Proposing that a home cook could make three pancake-based meals a day, provided the dishes were garnished appropriately, The Evening Post in 1975 supplied a trio of pancake recipes. For breakfast, the paper suggested sour cream pancakes, made with self-rising flour. The lunchtime recipe for peanut butter pancakes with jelly syrup called for all-purpose flour, while the recipe for fanciful pancake foldovers began with pancake mix.
The foldovers were something of a throwback. By the 1970s, beyond its standard breakfast application, pancake mix was being used primarily for dessert recipes: Newspapers in Charleston published recipes for strawberry shortcake supreme and North Pole cake roll. The bias toward sweets has lasted, with sugary recipes accounting for more than 85 percent of the creative pancake mix uses listed on Hungry Jack’s website.
But for at least the first half century of packaged pancake mix’s career, the blend of flour, baking powder and baking soda was just as likely to end up in something savory.
Dry mixes for baking were pioneered in the 1840s, when British manufacturers released custard powders. Pancake mix followed in 1889, when a Missouri newspaper editor and his friend tried to recoup their investment in a flour mill by packaging excess winter wheat flour, corn flour, phosphate, bicarbonate of soda and salt in white paper sacks. Their mix received national attention after they hired Nancy Green to promote it at the World’s Columbia Exposition in 1893; she played the role of “Aunt Jemima,” a job she kept for 30 years.
Around the same time, the first maple-flavored sugar syrups reached the market, facilitating the perfect marriage of convenience. Pancake flour was meant for the morning, as the first-ever mention of pancake mix in The News and Courier makes clear: An 1894 classified ad for Berndt’s, located at the corner of King and Spring streets, claimed, “I’s boss at the breakfast tables now, Honey: One single package of Aunt Jemima Pancake Flour will convince the most skeptic of its superior quality.”
Eventually, though, cooks started wondering what else they could do with the new pantry staple. In the 1920s, the Aunt Jemima Mills Company promoted a folder of recipes, along with a set of rag dolls: The package was sold in exchange for a coupon and 30 cents.
Pancake mix, it turned out, was a decent breading for chicken and fish; Dixie Home Super Market in 1951 advertised whiting rolled in pancake mix. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day 1952, The Evening Post suggested topping “brown-as-a-nut pancakes” with spicy chicken spread (they were photographed with Irishmen salad, consisting of bananas wearing pineapple hats and cherry wedge mouths). A recipe for Pancakes Italian with Fluffy Sauce involved rolling pancakes around tuna salad with mushrooms and cottage cheese.
Pancake foldovers may have looked or tasted fanciful, but their preparation was plain. All the cook had to do was close pancakes around ham slices, and stir up a cheese sauce to pour on top.
“We just looked at the recipe and decided to go with something normal,” says Legare Queen, chef-owner of The Junction Kitchen & Provisions in North Charleston. Queen’s wife is a fan of monte cristos, so he decided to replicate the sweet ham sandwich in pancake form. He made a pancake roll of fried prosciutto and roasted red onions, finishing the dish with a Swiss cheese bechamel and jalapeno jam.
“Every time I mentioned it, people thought I was talking about crepes,” says Queen, who admits he’s never before crafted a pancake roll-up.
Still, once the foldover was ready, his employees were smitten with it.
“We had to make three of them before the photographer got here,” he says.