The History of the Pancake - A Fun Guide
Updated: Jun 20
Great news everyone! It’s Pancake Day tomorrow! (That is, if you’re reading this on February 28th 2022, when this article was published. If you’re reading this on any other day, then the likelihood is it’s probably not Pancake Day tomorrow. Well, it might be - you’ve got a 1 in 365 chance. So odds aren’t looking high for you. Maybe just have some pancakes anyway?) So we thought we’d celebrate by taking a look back at the history of the pancake.
Let’s try that again, but imagine it being said in a big, dramatic, film-trailer-man style voice:
“The Historyyyy of the Pancaaaake!!! ”
Pancake Day started as Shrove Tuesday. Shrove Tuesday normally falls on the day before the start of Lent. Lent is a 40-day period running up to Easter where Christians would traditionally fast, eat sparingly, and avoid celebratory festivities. On Shrove Tuesday, Christians would prepare for their fasting by using up any foods that they might be tempted by over the next 40 days.
This would include a lot of sugar, and fats like butter and eggs. The best way to use all of these products in one go? Pancakes of course!
The Earliest Known Pancakes:
Pancakes have been a favourite dish for hundreds of years. They have been featured in English cookery books as far back as the 1400’s. But their history stretches back even further than that.
The Ancient Greeks and Ancient Romans were both known to make and consume pancakes. The Romans made a dish called Alita Dolcia (meaning “another sweet” in Latin) and served it from stalls on street corners. Alita Dolcia was a type of flatbread, very similar to a pancake but with spices in the mixture which they would often serve with honey.
There are even recipes for different types of pancakes featured in ancient Roman cookbooks! The most well-known is the recipe for a type of Ancient Greek griddle-cake called “Teganitai”. The recipe features in the book “On the properties of foodstuffs” by Galen, an Ancient Greek who became one of the Roman Empire’s best physicians. More good news for you – you can still eat Teganitai in Greece today – and it’s basically the same recipe from ancient times!
The Ancient Greeks loved pancakes so much, that they even wrote about them in poetry. In the 5th century BC, Athenian comic poet Cratinus lovingly described the steam rising from his morning pancakes and Magnus described how they were served slathered in honey (yum!).
Stone Age Pancakes?:
Some experts believe that pancakes may date back even further than the Ancient Greeks. In fact, there’s a possibility that pancakes could have been eaten by people in the Stone Age, as far back as 30,000 years ago!
They weren’t quite pancakes as we know them today though. Starch grains have been found on cooking tools from 30,000 years ago that suggests Stone Age people were making a type of flour. They likely would have mixed this flour with water to make a batter, just like pancakes. Find out about more Stone Age food, here.
In fact, some historians believe they have found the remains of a pancake in the stomach of Otzi the Iceman. Otzi was alive over 5000 years ago and was found perfectly preserved in the ice of the European Alps in 1991. After studying his stomach contents, experts found his last meal to include ibex, red deer, einkorn wheat, and traces of carbon and toxic fern. Some historians believe the traces of carbon combined with the einkorn wheat could suggest he ate some sort of pancake that had been fried over hot coals.
If this is true, he must have preferred to top his pancakes with red deer meat. I personally prefer Nutella with mine.