"The best Pancakes": Food and Drink in History's Guide to Shrove Tuesday

21 February 2022

This blog includes temporary free access to The English House-wife (1631) until 25th March 2022. Click the image below or access the document here.

Shrove Tuesday is fast approaching, so what better time to reach into Food and Drink in History for some historic pancake recipes? Those hoping for a more traditional Pancake Day can consult Gervase Markham’s 1631 edition of The English House-wife. Amongst other recipes “for griefe in the Stomacke”, “to eate away dead flesh” and “to take away Scarres of the Small-poxe” sits Markham’s method for “the best Pancakes”.

Gervase Markham's pancake recipe
The English house-wife, 1631 © Material sourced
from the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds

Unlike more modern cookbooks, Markham eschewed precise measurements, timings and temperatures in favour of more loose instruction. His recipe calls for “two or three egges”, “a pretty quantity of fair running water” and an unspecified amount of cloves, mace, cinnamon and nutmeg, before the batter is made “thicke as you thinke good with fine Wheate-flower”. To Markham’s credit, he does caveat the volume by stating that “much of it was a Manuscript which many yeeres agon belonged to an Honourable Countesse” – possibly an attempt to distance himself from the somewhat vague nature of the recipes.

For a slightly more flamboyant feast, readers might delve into the Julia Child collection from Schlesinger Library. 2022 marks 60 years since the pilot episodes of Child’s pioneering television cooking show, The French Chef, aired on WGBH. One of the first cookery programmes on American television, it capitalised on the success of Child’s co-authored book Mastering the Art of French Cookery and, like its predecessor, inspired the US public to try French recipes at home. Copies of scripts for the pilot episodes give a sense of the programme’s approachable, accessible style. Child guides the viewer through each step of preparing her dishes, with encouraging remarks throughout. “I’d like to be with you when you make your first omelette!”, she said in her closing piece of the first episode, “Do one right away, while all this is fresh in your mind and eye. It’s fun.”

Portrait of Julia Child © Lynn Gilbert via Wikimedia Commons
Julia Child, 1978 © Lynn Gilbert
via Wikimedia Commons

Of course, The French Chef could hardly live up to its moniker without including the Breton classic dish, the crêpe. A script for a French Chef demonstration in 1973 entitled ‘Triple Entente’ contains recipes for a full three course menu: eggs in – what else? – aspic, fish in a brioche crust, and flaming crêpes to finish. Although considerably more complex than Markham’s traditional recipe, Child’s certainly could be said to embrace the Shrove Tuesday practice of using up indulgent, fatty ingredients before Lent. The walnut and kumquat-filled pancakes are laced with Cognac and a reasonable quantity of butter (Child once famously said “With enough butter anything is good”). Child describes her Crêpes Flambées in the script as “a flaming finish without table-top acrobatics”; they would undoubtedly make a showstopping, if very 70s, end to a Shrove Tuesday feast.

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About the Author

Emma Woodcock

Emma Woodcock

Since I started at Adam Matthew in the summer of 2018, I've worked on a range of projects including Socialism on Film, Food and Drink in History and America in World War Two. My academic interests lie in Early Modern book history, literature and politics.