Friday, March 26, 2010

Pikelets Anyone?

Everyone knows about the Aussie food icons of damper, lamingtons, pavlova, and pie-floaters, but there is another favourite snack in this wide brown land, and today I want to tell you about it.
It is the pikelet. You probably already know it, but by some other local name.

Pikelets came to my mind recently (the part of my mind that told me that I have not yet written about them) when I went in pursuit of something called a bara-picklet. I thought I had found an old food waiting to be rediscovered. Instead I found an old name and a nice example of recipe evolution.

According to the Dictionarium Rusticum, Urbanicum, & Botanicum (1726), bara-picklet is ‘Bread made of fine Flour, and kneaded up with Barm [yeast], which makes it very light and spungy. Its Form is round, about an Hand’s breadth.’ A later dictionary - an updated version of the above, it seems, with the far less interesting name of The Universal Etymological Dictionary (1773) describes bara-picklet as ‘Welsh. Cakes made of a fine Flower [flour] kneaded with yeast. So, we have a change of idea from ‘bread’ to ‘cake’, but still yeast-raised (there being no baking powder yet for half a century or so.)

Most sources do give the picklet a Welsh heritage, the name coming from bara, the Welsh word for bread, and usually referring to a type of ‘bun’ or griddle bread cooked on a hot plate, not in an oven. As always however, regional names and recipe variations abound. In several sources it is referred to as ‘a sort of muffin’ or a ‘glazy kind of muffin.’ In some references it is associated with London, in others with Midland counties of England, and in others with the North of the country. Sometimes it is a ‘pyflet’, and occasionally there is a reference to a ‘picklet (or pyflet) stone’ on which they are cooked.

The OED calls the pikelet ‘a thin kind of crumpet (also) a type of small round teacake made of fine flour; a muffin’, which is not a very definitive definition – which fits the variety of styles of pikelet. The modern variety is made with modern powder leavening agents rather than yeast, of course, it being far quicker and easier to make them this way – and indeed they do lend themselves jolly nicely to a spontaneous treat or unexpected visitors. Pikelets then fall somewhere on the multiple cusps between ‘English’ muffins, crumpets, griddle cakes and pancakes. In Australia they are usually eaten as a sweet snack for morning or afternoon tea, spread with jam and dolloped with cream.

I give you two versions of the pikelet today. Firstly, an early yeast-raised griddle ‘bread’ from the 1786 edition of Elizabeth Raffald’s The Experienced English Housekeeper.

To Make Picklets.
Take three pounds of flour, make a hole in the middle with your hand, then mix two spoonfuls of barm, with as much milk and a little salt as will make it into a light paste; pour your milk and barm into the middle of your flour and stir a little of your flour into it, then let it stand all night, and the next morning work all the flour into the barm, and beat it well for quarter of an hour, then let it stand an hour; after that take it out with a large spoon, and lay it on a board well dusted with flour, and dredge flour over them; pat it with your hand, and bake them upon your bake-stone.

And a modern quicky version from The Sydney Morning Herald of September 10, 1953.

Golden Pikelets.
Every young housewife dreams of making perfect pikelets. Here’s how to start, but remember that practice will help too.
Pikelets may be made with a special iron griddle iron, a very heavy quality frying pan, or directly on the solid type hotplate of an electric range.
The iron pan, or hot plate, must be heated first, greased quickly with a little white vegetable shortening of butter. The heat of the iron may be tested by cooking a couple of pikelets.
1 large or 2 small eggs.
2 level tbsps. Sugar
1 level dstspn. golden syrup or honey
½ to ¾ cup of milk.
1 heaped cup S.R. flour
Good pinch salt.
Beat eggs with sugar until fluffy, add golden syrup, then ½ cup of the milk. Sift in flour, salt,mix well with wooden spoon until smooth. If necessary add remaining ¼ cup of milk. Allow to stand one hour if possible. Drop in spoonfuls on heated, greased iron, reduce heat, when surface begins to bubble, turn to cook other side. Keep hot between two plates on top of saucepan of hot water.

Quotation for the Day.

The laziest man I ever met put popcorn in his pancakes so they would turn over by themselves.


Liz + Louka said...

When I was a teenager, babysitting two small boys, I used to make them pikelets. My idea was to serve with butter and jam or honey, but the boys didn't even let them get near a plate: as soon as the pikelet was off the surface of the frying pan, there would be a race to grab it and stuff it whole into the mouth. Fortunately my daughter doesn't (yet) do this.

Duncan | The Gastronomer's Bookshelf said...

How lovely to see the story of a food that was for me the best of childhood breakfasts! But for this Australian, they were only ever experienced hot, served with butter and golden syrup. Jam or cream (and cold pikelets) are an entirely unfamiliar concept to me.

Foose said...

This brings back to me my first trip abroad, to Sydney. All around me, tourists were transfixed by the bridge, the Opera House, the other great sights; I stood for half an hour, open-mouthed, in front of a McDonald's, studying the posted menu with astonishment.

I had assumed McDonald's menus were the same the world over, yet here were food items I had never heard of: chiefly, the Golden Arches was offering something called "pikelets" (pickelets? were they little pickles? I wondered, trying out various pronunciations) and further scrutiny of a pictured hamburger revealed that something called "beetroot" was an immutable fixture of the sandwich. The pikelets conundrum was resolved by a kindly Australian passerby. But I still remember my youngling's slack-jawed wonderment (and early interest in food history and culture). McDonald's is different in other lands!

The Old Foodie said...

Foose - thankyou so much for that wonderful story. It has made my day. Aint life wonderful?

Anonymous said...

What are today called crumpets were always known as pikelets in Yorkshire. We loved them with butter and jam in the 1950s once rationing had finished. Until then it was a scrape of margarine under the jam.