Exploring Gender Roles through a Recipe for “French Pancakes”

By Hannah Meidahl

The Margaret Chase Smith Recipes Research Collaborative is an interdisciplinary group of faculty, students, and staff at the University of Maine. Members represent a wide range of disciplines including history, sociology, folklore, anthropology, public policy, food science, and business. Senator Smith was a trailblazer, passionate about bringing people together through civil discourse, often over a home-cooked meal. She was a proud homemaker throughout her thirty-three years in office, and she maintained an extensive recipe collection, using recipes from her collection to entertain fellow policymakers in Washington and at home in Maine. The collaborative formed to support students and faculty interested in issues of food, recipes, politics, history, and their intersections.

This post is part of a series of student research projects exploring a recipe from Smith’s collection from an Honors tutorial taught by Dr. Rachel Snell in Spring 2019. Combined the students’ insights provide a new window into Sen. Smith’s private and public persona as well as the cultural, social, and scientific context of her lifetime. 

Margaret Chase Smith, a United States Senator from Maine, spent her life defying gender roles and exemplifying the capability of women during a time when their rights were limited. She served as a prime example of what prejudices can be overcome in order to progress socially and politically. Despite her vast progression in a male-dominated field, Smith continued to be seen as a wife and homemaker, and would often receive recipes, with which she was able to form a recipe collection that highlighted Maine food and promoted the state’s agricultural sphere [1]. Through research into her personal life and analysis of her recipe collection, specifically the recipe for ‘French Pancakes,’ information about the life of the first woman to serve in both houses of Congress can be learned and better understood.

Smith’s recipe for “French Pancakes.”

Born from a French-Canadian mother, it is no surprise that Smith exemplified some French influence in her cooking. The state of Maine has a close connection to French Canada and the recipes collected by Smith that kept her close to her childhood and the state she loved so much reflected this. The recipe for French Pancakes seems to be a classic crepe recipe. Made simply with eggs, flour, and milk, this recipe is something that could have been enjoyed by any number of people. Both the wealthy and the working class would have access to these basic ingredients and needed utensils. Furthermore, this recipe could be enhanced by anything on hand: meat, fruit, sugar, syrup, or butter. The versatility of the recipe does not suggest any selectivity in regards to class or type of person that would have been able to eat it. 

Smith’s recipe for French Pancakes contrasts in many aspects, much as her own life did. Initially, it seems to be something more akin to a thin, slightly sweet omelet, but is delicious and tastes much more like a traditional crepe when paired with chocolate or syrup. It is simple, but still somewhat difficult for an inexperienced cook. The flour lumps easily in the egg yolks and beating the whites to the correct consistency is tiring. These can be enjoyed as a sweet or savory dish, is rather fast yet is filling, and allows the cook to feel the satisfaction of crafting a homemade meal to be had with friends or family. The contradictions in this recipe allow for parallels in Smith’s life, as she maintained aspects of her domestic life while spending the majority of it in with a powerful role in a male-dominated field.

This U.S. National Archives film shows Sen. Smith beginning her day with a simple breakfast.

To many, pancakes conjure the idea of a sit-down, comfort meal, and a stereotypical image of a wife cooking breakfast for her family. However, so many aspects of Smith’s life did not follow this image. She broke free of many traditional gender roles by working hard from a young age and learning to support herself. It is curious that her life contrasts in so many ways to this recipe found in her collection and brings up questions about the role she played as a woman. She considered herself an advocate for women and said that “a woman should serve wherever she feels best qualified to serve” [6] and “hoped her victory reflected a broader change in the culture – a ‘growing realization’ as she put it, ‘that ability and proved performance, rather than sex, are the best standards for political selection just as much as they are for any other kind of selection’” [5]. She believed in women’s empowerment and yet embraced traditional aspects of her gender role that made her feel powerful and important. She wore a dress and heels every day into her nineties and maintained this recipe collection at home, hinting at domestic work. She continues to act as a symbol of balance and of doing whatever makes an individual feel important and valued. In class, this was discussed as well, with the empowerment of women through their domestic life, emphasized especially by the writing of Catharine Beecher who believed that the “moral power” of the home and domestic life was most important for women [9]. She claimed that “…in the home…[women] may reign a queen” [9].  

