“I fell in love with fresh flour seven years ago and couldn’t figure out why it took forty years of avid baking to find such an incredible ingredient. Since I’m a devotee of pancakes, I found myself studying the 1889 formula for Aunt Jemima pancake flour and discovering a window into a wildly changing grain world.
“It’s important to mention that, while flour is the main ingredient in pancakes, the story of Aunt Jemima is tied to other parts of food history, like the development of leaveners, and the persistence of racism in our food system.
“Every food is an emblem of an era, and the success of the Aunt Jemima brand can’t be read without studying its cultural context. That a mammy and slave narrative were used to promote a pancake mix not 30 years after the Civil War, and that the Aunt Jemima company and each of its successors—the R.T. Davis Company (in 1890), The Quaker Oats Company (in 1926), and PepsiCo. (in 2001)—cling to its name, despite cultural pressures to change it, deserves separate study. The phenomenon is scrutinized in M. M. Manning’s Slave in a Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima, and Toni Tipton Martin’s more recent book, The Jemima Code.
“But this is a different, albeit adjacent story—one that takes us back to the late 1800s, as grain farming and flour milling got concentrated, and mills left locales. The Aunt Jemima recipe shows us the innovations in transportation, agriculture, and milling technology that developed the American grain belts. These advances made roadkill of regional grain farming and local mills, things that are necessary for fresh, stoneground flour…. <click below to continue reading>
Photo of Amy Halloran by Ellie Markovitch, used with permission.