A Brief History of a Classic Breakfast Food

Whether it’s called “Flapjacks”, “Johny Cakes”, “Hoe Cakes” or just plain “pancakes”, the evidence is clear – it is a really old form of food. In fact, its ancient, as evidenced by written text dating to the early 1400’s. It is possible that the Neolithic people ate pancakes derived from einkorn wheat blended with bird eggs and goat’s milk and cooked on heated rocks.

The ancient Romans and Greeks ate pancakes smothered in honey and the Elizabethans preferred them with spices, sherry, and apples. Pancakes had their own day known as Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day), which was a day of feasting before Lent where they were consumed in large quantities. It also served the purpose of consuming milk, eggs, and butter, foods prohibited during Lent.

George Washington favored pancakes for breakfast and it is said that he literally drowned the pancakes in rich maple syrup, sopping up every bit of syrup with the pancake before eating it. Thomas Jefferson was another President that had a love affair with the pancake, so much so that he brought the recipe to his Monticello home from the White House. The pancakes of Jefferson’s day were heavier than current day pancakes and were called griddle cakes.

It is claimed that early colonial settlers learned to make pancakes by the Native Americans, who used maize or corn flour from Rhode Island. These cakes quickly became a household staple as bread also, as there were no ovens – only open-fire hearths. Somehow, through history, pancakes evolved into a Sunday-only breakfast item or for overnight visitors.

Pancakes are made by combining flour, eggs, milk, and baking powder. They are round about four or five inches in diameter, and about a quarter inch thick. There are also vegan pancake mixes that do not contain animal- based ingredients, such as Hampton Creek pancakes, that are also delicious. Pancakes are typically cooked on a hot griddle or frying pan with butter or oil.

In the U.S. and Canada, pancakes are typically served at breakfast, piled in a stack containing three or four pancakes, covered in butter and maple syrup, preferably real rather than artificial. They will often be accompanied by sausage or bacon and eggs. Other favored toppings include honey, peanut butter, jelly, whipped cream, molasses, or powdered sugar. Other variations include mixing blueberries, raisins, strawberries, chocolate chips, apples, or even cheese, into the batter.