Wishing you a happy but belated Pancake Day

Pancake Day came and went quietly this year. It’s a holiday I never heard of before I moved to the U.K. and it’s such a quiet one that I’d been here a couple of years before I even noticed it.

Pancake Day is also known as Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent starts. Traditionally, anyone who kept Lent gave up everything fun, and that put a lot of pressure on that last pre-Lent day. So New Orleans went wild with Mardi Gras and still does. Brazil cut loose during Carnival and keeps right on doing it. And the British? They eat pancakes.

Does this country know how to throw a party or what?

Screamingly irrelevant photo: This is from New Zealand and has nothing to do with anything. Nice, isn't it? Photo by Ida Swearingen

Screamingly irrelevant photo: This is from New Zealand and has nothing to do with anything here. Nice, isn’t it? Photo by Ida Swearingen

The logic of Pancake Day is inescapable. People were supposed to give up eggs, milk, and sugar during lent, so they used them up the night before by making pancakes. What were they supposed to do with the eggs the chickens went right on laying and the milk the cow kept on giving? Because cows and chickens don’t care if it’s Lent. They don’t believe in any religion, and even if they did biological processes are hard to control But what do I know? I’m Jewish and I’m an atheist, and if that isn’t enough I grew up in New York, where we didn’t keep a lot of cows or chickens. So I’m not an expert on this stuff. In fact, I thought all a person had to do during Lent was give up one thing, like orange bubble gum or blue frosting. But maybe that’s a toned-down modern approach.

Anyway, these days Britain’s long on tradition but light on traditional religion. So it substitutes eating pancakes for emptying the cupboards of all the good stuff and entering a somber season in a sugar-free, egg-free, lactose-free condition. And even I can get behind eating pancakes, although not on a fixed day every year, which accounts for me being late with this post.

So let’s talk about pancakes. They never go out of season.

British pancakes—at least the ones I’ve had—are more like French crepes, which is to say, thin. I first tasted them when a neighbor borrowed some flour because he had to make pancakes that night–it was Pancake Day–and in payment he brought us each a pancake, with lemon (I think) and (definitely) sugar. They were good. I can’t think of a bad thing to say about them. But sometimes a person just wants a thick ol’ American pancake. So be warned, I’m leading up to a recipe. Because no matter how good British pancakes are, I believe in the American version. What can I tell you? Talk to me about food and I’m capable of unreasoning patriotism.

I’ve seen British food writers offer approximations of American pancakes and they have some strange ideas about how we make them. One adds vanilla and honey but no baking soda or baking powder. Which is why she has to beat hell out of the egg whites. Another beats hell out of the whole mix until it’s thoroughly blended and lumpless, which is a good idea if you’re making a cake but not so great if you want pancakes, because they need a lumpy batter.

Why the food writers don’t just look in an American cookbook I don’t know, but here’s my recipe.


Serves 2 moderate eaters; for enthusiastic eaters, double the recipe and eat the leftovers cold and straight from the refrigerator

1 cup (4 oz.) flour

1 tsp. sugar

½ tsp. salt

¾ tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. bicarbonate of soda

1 egg

½ cup (or more) buttermilk (or plain milk with about 1 tsp. of cider or white vinegar added*)

1 Tbsp. (½ oz.) melted butter

Optional: blueberries, peaches, or raspberries

Put the dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk them together. That’s instead of sifting. I’m a lazy cook and this works. Beat the egg into the milk and add it to the dry ingredients. Add the butter. Stir until just barely mixed, leaving some lumps. Add more milk if you need to until you get a thick but pourable batter. The thinner the batter, the thinner the pancakes will be.

Stir the fruit in last.

Heat the frying pan (or several pans, which will let you cook them faster) over a medium-high heat until a drop of water bounces (in theory; I usually settle for it sizzling madly). Add a bit of oil or butter and spread it with a spatula. If you’re using a non-stick pan, you don’t need much; if you’re not, you’ll need more and will have to add more before each new pancake. Pour in a ladleful of batter. I generally make my pancakes a bit bigger than CD-size. but you can make smaller ones if you like. Hell, you can shape them into the letters of the alphabet if you want, but they’ll be hard to flip. Don’t put a cover on the the pan. Bubbles will rise and then break, signaling that the bottom’s probably done. Sneak a look and if it’s brown, flip the pancake. Leave the second side on the pan long enough for the center to cook through.

You may need to adjust the heat as you go. If the pancakes burn, turn it down. If they don’t brown, turn it up. You’d probably have figured that out without me saying it.

You can feed them to the ravening hordes as they get done of keep them warm in a very low oven until they’re all cooked and you can sit down yourself.

Serve with butter and maple syrup. Or if you’re in a Lenten kind of mood, with plain old yogurt, which is surprisingly good with them.


*The milk will curdle when you mix in the vinegar. That’s fine.

57 thoughts on “Wishing you a happy but belated Pancake Day

  1. 1) I have a giant bag od american pancake mix that my husband found in costco because I don’t typically have buttermilk in the house…it is so big it will keep us going for about 70 millennia!

    b) a friend of mine, decided to give up alcohol for lent to see if she could, in an attempt to end the world she suggested I give up caffiene!! I considered it for the afternoon, and in the process drank 7 cups of coffee…I decided against it!

