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All about English Pancakes

Did you know that pancakes have held a spot in England’s history for centuries?  I was surprised to learn that the universal favorite has had its own day—Pancake Day—since before the beginning of Christianity. When I read about the celebration, I imagined my medieval ancestors whisking eggs, flour, and milk to make the tasty, crepe-like treat our family loves today.

Pancake Day has its origins as a pagan holiday celebrating the arrival of spring. Making and eating hot, round pancakes symbolized the sun. By eating them, people believed they received power, light, and warmth.

As Christianity spread across Europe, the holiday became identified with Shrove Tuesday. It was a day of repentance, celebration, and feasting in preparation for the 40-day fast for Lent that required giving up bad habits and pleasurable foods such as meat, fatty foods, sugars, eggs, and dairy.

english pancakes at a shrove tuesday celebration.

English pancakes were first featured in 1400s cooking books. And, according to the 17th-century “Pasquil’s Palinoda”, the act of flipping the pancakes is nearly as old as the cooking process itself. It says, “And every man and maide doe take their turne, and tosse their Pancakes up for feare they burne.”

English pancakes—which are much thinner than
American pancakes—are traditionally eaten rolled up, with sugar and a squeeze
of lemon, but it’s fun to experiment with jam, syrup, honey, chocolate spread,
or whatever sounds good. We even tried them filled with chicken salad, and they
were delicious!

I doubled the Foolproof Traditional English Pancake recipe and was happy with the results. The biggest challenges were to flip the pancakes (it worked every time!) and to cook them as fast as they were consumed. They immediately became a family favorite.

Do you know what traditional recipes were your ancestors’ favorites? As a family activity, you might consider researching and trying foods of the times and places your ancestors lived, or add your own family recipes to FamilySearch Memories.

Foolproof Traditional English Pancakes (adapted from The Spruce Eats)

english pancakes on a cast-iron skillet.

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces (453 grams)
    all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 5 cups milk
  • 4 teaspoons melted butter,
    plus extra for cooking

Instructions

  1. Sift flour into a large bowl, and add salt.
  2. Make a well or an indentation in the center of the flour. Add eggs, and beat until smooth.
  3. Add half the milk and 4 teaspoons of melted butter. Beat until smooth.
  4. Add the remaining milk, and stir. Let the batter rest for 15 minutes.
  5. Lightly grease a frying pan with oil or butter. Heat until very hot.
  6. Add a ladleful of batter so it evenly and thinly coats the base of the pan. Cook until set and lightly golden.
  7. Slide the pancake to the edge of the pan, and toss it over to cook it about 30 seconds more. You can also use a spatula, but it’s not as fun.
  8. Slip the pancake from the pan onto a plate, and continue as above until all the batter is gone.

Source: Family Search

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