1948 U.S. Senate Swearing In Ceremony. Courtesy of Margaret Chase Smith Museum and Library.

Smith’s commitment to her work exemplified the type of person and politician she strove to be. Hardworking from the time she was a girl, Smith would reply to constituent letters the day she received them, traveled to Maine on the weekend, visited each precinct monthly, and set a record from being present at nearly 3000 consecutive state role calls [5]. It is a fair assumption that, had Smith followed a more traditional life of a housewife and mother, she would have been dedicated to her family and an inspiration to those around, just as she was in Washington. The contrasts that exist in her recipe for French Pancakes allow a parallel for the contrasts of gender roles in Smith’s life. Thinking of her recipe creates a new image of the senator. Rather than a woman who put work over everything and refused to conform, Smith was a headstrong, talented person who allowed herself a balance between professional achievement and personal satisfaction.

Hannah Meidahl is a fourth-year Psychology major with a minor in Biology and member of the Honors Collegeat the University of Maine. 

  1. Role of food in politics, public life focus of research collaborative inspired by Margaret Chase Smith – UMaine News – University of Maine. (2019, March 6). Retrieved April 25, 2019, from UMaine News website: https://umaine.edu/news/blog/2019/03/06/role-of-food-in-politics-public-life-focus-of-research-collaborative-inspired-by-margaret-chase-smith/
  2. The history of crepes. Retrieved April 27, 2019, from https://www.kitchenproject.com/history/Crepes/index.htm
  3. Jessica, F. (2018, November 19). A history of the crepe, France’s delectable staple. Retrieved April 27, 2019, from Epicure & Culture website: https://epicureandculture.com/french-crepe/
  4. Hot off the griddle, here’s the history of pancakes. (2018, February 27). Retrieved April 27, 2019, from National Geographic website: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/people-and-culture/food/the-plate/2014/05/21/hot-off-the-griddle-heres-the-history-of-pancakes/
  5. Ellen, F. (2016). Margaret Chase Smith: The Elephant Has an Attractive Face. In The Highest Glass Ceiling. Harvard University Press
  6. US National Archives. Senator Margaret Chase Smith’s Daily Schedule. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJu79FMnJtc
  7. Longone, J. (1997). Tried Receipts. In Recipes for Reading. Anne L. Bower
  8. Twarog, E. (2017). The 1935 Meat Boycott and the Evolution of Domestic Politics. In Politics of the Pantry. Oxford University Press
  9. Leavitt, S. Going to Housekeeping. In From Catharine Beecher to Martha Stewart: A Cultural History of Domestic Advice

Maine’s Favorite Daughter and Blueberries

By Harley Rogers

The Margaret Chase Smith Recipes Research Collaborative is an interdisciplinary group of faculty, students, and staff at the University of Maine. Members represent a wide range of disciplines including history, sociology, folklore, anthropology, public policy, food science, and business. Senator Smith was a trailblazer, passionate about bringing people together through civil discourse, often over a home-cooked meal. She was a proud homemaker throughout her thirty-three years in office, and she maintained an extensive recipe collection, using recipes from her collection to entertain fellow policymakers in Washington and at home in Maine. The collaborative formed to support students and faculty interested in issues of food, recipes, politics, history, and their intersections.

This post is part of a series of student research projects exploring a recipe from Smith’s collection from an Honors tutorial taught by Dr. Rachel Snell in Spring 2019. Combined the students’ insights provide a new window into Sen. Smith’s private and public persona as well as the cultural, social, and scientific context of her lifetime. 


A congressional portrait of Sen. Smith.

Maine has a rich history of prominent female politicians. One of the most significant in the twentieth century was Margaret Chase Smith. Sen. Smith took her late husband’s position in the U.S. House of Representatives after his untimely death in 1940 and was then reelected through her own campaign. She served in the House of Representatives for three more terms before successfully running for a spot in the U.S. Senate, thus making her the first woman to serve in both chambers of Congress, and the first female senator to represent Maine. She later ran in the 1964 Republican presidential primary, becoming the first woman to run for president in a major political party. She served until losing reelection to the Senate in 1972 and went on to work as a visiting professor until retiring to her home in Skowhegan, Maine. Research on Sen. Smith has focused on her political life. However, what about her at home or as a woman in the twentieth century? Like many women then and still today, she had a personal recipe collection, filled with recipes of foods for sharing, for convenience, for special occasions, and a few odd recipes.

