Stir a pancake, Pop it in a pan. Fry a pancake, toss a pancake, catch it if you can.
When I was little I never understood the ‘Don’t forget the pancake on Jif Lemon Day’ advert. It was extremely clever advertising to establish their product, essentially processed lemon juice, as synonymous with Pancake Day, but I didn’t understand it because we never ever ever had lemon juice (fresh or processed) on our pancakes.
Growing up, pancakes were firmly reserved for Shrove Tuesday (usually after an afternoon spent watching Shrovetide Football in town, but that’s a whole other story). It simply never occurred to me to eat them on any other day. Such was the novelty that once whilst on holiday in Amsterdam I spent two hours finding a tiny restaurant that sold only pancakes (in the days before TripAdvisor and smartphones…). It was hidden in the red light district, high up some steep rickety wooden steps with only about four tables in the whole place. By the time we found it we were starving hungry and so late for lunch there was thankfully a free table. I demolished a creamy bacon pancake (a savoury pancake was a totally new phenomenon to me) followed by a chocolate and Cointreau concoction. Hung from the ceiling were hundreds of tea pots and trinkets. I just googled it and it still exists. If you’re ever in Amsterdam, and fancy a pancake it’s the place to go (Upstairs Pannenkoekenhuis) and you’ll probably manage to find it a lot quicker than we did.
The first pancake recipe was recorded in the fourth or fifth century in a collection of Roman recipes, with the suggestion of serving them with honey and pepper. When you think about it just about every corner of the world has some variation of a pancake; fluffy American ones, Australian pikelets, French crepes, Russian blinis, Indian dosas, and Malaysian spam baliks, Chinese scallion pancakes, and Korean kimchi pancakes. They can be made from buckwheat, rice flour, or lentils, buttermilk, goats milk, cows milk, nut milk, folded or flat, fat or thin, savoury or sweet, one could go around the world in a delicious journey of 80 pancakes.
In the UK it was traditionally a way to use up eggs and fat as a last feast before Lent began the following day, Ash Wednesday. In our house there would be a great ritual to the making. The sifting of the flour, the soft ‘flumphfff’ of the egg into the powder, the gentle whisking to avoid lumps and the slow pouring of full fat milk to give a smooth cream like liquid which was always made before supper, to give it at least half an hour to stand. The anticipation and excitement of this once a year treat would build over our main course. When the frying pan was hot enough and the butter sizzling, a ladle of batter would be poured in delicately and swirled around. The first pancake is always going to be rubbish. It’s the unwritten law of pancake making. Just accept that whilst it will taste the same, it will be a crumpled scrambled example, like the one Yvette Fielding produced on Blue Peter (its on Youtube). But after that will be the glory of a perfectly cooked pancake, looking like a golden moon in a pan, and the utter joy and heart stopping moment of flipping the pancake.
One year I refused to eat anything other than pancakes for tea and then felt pretty sick all evening. I remember once my brother coming home from a friend’s house complaining they’d had thick pancakes made with wholewheat flour that were apparently disgusting (this was the kind of family who ate yogurt when it was still only available in health food shops). At university we held a pancake party in our second year and spent the best part of the following week scrubbing and cleaning to remove all the pancakes trodden and ground into the carpet, stuck to the walls and tangled in our hair after the inevitable descent into chaos had happened.
Now I often make pancakes for my children’s breakfast rather than for pudding, and just as we did, they compete to see how many they can eat. The number of toppings that seem acceptable now has mushroomed; chocolate spread, jam, honey, ice-cream, berries, bananas, nuts, yogurt or go savoury with smoked salmon, bacon or cheese. I am sure we all have our favourites. Yet to me, these toppings are just froth and bubble, the unnecessary gilding of an already perfect pan cake. There can only be one topping, it’s not revolutionary, it’s actually pretty basic, and unfussy and should definitely not be accompanied by anything else. It’s just freshly squeezed orange juice. I risk opening up a bigger debate than Brexit now, but I encourage you to ditch the flouncy flavourings and savour simplicity this PCD. Now I just need to convince my children.