There is one day every February that is frolicsomely fabulous! It’s Pancake Day!
Pancakes are an ancient form of food that is known by a multitude of names and consumed in as many variations and recipes as there are countries in this world and then some. The Greeks and Romans ate them sweetened with honey; the Elizabethans flavored them with spices, rosewater, sherry and apples.
The French like their crepes very thin. In Somalia, sourdough is used to make anjero; the Russian’s use yeast in their blinis. Coconut milk is the special ingredient found in South East Asia’s apam balik. And for their kaisershmarrn, the Austrian’s split their rum-soaked raisin filled pancakes into bite size pieces and caramelize them with additional butter and powdered sugar.
From anjero to flap jacks and griddle cakes, from pfannkuchen to pikelets and beyond, they all have the same defining characteristic. They are flat. “Flat as a pancake,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary has been a catchphrase since at least 1611.
It is surmised that pancakes may have been around since Neolithic humans domesticated einkorn wheat, ground it into flour, mixed it with bird’s egg and goat’s milk and poured the batter onto heated rock.
Based on archeological evidence that I could find on the web, the oldest pagan festival that involved pancakes was the Slavic holiday of Maslenitsa. It was held around mid-February and involved preparing hot round pancakes in the sun’s image in hopes these would banish the evil winter gods and invoke springtime and warmer weather.
Pancake Day is generally celebrated on Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) as it’s named by the French. Historically, people feasted on this day, using up all the foods in the house that they would be giving up for the next 40 days. These were things like meats, fish, eggs, fats and milk products. Pancakes were the popular dish, as they were efficient, using up eggs, fats and milk with just the addition of flour.
Pancake Day may not be special to everyone, but it was to me when I was growing up. My mother was all about healthy food in the house and fatty foods, sweets and desserts were generally reserved for special occasions only. Pancake Day was one of them. It was Happiness Day.
I never knew what day it would be, but it always clicked the instant I walked into the house after school. The aroma of frying butter would greet me and I would smile listening to the rap of the beater against the glass bowl in the kitchen. My mother was mixing pancake batter. Yeah!
The dinner table setting was simple. A huge pile of steaming crepe-like pancakes would be placed in the centre, surrounded by serving dishes full of savory and delightful toppings. There were meat and vegetables fillings reserved for the ‘healthy first course’. (In my Mom’s opinion, that made up for what we ate next.) And then there were the creams, sugars and fruit preserves that would instantly transform a simple crepe into a medley of sweet delectable delight. I would carefully place an assortment of confections down the centre of a pancake, roll it into a tube and then devour each one with ebullient bites.
And this was the one batch of pancakes Mom never skimped on. There was always enough for Happiness Night and a little left over for dessert next day.
Pancake Day is about embracing a simple tradition, regardless of where or how it originated, making it your own and sharing some happiness with yourself and others.
Happy Pancake Day Everyone!