Don´t you just love pancakes? You may be surprised to know that they have been around for a long time.

Ever heard of the saying “as flat as a pancake,”? The Oxford English Dictionary states this has been a catchphrase since the early 17th Century. The connotation of the word pancake here is not culinary but is used most uncurteously to describe females with a small bust or landscapes that are totally flat such as some costal areas in Northern Germany. However, pancakes may have been around for even much longer than that.

Archeologists found 30,000 year old grinding tools with traces of starch grains from cooking with plants such as cattails. From these, cavemen probably made flour. Researchers assume it was mixed with water and baked on a hot, possibly greased, rock. Although the result was surely a far cry from the modern crêpe or pancake, the idea behind it was the same: making a flat cake by making a batter with flour and frying it.

Regardless of how old the original pancake actually is, it is safe to say that it is an ancient form of food. Evidence of cooking different forms of pancakes can be found all over the world. It´s no secret that the ancient Greeks and Romans loved their food. They are known for having a sweet tooth and they sweetened their pancakes with honey. This ist perhaps a little like the American breakfast with pancakes and maple sirup. The Elisabethan version, however, seems slightly more sophisticated being flavoured with a variety of spices, rosewater, sherry and apples.

Elisabeth II is also a great pancake fan. She loves Scotch pancakes or drop scones, which are smaller and not as thin as traditional pancakes. Her majesty has stood at the stove herself and made pancakes for VIP guests such as president Eisenhower and his wife.

During the Elisabethan period the tradition of Shrove Tuesday or Pancake day was established. The forty seven days running up to Easter, a period called Lent, are days of fasting. So, Shrove Tuesday was the day all the milk, butter and eggs which would have gone off during lent, were used up for one last feast before the dismal fasting period. The name Shrove derives from your “shriven” (absoluted) sins after you went to confession. To remind people to go to confession, a bell was rung which came to be know as the pancake bell.

How are you at flipping or tossing pancakes? The tradition of making and tossing pancakes, perhaps due to the lack of utensils to flip the pancake, have been around since the fifteenth century.

“And every man and maide doe take their turne, And tosse their Pancakes up for feare they burne.”

Pasquil’s Palin, 1619

In Germany, pancakes are often eaten with savoury fillings. The sweet versions are generally the very thin French crêpes. You can find many crêpe vendors in high streets, mum always made a beeline for them when she came to visit me. One favourite filling is chocolate spread and thinly cut bananas. I prefer the tradtional English version with a drop of lemon and a sprinkling of sugar.

Shrove Tuesday always falls 47 days before Easter Sunday, which means it falls between 3rd February 9th March. This year Shrove Tuesday is on 16th February – today! So go on, fill your home with the aroma of freshly flipped pancakes.


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Viegas, J. V. (2012, 27. November). Cavemen Ground Flour, Prepped Veggies.