Recipe Analysis: Blueberry Supreme

As a member of the Margaret Chase Smith Recipe Research Collaborative (MCSRRC), I’ve worked closely with Sen. Smith’s recipes and adapted several. For this recipe analysis, I sought a new challenge. I’ll admit I am partial to dessert recipes, and as a native Mainer myself, I’m especially inclined to the ones with blueberries. Some of my favorite memories of summer in Maine take place in the blueberry fields behind my childhood home. My family and I would fill 5-gallon buckets of the berries and head back home to freeze them. For the rest of the year, we would enjoy blueberry pancakes, muffins, occasionally a blueberry pie, and my personal favorite, a bowl of frozen blueberries with milk and sugar.  Sen. Smith potentially shared my proclivity for blueberry desserts: her recipes for blueberry muffins and blueberry cake were her standard response to recipe requests. Looking through the recipes, a card labeled “Blueberry Supreme” in the casserole section caught my eye. The recipe stood out not only because of the blueberries, but its location amongst recipes for hominy and almond casserole and a mushroom onion casserole.  This was not a cooked casserole, nor was it filled with vegetables. To my delight, this recipe was very much a dessert.

Smith’s recipe for Blueberry Supreme.

The recipe card describes a four-layer blueberry casserole. Starting with a base of ground up vanilla wafers, next a cream layer, then the blueberry filling, topped with whip cream and pecans. The recipe seemed simple enough until I read the recipe more carefully and realize the cream layer was composed of butter, sugar, and two raw eggs. When I called my grandmother about the recipe, she dismissed the concerns of eating raw egg and the chance of salmonella, as Sen. Smith probably did as well. When replicating this recipe today, there are concerns over the use and consumption of raw eggs in one of the layers to the casserole. In order to limit the possibility of salmonella, it is recommended to use farm fresh eggs, and for added reassurance pasteurize the eggs for raw consumption. While the FDA still warns against any raw egg consumption, it provides methods of heating eggs still in the shell to 63 degrees Celsius in order to eliminate bacteria that could be in the egg.[1]This greatly lowers the chance of contamination and makes the dish as safe as possible to eat, while still following the recipe.  


The Blueberry Supreme was a complete hit! The members of the MCSRRC enjoyed the dessert during a collaborative meeting in mid-April. The layers came together to create a light and sweet dish to enjoy with friends and family. When I noticed Sen. Smith never distributed this recipe, as she did with her blueberry muffin and blueberry cake recipes, I wondered if she had ever made it. As women increasingly left the home, quick and easy meals had to become staples in order for women to do both domestic and public responsibilities. As a result, recipes increasingly included processed foods to shorten preparation times. 

Smith’s collection includes many such recipes, including the Blueberry Supreme recipe, which relies on vanilla wafers as a crust, premade pie filling, and whipped cream to top it off. This recipe is a perfect demonstration of how working women managed careers while also tending to their domestic responsibilities. While Sen. Smith may not have made this recipe herself, the chances of it having actually been made are quite high because of the simplicity and reliance on premade foods in the recipe. Despite living in Maine, the recipe calls for blueberry filling from a can. This is particularly interesting because all her other recipes call for fresh blueberries, which in this case would have significantly increased the preparation time. 

This analysis demonstrates how this recipe would have been financially achievable and could have easily fit within the senator’s life. With Sen. Smith’s busy schedule, a dish like this one, which could be made a day or two in advance and served to a large group, could have fit into her lifestyle. I’d like to imagine Sen. Smith serving the dish to government dignitaries on a beautiful spring afternoon at her home in Skowhegan. While this may not have been the case, it certainly fits her love of blueberries and desire for recipes that fit her busy schedule. 

Harley Rogers is a fourth-year Political Science major with minors in Leadership Studies and History and member of the Honors Collegeat the University of Maine. Her Honors thesis, titled, “Female Political Campaigns: Just the Right Amount of Femininity,” compares media coverage of Smith and Hillary Clinton during their presidential runs.

[1]Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Safety of Eggs and Menu and Deli Items Made From Raw Shell Eggs.” Assuring the Safety of Eggs and Menu and Deli Items Made From Raw, Shell Eggs. 

Pigeon slippers

By Robert Ralley and Lauren Kassell

The Casebooks Project, a team of scholars at the University of Cambridge, has spent a decade studying 80,000 consultations recorded by the seventeenth-century astrologer-physicians Simon Forman and Richard Napier. To mark the completion of our work, we selected 500 cases for full transcription. When the launch was announced on 16 May 2019, it received considerable media attention. Headlines included ‘Prescribing deer dung and pigeon slippers’ (BBC news), ‘Purges, angels and “pigeon slippers”’ (The Guardian), and ‘“Kisse myne arse”: Doctor’s notes reveal bizarre medical notes from 400 years ago’ (c/net).

Fig. 1: Richard Napier’s CASE51060, MS Ashmole 414, f. 76r. Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.