    I think I prefer British pancakes, the remind me of being a child :-)

    Liked by 3 people

  2. A cousin of mine emigrated to America many years ago. She came back to visit us sometime in the mid ’60s. We thought it would be a good idea to take her to a pancake house. She took one look at the puny English version served up on her plate, and said: ‘That’s not a pancake’.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. It is interesting to hear that the cakes in Britain are thin. I have never had a thin pancake in my life, and of all the pancakes I’ve eaten here in Australia, they have all been thick. Like American pancakes. Quite a few places here in Melbourne call pancakes “hotcakes”. Don’t know if that’s a term you are familiar with. In America, I hear the term “flapjacks” is used as well.

    This year is the first time I’ve heard of Pancake Day. There were free pancakes being given out at a train station near me but unfortunately I wasn’t passing by there that day.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I love pancakes. I’m OK with crepes too, but I love pancakes. Even if I am having eggs and bacon for breakfast in a restaurant, I will add a short-stack of pancakes. Many churches and organizations in New England (perhaps elsewhere) will have (fundraising) pancake suppers on the Saturday before Palm Sunday. I’m not sure what the tradition is rooted in. Almost any day is a good day for pancakes.

    Liked by 3 people

    • A pancake breakfast is a great fundraiser. Sadly, the fundraising breakfasts here are what they call big breakfasts–eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, baked beans, maybe mushrooms. I love mushrooms, I like eggs, and I don’t mind toast (the rest of it, for me, you can keep in the kitchen), but they’re just not pancakes.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Regarding your question about the cows and chickens, during Lent, the devoted are supposed to culture the milk for cheese and hollow-out/paint the eggs for Easter.
    Your pancake recipe is fairly close to my own. My family could eat pancakes all the time. Sadly, I only make them 2-3 times a year when I want them. I feel like I just stand in there flipping forever!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. But now we have to wait till after Easter to do these, right? At boarding school run by nuns, Lent meant no jam on our breakfast rolls – no butter would have been appropriatly Lenten too, but indeed, then what do you do with the milk? (this was Switzerland :) )…

    Liked by 3 people

          • Well, I don’t have an exact recipe. I just do it by rule of thumb. Here’s what goes in:
            – 1 egg
            – some milk [sorry, I can’t give an exact amount, especially as I sometimes add milk if the batter is too thick]
            – flour [same as with milk: I sometimes add more if the batter ist too thin]
            – sugar [I go by tasting the batter]
            – salt [less than a teaspoon, maybe half a teaspoon]
            beat all this up to make quite thick a batter and then, in my recipe, add unflavoured mineral water to make a fairly thin batter [the mineral water makes the final pancakes fluffy without using baking powder]
            don’t reall beat up the final batter so as not to get all the CO2 out
            pour batter into a preheated pan with some oil [I use non-stick pans, but still a little vegetable oil], add sliced apples [I prefer Gala or Fuji], and let cook on slow heat till the underside is brown, then turn over and let the “apple side” brown to your liking
            sprinkle some sugar over finished product
            sugar mixed with cinnamon would be fine, too [not to my liking, though]

            depending on how often I have to add milk or flour to get batter of the consistency I like it might make just 3 pancakes or maybe up to 6

            So: my final advice would be just to experiment ;)


  7. Even though I’m British, I’ve never like thin pancakes, and when my mum used to make them , she always did them that bit thicker (though maybe not as thick as the American version). Still used to put sugar and lemon on them of course.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I have never observed Lent, having been an almost lifelong atheist raised by parents who only attended church for funerals and weddings, but I always observed pancake day because, you know, any excuse for making lots of pancakes. I always made the crepe kind and always ate them as a dessert. My favourite ways to eat them were with ice cream and golden syrup or with clotted cream and a sharp fruit compote. Then I met my half-American husband who introduced me to fat and fluffy American pancakes and my pancake munching world expanded. Strangely though I tend to serve eat the chunky pancakes with savoury food, mainly eggs in my case. Both versions are equally delicious.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. To prove you don’t have to leave the country to encounter strange and bizarre customs: I moved to Philadelphia after growing up Catholic in New England (where we never quite successfully gave up chocolate or watching cartoons for Lent) to discover “Fasnacht,” a Pennsylvania Dutch/German celebration of the donut on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Yes, this is, in fact, a thing! Donuts! But I guess it goes along with that eggs/butter/milk business.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I’ve read references to Candlemas but never had the oomph to find out what it was about. Thanks for that: It’s about pancakes. And the Virgin Mary. That’s an obvious connection.

      Actually, in spite of the pancakes, I’m not convinced the two holidays are connection. But the pancake recipe? It definitely derives from crepes.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. What a great idea with pancake day! We have both thin and thick pancakes in Sweden and some local variations in different places in our country. We also have pancake cake. Thin pancakes in several layers with cream and berries between the layers.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: How people find a blog, part 5ish | Notes from the U.K.

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