Happy Pancake Day
Mix a pancake,
Stir a pancake,
Pop it in the pan.
Fry the pancake,
Toss the pancake,
Catch it if you can.
— Christina Rossetti
This Tuesday is Shrove Tuesday — also known as Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Pancake Day in the British Isles. Followed by Ash Wednesday, it begins the season of Lent for Christians around the world.
The custom of eating pancakes before beginning Lent dates back to the Middle Ages in England. At that time the Roman Catholic Church forbade the use of eggs and fat during Lent — the 40-day period of fasting and abstinence before Easter. Pancakes and donuts were a good way to use up eggs, dairy and butter before the fast began.
The tradition held, and today the British still eat thick pancakes sprinkled with powdered sugar on Pancake Day. Pancake races, where people run with a hot griddle in their hand and then flip the pancakes, are a common game.
In Russia, Maslenitsa is a week-long pre-Lenten feast. Bliny, thin buckwheat crepes, are served with honey, caviar, jam, butter and sour cream. Warm, round and golden, they symbolize the sun’s warmth in the midst of the long Russian winter.
Warm, buttery, sticky and sweet, pancakes are a favorite breakfast for many. But they can also be served at lunch or dinner. They can be sweet or savory. They can be entrees for a main course, appetizers to start a meal or desserts to finish it.
Merriam Webster defines pancake as “a flat cake made of thin batter and cooked (as on a griddle) on both sides.” But the word was not in common English usage until the 1870s.
Before that, pancakes were known as flapjacks, Johnnycakes, hoecakes, battercakes, hotcakes or griddlecakes.
Pancakes are one of man’s oldest confections. A simple batter is mixed, poured into rounds, cooked on a flat surface over high heat, and a pancake is born. A flat stone placed over a heap of small coals from a fire can serve as a griddle.
That’s why pancakes have been made on every continent for millennia. In ancient Rome, simple, fried concoctions of milk, flour, eggs and spices were called “Alita Dolcia” (Latin for “another sweet”). Native Americans shaped a soft batter in their hands and cooked it over a fire. Early settlers called it “no cake,” but in the Narragansett, they were called nokehick (meaning “it is soft”).
Pancakes of one type or another are popular around the globe. In Asia there are Korean pa jun, Indian poori, Chinese bao bing, Indonesian dadar gutung. European pancakes include light, thin French crepes or cake-like galettes, Irish boxty, Russian blini, Dutch panekoeken, Hungarian palascinta, Norwegian lefse.
The first commercial pancake mix, Aunt Jemima, was manufactured in 1889 by Chris Rutt and Charles Underwood of the Pearl Milling Company. Today most Americans make pancakes from a mix — but it is so easy to mix the ingredients yourself. All you need is flour(s), salt, baking powder and sugar.
These can be mixed together and stored in an airtight container until ready to use. Then, beat eggs and milk, stir in the dry ingredients, heat a griddle or pan and spray with a little oil — and you’re ready to make pancakes.
To make your pancakes light and fluffy, beat the egg whites separately and stir in. Or add a carbonated beverage — like seltzer water — just before cooking them. You can also mix fruit — like blueberries or diced apples — into your pancake batter.
For a change from sweet pancakes, serve Norwegian spinach pancakes or Korean pa-jun, pancakes made with grated vegetables and seasoned with soy sauce.
Rich in carbohydrates, pancakes are a comfort food on cold winter days. They are quick and easy to prepare, and you warm up standing over the stove flipping them.
Experiment. Try different batters: thick or thin. Add different ingredients: blueberries, walnuts or chocolate chips for sweet; zucchini, spinach or green onions for savory. Try various toppings. However you make them, pancakes stack up to a plateful of good eating!
2 cups flour (all purpose, whole wheat pastry, or combination)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large or 3 medium eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1 Tablespoon honey or sugar
1 Tablespoon melted butter
1 to 2 cups fruit, like blueberries, apples or bananas, optional
In one bowl, mix flour with baking powder and salt.
In another bowl, beat eggs lightly. Beat in milk, honey and melted butter.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and pour in the wet ingredients. Stir to combine. Stir in blueberries if making blueberry pancakes.
Oil griddle or pan lightly. Heat over medium heat. Scoop about a quarter cup batter onto the griddle for each pancake. Cook until brown on the bottom and bubbles appear on the top. Flip over to brown other side. Serve hot, with maple syrup. Serves about 3.
Bliny are a traditional Russian yeast pancake made with buckwheat flour. This is a quick and easy baking powder version.
3/4 cup buckwheat flour
3/4 cup unbleached or all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 Tablespoon butter
2 cups plain yogurt
In bowl, blend flours with salt and baking soda. Set aside.
Melt the butter in a small skillet.
Separate the eggs.
In another bowl, beat egg yolks and melted butter. Beat in the yogurt; then add the flour mixture. The consistency of the dough should resemble thin Adirondack mud. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form, and fold into the batter.
Heat the pan. Grease it lightly. Using about a quarter cup, pour a thin layer of batter evenly. Cook until firm and set; then flip out of the pan onto a plate.
Makes about 6 large blini.
Serve for breakfast with syrup, applesauce or sour cream, or for dinner topped with diced cooked chicken and gravy, with a salad or vegetable on the side.
“The world still goes around, and pancakes are still flat, and maple syrup is still tasty.”
— Tom Hanks
Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be found at www.yvonafast.com and reached at email@example.com or on Facebook at Words Are My World.