Barley-Meal Pancakes

Barley Meal palatable Pancakes; how to make them for a Yeoman’s, a Farmer’s or a poor Man’s family

  • 3 Apples
  • 2 cups Barley Grits (You can buy these from Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 1 tsp Ground Ginger
  • 4 tbsp Milk
  • 2 tbsp Butter
  • 1 pinch of salt

Dice the apples very fine. Mix the ginger, salt and grits then stir in the apples and your milk. In a frying pan, melt some of your butter on medium heat to cook your pancakes.

Ellis notes that the ginger makes the pancakes “eat hollow and palatable.” [1] Moreover he reminds his reader that barley meal should suffice for  a poor man, since he should not be tempted to spend his money on something extravagant like wheat flour or wheat bread.


A staple of an 18th century diet was the Pancake. The basic premise of a pancake, that it is a flour-based batter that is fried on both sides, remains the same even today. Yet the pancake within its mid-eighteenth-century context was very different from a twenty-first-century pancake. I am the first to admit that comparing modern food to past has its liabilities and frequently leads to misconceptions or construes alternative methods as inferior or wrong.  My dissertation looks further at the methodologies and the context-specific actors that make 18th century pancakes creations of their context and not time-recognized entities.

The recipe above makes interesting culinary and scientific use of powdered (or ground) ginger. The primary leavening agent available to an 18th century household was the egg. This was, after all, the same era as puff pastry, cakes,  and “whipt” syllabubs.[2] The science behind how eggs work as leavening agents by stretching the protein molecules in egg whites is worth a read, but in the 18th century context, our modern scientific explanations for why egg whites made cakes and pancakes fluffier did not exist. At any rate, Ellis, who thought that wheat flour was an extravagant expense for the poor man’s family, certainly would not have recommended the farmer use an egg to make his pancakes more palatable.

Ellis suggests using ginger as a leavening agent. Not only that, other 18th century recipes for pancakes (for both poor and rich families) include ginger. Ellis’ explanation for the use of ginger, even in pancakes for a poor man’s family, is that “Ginger hollows the Pancakes, gives them a good Relish, and warms the Stomach.”[1] Here, one can see that ginger’s leavening quality is only one of the favorable qualities Ellis lists. The flavor, or relish, the ginger lends to the pancakes was popular during the mid eighteenth-century as its presence in the other cookery books certainly corroborates. Whether there was a widespread knowledge on the hollowing quality of the ginger, however, is unclear. Ellis does observe a Maid substituting ginger in place of eggs at a farmhold where eggs were sold rather than used by the household.[3] (At the verge of the industrial revolution, and with enclosure threatening access to public lands, farms were turning away from a subsistence model and more to a national market. A poorer farmstead would probably not use eggs for themselves if they could fetch a more profitable price by selling them. ) Ellis’ publication of his belief that Ginger acts as a leavening agent is significant because in his day he was heralded as a scientific and agricultural authority (even though his own lands were in wild disarray).

A side note: Ellis loves to mention the Yeoman farmer. In the 18th century Yeoman farmers were about as real as King Arthur. The acted as tropes for the middling sort to reflect upon nostalgically, creating an idyllic picture of their feudal history filled with traveler’s pies and quaint garden cottages.

[1] Ellis, William, The Country Housewife’s Family Companion (1750), 26.

[2] Glasse, Hannah The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy (1774), 287.

[3] Ellis, William, The Country Housewife’s Family Companion (1750), 36.

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