly not after she's done it a few times.
Nicole Taylor: Exactly. So this flour here is—hahah. I wonder if Ms. Parks used White Lily because in my flour container is all White Lily, which is a southern brand that southerners love. And I'm gonna put our maple syrup on the stove so it will warm up because it was in the fridge.
Dan Pashman: Genius.
Nicole Taylor: Eggs.
Dan Pashman: I appreciate that Nicole because cold maple syrup on hot pancakes is just, I mean...
Nicole Taylor: Terrible.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Nicole Taylor: Oh, I would never do that. Always...
Dan Pashman: No, no. I know. That's why I'm here, Nicole.
Nicole Tayor: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: That's why I'm not at someone else's house.
Nicole Taylor: Alright, here. I'm glad you all don't have me on camera because I have my morning attire on, my scarf. I wonder if Mrs. Parks wore a headscarf, like this, when she was cooking?
Dan Pashman: Uh-huh.
Nicole Taylor: Because she was always so put together in public.
Dan Pashman: Yes, and the impression that I get from speaking to her nieces was also that she's just a formal person.
Nicole Taylor: Really?
Dan Pashman: I mean...yes, like a person who...
Nicole Taylor: Well that means she would of had her lipstick on and a really nice dress, if you were coming to her house to make peanut butter...and I'm gonna try the peanut butter unmelted.
Dan Pashman: Really?
Nicole Taylor: Yeah, I'm nervous about melting the peanut butter.
Dan Pashman: I'm gonna be like, I'm gonna defer to you, Nicole, because I've never cooked with peanut butter in this way. So whatever you think.
Nicole Taylor: I just think it could get a little—putting a hot—okay, for instance, we melt the peanut butter and then we have egg? I mean like how....
Dan Pashman: It could cook the egg. Ohhh.
Nicole Taylor: Scramble the egg. Yeah.
Dan Pashman: Ohh yess.
Nicole Taylor: So that's why I'm like, ehhh. And if you melt it, do you melt it in a separate pan? Do you need a little butter in a separate pan? So the peanut butter doesn't stick to the pan. It just seems, as I'm thinking about it like...no. There we go, 1/3 of peanut butter.
Dan Pashman: This is it. This is the moment of truth, Nicole.
Nicole Taylor: This is the moment of truth. This is—we're gonna see what happens here. So I'm scooping smooth peanut butter into this wet mixture.
Dan Pashman: Nicole’s peanut butter was at room temperature. And I can tell you, it mixed right in – no melting necessary.
Dan Pashman: Here we go, the first pancake is going on the griddle.
Nicole Taylor: I'm gonna start with two on here. I hate when people put a whole bunch of pancakes on the griddle. It looks crazy. And it sticks together and....I'm flipping them now. Whoo, really pretty. It did a nice coloring on the bottom. They look dense but I think things can be light and still be dense.
Dan Pashman: They're called featherlite, so as dense and peanut buttery as they look, I wonder how light they're going to be.
Nicole Taylor: We shall see.
Dan Pashman: I don't mind! I mean, the pancakes that I like best are actually more like cakes, not in their sweetness but in their sort of like thickness and consistency. I want a bread-y interior. I want it to feel more like a small cake that was cooked in a pan, as if it were called a pan-cake. You know what I'm saying?
Nicole Taylor: I also like two things with pancakes, I mean you see the coloration on these? These are perfect. Some people are like, what's up with the light skinned pancakes?
Dan Pashman: I know, you think there's something else going on there, nicole?
Nicole Taylor: Well, I think their pan is not hot enough, and they don't have enough fat, oil, shortening, aka butter.
Dan Pashman: Ohh.
Nicole Tayolor: I think that's one of the reasons.
Dan Pashman: I just thought maybe it was some sort of unconscious bias. [laughs] Alright Nicole, we're sitting down at your table here. The pancakes are ready. How are you feeling?
