Saturday, March 9, 2013

Faster than a pancake

An actual drawing of Esau and Jacob from Dead Sea Scrolls.
“Food algorithms -- Beg pardon?”

    Do you have any idea how long it took to prepare food back in The Good Ol’ Days? A long time. So long that the course of history was occasionally determined by the length of time it took cook a meal. Case in point:

    Are you familiar with the Jacob and Esau story in Genesis? They were twins. Esau was the older by about 18 seconds. Give or take. As the eldest son, Esau got the bulk of his father’s inheritance. There’s no justice in that.

    One day, Esau came home starving as a result of an unsuccessful hunting excursion. Who hasn’t been there? Jacob had prepared a pot of soup, but refused to give his brother a bowl, because… well, he was acting the jerk.

Esau, fearing he might die of hunger any minute, agreed to give Jacob his inheritance in exchange for a bowl of soup. Logic being -- What good is my birthright if I’m dead?

That’s all Biblical. Movies have been made. However, if that same episode had happened today… well, it wouldn’t have happened. Esau would’ve come home and said, “Hey, how about a bowl of soup?” Jacob would’ve declined, and Esau would’ve scrounged around and eaten a grilled cheese sandwich or peanut butter and crackers. Maybe some Honey Nut Cheerios.

The entire course of Biblical history could’ve been altered because of the length of time for food preparation. That’s one reason that most of us are a lot bigger than Jacob and Esau. Jacob and Esau must of weighed, what, 28 river stones apiece? Sounds about right. On average, most of us weigh closer to 52 river stones. (“Ancient Measurement Conversions” by Arnold Brackett, 1921.)

This whole speed-of-food preparation algorithm visited me last week and sat heavy on my brain. – What? Algorithm? I don’t know. But, I like the word. -- Algorithm.

Saturday, Jill had the greatest idea in the history of idea-dom. My kid sister invited the family over for a pancake lunch. Can you believe that? Not spaghetti, chili or barbecue. Pancakes! For lunch! (It’s okay to use exclamation points when mentioning pancakes. I looked it up.)

Lunch was to start at noon, so everyone showed up at about 12:15. Jill had fried up a plate of sausage and mixed up a gallon or so of pancake batter. The sausage was staying warm in the oven. The batter was just sitting there on the cabinet.

Do you know how long it takes to make pancakes for 84 people? Longer than for the 11 of us, but it still takes a long time. You’ve got to get the griddle hot. Toss out the first few pancakes ‘cause they’re… I don’t know. The first pancakes are cursed. 

So, we’re looking at pancake supper, not lunch.  In her e-mail, Jill had assigned the pancake-making to Big Al. It’s 12:30 and Big Al is sitting on the couch waiting for… what? I had no idea. Eleven people, a cold griddle and a cook who was unaware of algorithms. -- Boy, I like that word.

I couldn’t ask Al to get started, ‘cause I’m the Hayter brother who always tries to take charge of stuff. There’s a reason for that, but there’s no need to discuss it here. Meet me at Starbucks shortly after you finish this thing.

I eventually went over to Kay and asked her to the pancakes. Big Al would kill me had I usurped his authority, but he wouldn’t touch Kay. Al likes Kay. Everyone likes Kay. One reason they like her is ‘cause she never usurps. She can’t. Well, she does usurp me, but I’m the only one. – Usurp? Not that good a word. Let’s drop it. 

So, I went to Jill and asked if she had any idea how long it would to prepare pancakes for 11 people. She said, “No, how long?” -- Zombies! I was surrounded by zombified doodle heads. They’re the worst kind. Jill, then turned and said, “Hey, Alan! Mark thinks you should start the pancakes."
Al making pancakes... as I remember it.

D’oh! Had I been Esau, I would’ve had to turn over my birthright right then and there. All because I was impatient to get my pancakes. I wasn’t going to die from lack of food. I could live for months off of the fat stored in the area just above my hips.

But, nooo. I wanted syrupy flapjacks with sausage, and I wanted ‘em 30 minutes ago. -- “Mark, thy name is Esau.” That’s in Malachi somewhere. I’m paraphrasing.

And, there you have it. A tale of impatience, of gluttony, of pride and pancakes… with a few algorithms thrown in. So, take a lesson, dear reader. Be patient, less indulgent, more humble. Oh, and go to IHOP… if sanctity of family means anything to you. – Next time.


You can contact Mark at You can find a stockpile of his articles at

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