When Mrs Elizabeth Chester, suffering from hot, red eyes, consulted Richard Napier, the Anglican rector and astrologer, in June 1620, his remedy included ‘a pigon slitt & applyed to the sole of each foote’ (see Fig. 1). Applying freshly killed pigeons to the feet or other parts was not one of Napier’s standard treatments, but we have spotted references to it in around 30 cases. More instances await discovery amidst the 70,000 consultations that Napier recorded between 1597 and 1634. Roughly half record treatments. Often unhelpfully shortened to ‘pig’ – whence remarks such as the cryptic-looking ‘pig to the feete’ – this remedy appears often enough for Joanne Edge, one of the Casebooks Project’s editors, to dub it ‘pigeon slippers’.

We don’t know whether Napier read about the use of pigeons in a medical book or learned it from another healer. It’s not amongst the treatments, as far as we can tell, that he learned from his mentor, Simon Forman. Napier first recommended slit pigeons, twice, in March 1607 (see here and Fig. 2; and here), and occasionally thereafter for the rest of his career.

Fig. 2: Richard Napier’s CASE30882, MS Ashmole 193, f. 113r. Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.

Pigeons were common in early modern Europe. People kept and ate them, their broths were fortifying, and distillations made from them were good for the skin. English medical texts, typically translated from earlier Latin and vernacular editions, regularly referred to blood drawn from under their wings to help with eye troubles. From antiquity, pigeon dung featured in plasters and drinks for numerous remedies. Galen, the great second-century physician, had recommended the application of freshly-killed pigeons, puppies and ram lungs to the head. Medieval medical treatises and recipe collections perpetuated the practice, especially for cases of frenzy. Physicians trained at Montpellier applied pigeons to the chest to comfort the heart. Sixteenth-century books of secrets recommended pigeons—either freshly killed or live with their tail feathers plucked—to draw foul matter out of plague buboes. Napier duly noted, ‘apply halfe a pigeon new slitte to the outsyde of the sore’.

Medieval texts often recommended rubbing the feet, and other extremities, with salt, vinegar and wine, but so far the earliest reference we’ve found to ‘A quick Pidgeon cut in two, and bound to the soles of the feet’ is by Felix Platter, the distinguished Basel physician, in his extensive 1614 medical book.[1] Used with other remedies, pigeons to the feet helped ensure a speedy recovery. By 1638, the Hull physician James Primerose noted that ancient and modern writers advised applying pigeons to the head in diseases of the brain, but, to his knowledge, this was rarely done in practice. Rather, ‘the common people’ and ‘very many physicians’ instead applied pigeons to the feet.[2] Napier’s casebooks attest to this. He usually recommended slit pigeons to the feet for problems of the head or throat, whether a swollen face (see Fig. 3), hot, running or sore eyes (see Fig. 4), or even a bad cough. A handful of cases concern the mind, from what Napier called ‘lightheadedness’ (not dizziness), via melancholy, up to frenzy. Occasionally he chose the neck instead or both neck and feet. He always combined pigeons with other therapeutics (various internal medicines, ointments, clysters, blisters and bloodletting, for instance). When in 1632 the vicar of Westmill, Hertfordshire reported to him that a parishioner had been treated for frenzy with pigeons to her feet and a slit cock all over her head, Napier replied suggesting a sigil and a list of medicines.

Fig. 3: Richard Napier’s CASE23369, MS Ashmole 238, f. 212v. Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.

In seventeenth-century England, pigeon slippers seem to have become standard in the medical repertoire. John Hall, the physician from Stratford-upon-Avon who married Shakespeare’s daughter, recorded that when he suffered from a ‘light Delirium’ caused by a dangerous fever in 1632, the cure included ‘a Pigeon cut open alive, and applied to my feet to draw down the Vapours’.[3] Theodore de Mayerne and fellow royal physicians applied a pigeon to the head of the ailing Prince Henry in 1612, and a slit cock to his feet, without success.[4] Samuel Pepys, in his famous diary, recorded the treatment’s use when patients’ lives were in danger: in October 1663 he noted that Catherine of Braganza ‘was so ill as to be shaved and pidgeons put to her feet, and to have the extreme unction given her by the priests’; in January 1667/8 he visited the house of a man whose ‘breath rattled in his throate, and they did lay pigeons to his feete while I was in the house, and all despair of him, and with good reason’. There is no sign that Napier regarded the treatment as a last resort.

Fig. 4: Richard Napier’s CASE23227, MS Ashmole 238, f. 190r. Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.