Nicole Taylor: I'm feeling a little nervous.
Dan Pashman: Why?
Nicole Taylor: I mean, they look really different from most of the pancakes that I make.
Dan Pashman: How so? Can you describe them?
Nicole Taylor: They're dense. The look is dense. I make a corn cake, where I do a batter that's not as sweet and I put fresh corn in, what you. These kind of remind me of corn cake.
Dan Pashman: I'm gonna go first bite, no syrup, because I just want to taste pure pancake. And then we'll see how it does with syrup.
Nicole Taylor: I can see the featherlite thing. They're not as dense as I thought. And you can taste the peanut butter. The peanut butter really hit the back quickly. Look, I've had bites without syrup. That says a lot.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, I mean, these pancakes are about, I would say, what? A half inch thick, at least? I like pancakes with some real thickness that has a real cake interior. I also like that they've maintained their delicate edge crisp, even after sitting for a little while. Would you make these again, Nicole?
Nicole Taylor: For sure. And I like the peanut butter on the inside.
Dan Pashman: I feel like you can make these pancakes, serve them without syrup. Make them kind of small, like silver dollar style, and almost serve them as an afternoon snack, like a teacake type of thing.
Nicole Taylor: Okay, I can see that.
Dan Pashman: You seem skeptical.
Nicole Taylor: My head is going to the side but I could see that.
Dan Pashman: It might not be the traditional...
Nicole Taylor: Well I see pancakes as pancakes, and that's a morning thing.
Dan Pashman: Mm-hmm.
Nicole Taylor: But sure, tea cake. Okay.
Dan Pashman: Hey, you're the one that's putting buttermilk in Rosa Parks' recipe here, Nicole.
Nicole Taylor: Rosa Parks is from Tuskegee. I bet you, Rosa Parks wanted buttermilk in these pancakes. Maybe she couldn't find buttermilk that day? But buttermilk is a staple, southern staple so she wouldn't be mad about the buttermilk.
Dan Pashman: But she might be mad if I served with tea in the afternoon?
Nicole Taylor: For sure, definitely.
Dan Pashman: Now that you've made these pancakes and eaten them, does it change your perception of Rosa Parks?
Nicole Taylor: It just makes me more curious about her personal life. Did she make these every weekend? Was it a special treat? It makes me look at her as more of a, I'm doing air quotes here, "normal person", like she had to eat. She just wasn't this person who was all about her work and all about changing the Civil Rights Movement. She cared about nurturing and feeding her family. So yeah, definitely the pancake recipe makes me feel closer to her, for sure.
CLIP (ROSA PARKS): I rode the bus downtown Montgomery on Post Square..
Dan Pashman: This is Rosa Parks, speaking in 1956 – a year after that day on the bus. It’s hard to find audio of her talking about anything other than that day. But even though she’s telling a story I’ve heard before, I feel like I hear it differently now.
CLIP (ROSA PARKS): The other passengers there reluctantly, gave up their seats but I refused to do so. The driver said that if I refused to leave the seat he would have to call the police and I told him, "Just call the police." The time had just come when I had been pushed as far as I could stand to be pushed, I suppose. I had decided I would have to know once and for all what rights I had as a human being and a citizen.
Dan Pashman: Now, if you want to try Rosa Parks Pancakes yourself, we posted the recipe online along with a link to the entire archive of the Library of Congress. It's in the post for this episode at sporkful.com. My thanks to Nicole Taylor, who’s clearly very good at putting her own spin on southern cooking. In fact, so good she made a whole cookbook about it. It’s called Up South: Chasing Dixie in a Brooklyn Kitchen, it’s really great, check it out. Thanks also to food historian Andrew Smith, who helped out on this show. He’s the author of Peanuts: The Illustrious History of the Goober Pea. Next week on the show, we'll share my interview with Peter Sagal of Wait, wait, Don't Tell Me, taped live on stage at the Chicago Cocktail Summit.