“Archaeological evidence suggests that pancakes are probably the earliest and most widespread cereal food eaten in prehistoric societies.”
Stone age people were making fern and cattail flour, mixed it with water and baked on hot rocks. This is the first pancake recipe that humans used to make. They were more like crepes to be precise, but nevertheless, they might be the reason why every single human in the world loves pancakes. It’s in our genes.
Pancakes for Civilized Cavemen
The idea of the Paleolithic diet was popularized in 2002 by Loren Cordain. This diet is based on foods supposed to be available to Paleolithic humans. It includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, roots and meat and excludes dairy products, grains, sugar, salt, processed oils, coffee and alcohol. Actually, the point is to avoid modern processed foods.
However difficult it may seem to make perfect pancakes without ingredients like milk and sugar, it is possible. Paleo pancakes usually involve fewer ingredients, which makes them faster and easier to make. For example, the recipe I love is made with banana, coconut flour and eggs mixed in a blender and cooked the standard way. Bananas or other fruits, like pumpkin or carrots are often in the batter together with coconut flour, almond flour or tapioca, whereas honey or molasses are used as a substitute for sugar. There is a wide range of non-dairy milk you can choose from, like coconut milk. You can even add home-made buttermilk made of non-dairy milk mixed with 1 tablespoon lemon juice.
Pancakes are definitely an ancient food. The first recorded mention goes back to 600 BC in an ancient Greek poet’s writings. Their pancakes were made with water and flour and sweetened with honey. Even today Greeks make and love their simple version of pancakes called tiganites. Nowadays they very often involve Greek yogurt and walnuts as well.
Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day is celebrated from 1100 AD. Since the church-mandated lent begins on Ash Wednesday people had to use up all dairy products and eggs before on Shrove Tuesday. So they started making and eating pancakes massively.
The modernized medieval recipe is made of milk, flour, egg whites and some yeast. The batter is deep fried and produces small and crispy pancakes. The trick is to work fast in order to avoid burning.
In the Elizabethan age pancakes were flavored with rosewater, sherry and spices. A recipe from an old Elizabethan cookbook includes flour, beer and eggs, as well as cinnamon, ginger and a lot of sugar. I found a great Pumpkin Ale Pancakes recipe which involves all of these ingredients and produces great orange and super fluffy pancakes. Using beer in pancakes is actually a great idea. The bubbles in all carbonated drinks contribute fluffiness and softness. Did you know that beer pancakes are actually called mancakes? Modern people, what can I say?
If you want to include rosewater in your pancakes I recommend the Rosewater Orange Pistachio Pancakes.
Spices remain constant in the pancake batter which was made with wheat flour, eggs and water, but they were rather rubbery because they involved no milk. Beer and wine were still used instead. Milk and sometimes cream became usual ingredients in the 1800s. Milk-free pancakes are common these days, but today we know how to replace milk in order to create super fluffy and soft pancakes. First of all, we have baking powder and baking soda. Second, we have non-dairy milk which, with a touch of acidity (lemon juice or vinegar), can be turned into buttermilk.
In the American colonies, pancakes were known as johnnycakes, hoecakes or flapjacks and were usually made with cornmeal or buckwheat, milk and molasses, whereas eggs were used occasionally. Buckwheat and cornmeal are great and healthy substitutes for regular flour. I love the Banana Buckwheat Pancakes with Strawberry Syrup. These pancakes are slightly darker and not as thick and fluffy as the classic ones but are still delicious and low in calories.
When it comes to cornmeal, I found my favorite decadent version in the Honey Cornmeal Pancakes with Bacon. I love it because it simply bursts with flavors.
Finally, to bring pancakes home, the flapjack becomes officially known as the pancake in the 1870s and maple syrup becomes a favorite topping in the 1880s. The rest is history.