Pancakes, crêpes, flapjacks, riddle cakes, galettes… My kitchen has been filled with the results of experiments with griddle batter cakes – savoury and sweet. Yes, it’s that time of year, nearly Shrove Tuesday – also known as Pancake Day here in Britain. It marks the end of Carnival and the beginning of Lent.
Most of my experiments have dealt with non-wheat flours – buckwheat, barley, oat, chestnut. All but the chestnut flour came from the nearby Caudwells Mill in Rowsley, Derbyshire – now a listed building and historic museum in the heart of the Peak District. The golden barley pancakes (as seen in the image at the beginning of this post) were inspired by Finnish barley flatbread, Ohrarieska – see my earlier post At the Mill – made with barley flour, sweetened with a small amount of vanilla sugar and spiced with a pinch of ground cardamom. I was also on the trail of an Icelandic rye pancake, but as yet have not found an authentic recipe. My other experiments, however, followed tried-and-true traditional English and Continental European recipes.
In my kitchen is my 1977 edition of Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery. It is particularly useful for history and lore of traditional English breads and flat cakes, baps and rolls, crumpets and muffins, dumplings and doughnuts, etc. and etc. I am not normally a fan of standard store-bought British bread (too dry, too tasteless, too soft crusts), but many of the forgotten regional and festival breads described in this book – especially the yeasty pancakes made with oats, barley and buckwheat – are well worth reproducing.
Soft scrambled eggs with dill make a great filling for my traditional Derbyshire oatcakes. These are large flat griddle cakes much like crêpes, but made with a mixture of fine ground oats and wheat flour. Because they are made with yeast, they’re like flat, floppy, oaty crumpets. Traditionally these are served with sausage, bacon, black pudding, egg and other elements of a “Full English Breakfast” (see my earlier post Not Your Typical Oatcake).
Unlike the English buckwheat pancakes described in Elizabeth David’s book, French galettes are not made with yeast. They are thin, more like crêpes, made simply with buckwheat flour, salt, water and eggs. They are often filled with savory ingredients – like melted Gruyere cheese, smoky ham and sautéed mushrooms. Customarily, they are folded, making a square basket for the filling.
Necci are traditional chestnut flour crêpes made in the Garfagnana region of Tuscany – the chestnut growing area near the town of Lucca (homeland of Puccini). They are usually filled with ricotta (sometimes sweetened with honey) but also served with prosciutto or other cured meats. Absolutely yummy!
In my kitchen is my iPad – the perfect tool for culinary (pancake) research. It is always to hand with internet access plus scads of historical, out of copyright cookbooks downloaded and stored in iBooks. By a mere fluke, I stumbled upon a recipe from the 18th century for pink pancakes in The Experienced English Housekeeper by Elizabeth Raffald (1786 edition). The cookbook devotes three pages to pancake making – using such ingredients as beetroot (the pink in the pink pancakes), orange flower water, tansy juice, clary (a type of sage), brandy and the more common nutmeg. Even with my love of kitchen experimentation, I was quite hesitant in reproducing this particular pink pancake. I have learned from experience that tastes from by-gone days do not always tempt the modern palate!
Putting the pancakes aside, what I’d really like to know is where have all the doughnuts gone? Growing up, heavily influenced by my Pennsylvania Dutch grandmother, Shrove Tuesday was always celebrated with doughnuts, not pancakes. It was Fasnacht Day. I should perhaps explain here that the Dutch in Pennsylvania Dutch is actually a corruption of Deutsch and therefore German ancestry, not Dutch. Fasnachts are fried doughnuts made and eaten on the Eve of Lent, common not only in Eastern Pennsylvania, but in Southern Germany and neighboring areas. So…I dug out my grandmothers old cookbooks and found her recipe. I made mounds of two types of mini fasnachts – one covered in cinnamon sugar and the other in confectioners’ sugar. Shrove Tuesday = Pancake AND Doughnut Day!
In my kitchen are Lenten Roses – Hellebores – from the garden. I’ve planted them in strategic spots near entrances to the house in accordance with an old Welsh superstition that says they ward off evil and protect the home. They bloom just in time for Lent. Just in time, too, for a little fasting after all those pancakes and doughnuts.