Alright, let’s do some historical(ish) cooking!
Today is Shrove Tuesday, the last day before lent. Pancakes have been a traditional food on this day for quite some time, at least back to the medieval period. Why pancakes? Because they let you use up all of those sinful eggs and butter and milk before the start of Lent. The holiday is a bit more flamboyant in some non-British parts in the world, known variously as Mardi Gras and Carnival… But, we’re British, so, pancakes.
And speaking of British History, I found possibly the oldest recipe for pancakes that ever made it to print in English, online at the British Library. From the “Good Huswife’s Jewell” in 1585, it’s worth clicking through just to see the image of the old manuscript. (You can also read the whole thing here: Good Huswife’s Jewell at Oakden, though curiously they put the date at 1597. Possibly another edition?). The recipe is as follows:
Take new thicke Creame a pint, foure or five yolks of egs, a good handful of flower and two or three spoonefuls of ale, strain them together into a faire platter, and season it with a good handfull of sugar, a spooneful of synamon, and a little Ginger: then take a friing pan, and put in a litle peece of Butter, as big as your thumbe, and when it is molten brown, cast it out of your pan, and with a ladle put to the further side of your pan some of your stuffe, and hold your pan …, so that your stuffe may run abroad over all the pan as thin as may be: then set it to the fire, and let the fyre be verie soft, and when the one side is baked, then turn the other, and bake them as dry as ye can without burning.
I may try the recipe exactly as described at some point, but since we’re having a pancakes-for-dinner day, and wow, a pint of cream and 4 or 5 egg yolks(!) would make a very, very rich pancake, I dialed it back on the cholesterol a bit. I don’t really feel like I’ve “cheated” the authenticity too much as they obviously had access to regular milk and eggs. The fact that the recipe lists a “handfull” of sugar, and one of flour is… interesting. I don’t really think they would have been equal portions. I’m also guessing from the fact that the “stuffe may run abroad over all the pan as thin as may be” that they were making something more akin to a crepe than a big fluffy modern pancake, so I broke out the crepe pan. Here’s the “modernized” recipe I came up with, based on the one above.
I used the recipe “To Preserve Fruit” on Leoba’s Historical Food blog to make the berry preserves to top the pancakes. It’s a 1604 recipe, so pretty close to the right era, and it’s wonderfully simple in terms of ingredients: an equal weight of sugar and fruit, and enough water to cover the sugar in the pot. The method is somewhat different from modern jam making, so I thought I’d give it a shot.
I did cheat in that I used frozen berries, and I used some of the juice that ran off as they thawed as “water”, which the recipe advised for low pectin fruit. Not because I thought my berries were pectin deficient so much as that they produced a lot of juice as they thawed and I may as well use it for something! The result was very dark, and full of berry flavor, but also (not surprisingly) incredibly sweet. I may have overdone it a bit when I topped my pancakes ^.^;
All in all, it was a successful recipe, although maybe a bit more like dessert for dinner than breakfast for dinner between the sweet pancakes and the very very sweet preserves. The pancakes themselves are a bit like a heavy crepe, although I found them much easier to work with than crepes I’ve done before. I think the amount of eggs makes them a bit more durable. If I do them again, I will perhaps make a sauce that’s a bit more tart, or maybe try them with lemon and powdered sugar, which is probably not period accurate, but I bet it would be tasty.