While not unthinkable, peanut butter is an unconventional pancake ingredient. But what makes these peanut butter pancakes noteworthy isn’t the recipe itself, but who wrote it down and presumably made it for her family: Rosa Parks.

The first thing I associate with Parks is the Montgomery bus boycott that spurred the civil rights movement. “Her courageous act is now American legend. She is a staple of elementary school curricula and was the second-most popular historical figure named by American students in a survey,” professor and author Jeanne Theoharis wrote in The Washington Post. Unfortunately, that is the only thing some know of the historic activist. But she was “a lifelong activist who had been challenging white supremacy for decades before she became the famous catalyst for the Montgomery bus boycott.”

In addition, Parks was a daughter, sister, wife, seamstress, seasoned home cook and so much more. It can be easy to forget that seemingly larger-than-life figures such as Parks also sent Christmas cards, renewed driver’s licenses and made breakfast, but the Rosa Parks Papers at the Library of Congress paint a fuller picture of her life, and this recipe for what she named “featherlite” pancakes is just one example. The fact that it’s written on the back of a bank envelope is evidence of her relatability – I’ve written all sorts of notes, messages and, yes, recipes on the backs of envelopes – but the manuscript also speaks to her connection to her birthplace and the struggles she faced because of her activism.

This is the sole recipe among the approximately 10,000 documents and photographs in the collection. However, Parks wrote of cooking in a manuscript she titled “Early childhood incidents and experiences”: “I learned to cook by observing my grandmother and could prepare a simple meal almost as soon as I was tall enough to see the stovetop.” As an adult, she never had children, but she would cook Sunday dinners for her 13 nieces and nephews. And in the book “Our Auntie Rosa,” her family shared recipes their aunt prepared for them, including cornbread silver dollar griddle cakes, succotash, chicken and dumplings, fruit compote, and lemonade.

The griddle cakes make these pancakes not seem out of place. But where did the peanut butter come in?

“The thing that I thought about was the connection to Alabama,” said the collection’s curator, Adrienne Cannon. Parks was born in Tuskegee, where George Washington Carver conducted his research on peanuts, and peanuts are one of the most valuable crops in the state to this day. “I think even beyond that, the deeper connection that peanuts have with Africa,” Cannon said. (Peanuts came to North America alongside enslaved African people.) “When I looked at that recipe, I thought to myself that there’s something that is sort of quintessentially African American and African about this addition of peanut butter in these pancakes.”


The envelope that contains the recipe is from a bank in Detroit, which helps to somewhat narrow down when it was written. Parks and her husband moved to Motor City in 1957 because they “could not find any sort of gainful employment in Montgomery, Ala.,” Cannon said, and the bank the envelope is from didn’t open until 1970. “Parks was frugal. She habitually recycled materials, including jars and aluminum foil and bags and assorted pieces of paper. She did so because she struggled with poverty through most of her life.”

– – –

Rosa Parks’s Peanut Butter Pancakes

30 minutes

4 to 5 (makes about 10 4 1/2-inch pancakes)

It’s unclear where exactly this recipe originated, but I imagine Parks grabbing the nearest scrap of paper she could find to write it down while a friend recited it to her over the phone. Beyond its origins, the manuscript itself leaves questions for modern-day cooks seeking to re-create these breakfast treats.


“You just have the ingredients written down. And so the challenge is figuring out exactly how to mix the ingredients,” said Adrienne Cannon, curator of the Rosa Parks Papers at the Library of Congress, where the recipe jotted on a bank envelope is part of the collection. “There was a debate over the insertion of the word ‘melted’ between the peanut butter and the shortening or oil.”

I’ve heated up peanut butter to drizzle on oatmeal, but it makes more sense to me that the shortening is what needs to be melted. (I also thought melted butter would be a great option.) Others interpreted the recipe to not add any fat to the batter at all, opting to use it just to cook the pancakes instead.

In my testing of the recipe, simply mixing the wet ingredients together all at once required vigorous whisking to thoroughly incorporate the peanut butter, so the recipe below instructs you to mix the egg, peanut butter and shortening or oil before adding the milk for a better result. And it wasn’t until after I made them that I noticed the words “sift together” squeezed in above the dry ingredients. Thankfully, it isn’t necessary – though I now wonder if doing so would add even more airiness to these “featherlite” specimens.

The pancakes live up to the description Parks gave them, with a light, airy texture. The peanut butter adds its distinct nutty flavor that made me want to go back for more. For serving, dress them as you wish, with a scoop of fruit compote or a drizzle of maple syrup. However, I found them sweet enough on their own without the need for either, though a pat or two of melting butter is always welcome in my book.

Storage Notes: Refrigerate leftovers for up to 3 days.

Note: This recipe was tested only with conventional peanut butter.



1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons baking powder

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon fine salt

1/3 cup (83 grams) creamy peanut butter (see Note)


1 large egg

1 tablespoon vegetable oil or melted shortening, plus more for greasing the skillet or griddle

1 1/4 cups (300 milliliters) whole milk


In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt until combined. In a large bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, egg and oil until smooth; whisk in the milk until combined. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until just combined (a few small lumps are okay).

Heat a large nonstick or cast iron skillet or a griddle over medium-low heat. Use a brush or wad of paper towel or clean dish towel to coat the pan lightly with oil.


Working in batches, use a 1/3-cup (80 milliliters) measuring cup to pour batter into the skillet, spaced at least 1 inch apart, and cook until you see a few small bubbles rise to the surface of the pancake and the bottom is golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip the pancakes and cook until golden on the other side, 1 to 2 minutes more. Transfer the pancakes to a platter, cover loosely with foil and repeat with the remaining batter, adding more oil to the skillet if it looks dry. Serve warm.

Nutrition information per serving (2 pancakes, based on 5 pancakes made) | Calories: 291; Total Fat: 15 g; Saturated Fat: 3 g; Cholesterol: 46 mg; Sodium: 759 mg; Carbohydrates: 32 g; Dietary Fiber: 2 g; Sugar: 10 g; Protein: 10 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.

Adapted from Rosa Parks’s recipe in the Library of Congress.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: