What Rosa Parks Ate: Peanut Butter Pancakes. Learn to make Rosa Parks’ Featherlite Peanut Butter Pancakes with this vintage recipe and step-by-step photos.
February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate the past and present achievements of African Americans. Today, I want to celebrate the memory of a woman who courageously helped to change our nation and make it a better, more equal place– Rosa Parks.
On December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a segregated bus. Her refusal was the spark that lit a firestorm of change. It resulted in the Montgomery bus boycott, a controversial protest which lasted a year and ended when segregation on buses was deemed unconstitutional. The civil rights movement rapidly became a subject of national attention, and Rosa became a central figure in the struggle for equality in America.
From Rosa’s autobiography, “Rosa Parks – My Story”:
People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.
Rosa Parks with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (ca. 1955) Source: Wikimedia Commons
Many people don’t realize that Rosa was not the first one to take a stand by keeping her seat. Before Rosa, there was 15 year-old Claudette Colvin. In Montgomery, Alabama on March 2, 1955, Claudette refused to give up her seat for a white woman. She was inspired by her high school studies at the time; she’d been learning about Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and other important black leaders who had made strides for equality. When faced with the choice of giving up her seat, Claudette’s conscience simply wouldn’t let her do it. She was arrested for her peaceful act of protest.
The NAACP took note of Claudette’s act. Black civic leaders had been looking for a way to protest the Montgomery bus situation for years, and they were impressed by Claudette’s act of rebellion. However, they felt that Claudette might be too young and unreliable to be the face of this protest. As Secretary of the NAACP and a respected figure, Rosa Parks was chosen to be the figurehead of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Her act was directly inspired by Claudette’s act, which happened nine months prior. Just thought I’d share that interesting, little-known tidbit of history!
Last year, a cache of personal papers, photographs and memorabilia was discovered in the Detroit house where Rosa spent the last years of her life. A New York auction house called Guernsey’s was selected to represent the archive and find it a permanent home. Here is a description of some of the items they found:
The Rosa Parks Archive consists of thousands of items of virtually every description. Her countless awards range from the most significant to the most charming, the latter presented to Mrs. Parks by many of our nation’s school children. One section of her library contains volumes inscribed to her by such noteworthy figures as Dr. Martin Luther King and President Clinton while another section contains somewhat worn text books with Rosa Parks’ own name written in pencil from her childhood days at the Industrial School for Girls in Montgomery. The archive reflects Mrs. Park’s day-to-day life with personal items ranging from her wardrobe, her eyeglasses, her driver’s license, her address book, and her Bible. The archive contains a well-traveled suitcase filled with assorted fabrics from Rosa’s days in Montgomery as a seamstress.
Among her personal papers a recipe was found, scribbled on the back of an envelope, for “Featherlite Pancakes.” While we can’t be 100% sure that Rosa used this recipe, it seems quite probable that she did, given that it was found within her personal items and written in her own handwriting.
Here is the recipe as it appears on the envelope:
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
½ teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/4 cup milk
1/3 cup peanut butter
1 tablespoon shortening, melted, or oil
Combine with dry ingredients
Cook at 275 degrees F on griddle
The recipe is fairly self explanatory as written; I have provided a few detailed cooking instructions for clarity below. I made the assumption that smooth peanut butter should be used, because of the fact that Rosa called these pancakes “featherlite”– I’m guessing a pancake that is “light as a feather” isn’t supposed to crunch. I used smooth peanut butter, and the pancakes turned out very light indeed.
I will say that after making these pancakes a few times, I have decreased the amount of baking powder that is required by quite a bit. Using 2 teaspoons is more than enough to make these pancakes “feather light.” In some batches, you may need a bit more milk than is called for – pancakes aren’t an exact science. You want the batter thick, but pourable. Finally, I like to use ghee (clarified butter) to grease the pan – it’s got a very high smoke point and adds a nice flavor. Avocado oil is my second choice.
They are truly delightful, with a wonderful texture and a mouth-watering peanut butter flavor. In fact, my stepdaughter has decided that this is now her favorite pancake recipe– and she’s a picky eater! They’re really tasty.
February 4 is Rosa Parks’ birthday. Cook these pancakes as a way to honor Rosa’s memory… and Claudette’s! May their courage be an inspiration to us all.
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- 1 cup flour
- 2 tsp baking powder (Rosa's original recipe uses 2 tablespoons, but you really only need 2 teaspoons)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 1/4 cups milk (or more as needed)
- 1/3 cup smooth peanut butter
- 1 tbsp cooking oil (Rosa's original recipe uses vegetable oil or melted vegetable shortening. I prefer ghee - clarified butter - or avocado oil for greasing the pan, but any of these options will work.)
- Sift together dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.
- Mix together wet ingredients (minus the oil) with a fork till smooth: egg, milk, peanut butter.
- Add dry ingredients to wet, mixing lightly-- do not overmix, or pancakes will turn out heavy and dense. A few lumps are okay. If the mixture seems overly thick, go ahead and stir in a little more milk until the batter is thick but pourable.
- Grease your skillet or griddle with oil or shortening (I typically use ghee, which is basically clarified butter). Heat skillet over medium (or heat electric griddle to 275 degrees F). Test heat by flinging a droplet of water onto the surface of the skillet-- it should sizzle and evaporate, but not pop or crackle.
- Pour the batter by scant 1/4 cupfuls to form pancakes on the hot skillet.
- Let the pancakes cook for 1-2 minutes until bubbles rise to the surface of the batter and burst.
- When the pancakes turn golden brown on the bottom, flip them. Let the pancakes continue to cook for 1-2 minutes longer until golden brown on both sides and cooked all the way through. Re-grease the skillet periodically between batches, if needed.Serve pancakes immediately. To keep the pancakes warm while you're cooking, place them on a plate covered by a towel in a 175 degree oven. Use an oven mitt when removing the plate from the oven, it will be hot!
- Serve warm with butter and maple syrup. Delish! One important note -- if serving guests that you don't know very well, make sure you let them know in advance that these pancakes contain peanut butter. Some people have peanut allergies, so hidden peanut butter can be very dangerous. Cook with care!
Parks, Rosa (1999). Rosa Parks, My Story. Puffin Books, Reprint Edition, New York, NY.
Before Rosa Parks, A Teenager Defied Segregation on an Alabama Bus. Sarah Kate Kramer, NPR Radio Diaries, March 2 2015.