For learned physicians and laypeople alike, pigeon slippers worked through attraction. Just as Hall explained that they had ‘draw[n] down the Vapours’, so in 1604, Napier noted that William Godfrey, who suffered from bloodshot eyes and a hot rheum, had ‘applyed a pigeon slitte to his necke which drew the rheume thither & eased’. In May 1600 Napier recorded that Mother Gale had decided that a boy’s burning shoulders, aching back and swollen knees were because he was forspoken (bewitched), and treated him by putting ‘a cock pigion slit to his … face’ and throwing his nail parings in a fire. Perhaps her rationale was to remove some sort of poison, as when slit pigeons were applied to plague sores. Primerose considered and dismissed the possibility that the pigeons’ gentle heat on a patient’s feet could affect the head and its humours at all. ‘Nevertheless’, he wrote, ‘I doe not absolutely speake against the applying them to the soles of the feet, because it may doe a little good, and cannot doe hurt.’[5]

[1] Platerus golden practice of physick fully and plainly discovering, trans. Nicholas Culpeper, 1664, Bk 2, Ch. 2, Of fevers.

[2] James Primerose, Popular Errours, trans. Robert Wittie (London, 1651), p. 397.

[3] John Hall, Select observations on English bodies of eminent persons in desperate diseases (transl. James Cook, 1679), OBSERV. LX.

[4] Hugh Trevor-Roper, Europe’s Physician (2006), p. 172.

[5] James Primerose, Popular Errours, transl. Robert Wittie (London, 1651), p. 400.

Smelling of Roses in Ancient Rome

By Laurence Totelin as part of the perfume series

The Roses of Heliogabalus by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1888. Source: Wikimedia

The painter Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912) had a knack for depicting the — sometimes imaginary — luxurious excesses of the Romans. In The Roses of Heliogabalus, he represented a banquet hosted by the emperor Elagabalus (218-222 CE). Vast amounts of delicate rose petals are drifting onto the banqueters, some of whom appear to be asleep, perhaps after drinking too much. Look more carefully, however, and you will note that some are inert but have their eyes wide open — they are dead, suffocated under the oppressive roses.

Alma-Tadema’s inspiration for his painting was a story preserved in a collection of emperors’ biographies called the Historia Augusta (21.5). There, the emperor is said to have smothered his guests with violets and other flowers — no roses then — released from a reversible ceiling. The guests were unable to crawl from under the roses and died; it is unclear whether the emperor had intended for this to happen. If the story is true, Elagabalus might have emulated another infamous Roman emperor, Nero (54-68 CE), who also had a reversible ceiling in his palace, which opened up to scatter flowers and spray perfume (Suetonius, Nero 31).

It would be impossible to count the flowers on Alma-Tadema’s canvas, but one would guess that they are in their thousands. Imagine a heap of a thousand fresh roses. Imagine their scent.

One thousand roses is the exact number we find mentionned in a second-century letter from Roman Egypt preserved on papyrus. Apollonios and Serapias write to Dionysia to apologise for having sent only a thousand roses for the wedding ceremony of Dionysia’s son, Serapion:

There are not yet many roses here — rather a shortage — and from all the farms and all the garland makers we had difficulty in putting together the thousand which we sent you via Sarapas, even by picking the ones which should have been picked tomorrow. We had as many narcissi as you wanted so we sent you four thousand instead of the two thousand you ordered (P. Oxy. 3313; translation John Muir)*

Cupids hanging rose garlands. Roman Fresco, end of the first century CE. Getty Centre. Source: wikimedia.

One thousand roses is also the number we find in the first-century pharmacologist Dioscorides’ recipe for rose perfume (Materia Medica 1.43). The recipe is long and complex and involves several stages. What is clear, however, is that the petals of ‘1000 unmoistened roses’ are left to steep overnight in 20 litrai 5 oungiai of olive oil (approximately 6.7 kg — equivalence between ancient and modern weights and measures is difficult to establish). The petals are then squeezed out, and the same amount of fresh petals can be added to the oil. Dioscorides notes that “the oil accepts the addition of rose petals up to the seventh insertion and no more.”

Imagine then that oil into which the petals of no less than 7000 fresh roses have been inserted. The head spins. Imagine too the feeling of that perfume on your skin. The thick oiliness of it. Let me tell you a secret: I feel queasy at the very thought of it. I can’t quite fathom the work involved in picking this extraordinary amount of thorny flowers, in detaching the petals without bruising them too much, in squeezing them out by hand. Yet that work was carried out, and in antiquity, it was probably carried out by enslaved people. Roses can be oppressive in more senses than one!

Muir, John. 2009. Life and Letters in the Ancient Greek World, London and New York: Routledge.