A Quire of Paper

Here’s one more recipe for 18th century pancakes from John Farley’s 1783 cookbook, “The London Art of Cookery“:

A variation of this recipe can also be found in Mary Randolph’s 1824 cookbook “The Virginia Housewife.”

A “quire” is a term borrowed from printers and bookbinders meaning a stack of paper that is folded and bound into a book. These pancakes  were the forerunner to modern crepes.

Once again, precision was apparently not the point to this old recipe. Here is our take:

A Quire of Paper

A Quire of Paper

A Quire of Paper


3 T All-Purpose Flour
1/2 t Salt
2-3 t Sugar
1 t Powdered Ginger
3 Eggs
1 c Cream
4 oz Butter (melted)
3 T Sack (Sherry Wine)
1 T Orange Blossom Water (available online or at Middle-eastern food markets)
Butter for frying


In a mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients until well incorporated.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients until smooth. If you have lumps in your liquid that won’t whisk smooth, it’s likely the butter. Try warming your liquid. Just don’t warm it up too much, or you will end up cooking it.

Whisk about half your flour into your cream mixture. Continue adding the remaining flour, little by little, whisking the whole time until the batter is smooth.

Heat your frying pan over medium-high heat, and melt a little butter. Some of the old recipes suggest using clarified butter, pouring off any excess before you add the batter. Ladle about 1/8 to 1/4 c. of batter into your pan.

That was the easy part.

Farley suggests cooking them on one side only. Other recipes suggest this as well. While one or two recipes even suggest tilting the pan up to the fire to cook the top — something I don’t recommend. A number of recipes talked about the more skilled cooks being able to flip the pancake with a jerk of the wrist.

Pancake flipping technique

Pancake flipping technique

This skill is celebrated even today throughout parts of Europe in the great pancake races on Shrove Tuesday where contestants race each other through the streets while flipping a pancake in their frying pans.

One detail is prevalent in many of the 18th century pancake recipes: the pan should be clean, hot, and oiled. If you’re going to flip your pancakes like we did, you’re likely going to need some practice, so you may wish to make a double batch of batter along with an extra dose of patience.

These pancakes were intended to be fried until brown and crispy. As you stack them, sprinkle a little sugar between each layer. To serve, fold them in half, top them with a little more sugar and some fresh lemon juice. An optional sauce can be made with a little sack (sherry wine), sugar, and melted butter.

This entry was posted in 18th Century Cooking, Baking, Bread, Historic Cooking, Ingredients, Recipe, Video and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A Quire of Paper

  1. Karen says:

    I tried to make Mary Randolph’s recipe a few weeks ago, and the pancakes kept sticking, burning, and generally misbehaving. You have inspired me to try again with this recipe. Thanks!

    • Kevin Carter says:

      Hi Karen. It was obviously a challenge back then as well. While reading across an array of pancake recipes, I noticed that quite a bit of attention was given to making sure the pan is clean. Some recipes skipped the flipping part. Others suggested turning the pancakes out onto the back of a plate — I’m still trying to figure that one out.

      I was picking a few things up at Walmart the other day and noticed a display near the front door: two ceramic fry pans hinged together to form a clamshell. Perfect. But, of course, we couldn’t use it in the video.

      Here are a few other observations: 1. cream works better than milk; 2. adding one spoon more of flour may help as well; 3. cooking these at home on the stove top is easier than over an open fire (DUUUH!); 4. keeping the pan well oiled helped (as opposed to letting the pan go dry like I normally do with modern pancakes); 5. I migrated toward a system of working a spatula around the edges toward the center to make sure the pancake wasn’t stuck to the pan, followed by a quick jab with the spatula under the back third of the pancake, followed by a quick lift and flip toward me.

      One thing is for sure: you are not alone in your experience!

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