"The best Pancakes": Food and Drink in History's Guide to Shrove Tuesday
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 Markhamâs 1631 edition of The English House-wife. Amongst other recipes âfor griefe in the Stomackeâ, âto eate away dead fleshâ and âto take away Scarres of the Small-poxeâ sits Markhamâs method for âthe best Pancakesâ.
Unlike more modern cookbooks, Markham eschewed precise measurements, timings and temperatures in favour of more loose instruction. His recipe calls for âtwo or three eggesâ, âa pretty quantity of fair running waterâ and an unspecified amount of cloves, mace, cinnamon and nutmeg, before the batter is made âthicke as you thinke good with fine Wheate-flowerâ. To Markhamâs credit, he does caveat the volume by stating that âmuch of it was a Manuscript which many yeeres agon belonged to an Honourable Countesseâ â 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 Childâs 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 Childâs 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 programmeâs approachable, accessible style. Child guides the viewer through each step of preparing her dishes, with encouraging remarks throughout. âIâd like to be with you when you make your first omelette!â, she said in her closing piece of the first episode, âDo one right away, while all this is fresh in your mind and eye. Itâs fun.â
Of course, The French Chef could hardly live up to its moniker without including the Breton classic dish, the crĂȘpe. A script for a French Chef demonstration in 1973 entitled âTriple Ententeâ contains recipes for a full three course menu: eggs in â what else? â aspic, fish in a brioche crust, and flaming crĂȘpes to finish. Although considerably more complex than Markhamâs traditional recipe, Childâs 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 âWith enough butter anything is goodâ). Child describes her CrĂȘpes FlambĂ©es in the script as âa flaming finish without table-top acrobaticsâ; they would undoubtedly make a showstopping, if very 70s, end to a Shrove Tuesday feast.