Although the word “pancake” dates back to at least 1430, the food itself is much older…ancient, even. There is some archaeological evidence to suggest that humans were possibly making a sort of pancake-like food from ground cattails and ferns as much as 30,000 years ago. We do know for sure, through written records, that the ancient Greeks and Romans ate pancakes with honey.
Pancakes, by many names, show up throughout history and across cultures, because of their simple ingredients, adaptability, and ease of cooking. The oldest forms of pancakes didn’t even require a pan, but were cooked on hot rocks in an open fire. Recipes varied based on locally available ingredients and personal tastes.
One of the major reasons for the continued popularity of the humble pancake is due to its association with pre Lent observances. In some areas, the day before Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent) is known as Shrove (or Shrive) Tuesday and everyone eats pancakes because they are a simple food and appropriate for this time of repenting of sins. In other areas such as New Orleans, this day is referred to as Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, which is a time of feasting and revelry. In these areas, pancakes are often eaten because they are a good way to use up the last of the eggs, butter, sugar, and milk that would go bad during the fasting season of Lent. As Christianity spread across the globe, local pancake traditions and recipes were assimilated.
Pancakes are a flat cake, made from batter and fried. They may be sweet or savory and served with or without toppings, as desired.
Recipes will vary, but modern versions will usually include some sort of flour, eggs, milk, salt, and melted butter or oil. Baking powder or other leavening would be added for thicker, fluffier pancakes and left out for thinner ones such as crepes.