The History of Pancakes

Pancakes are ancient food. The word pancakes appears in print as early as 1430. Pancakes may have been around since Neolithic humans domesticated einkorn wheat, ground it into flour mixed with bird’s egg and goat’s milk and poured the batter on a heated rock. 

It happened before there were pans and long before ovens. The ancient cooks dropped a little gruel on a hot rock of campfire, resulting in thin cakes that were tastier than plain gruel or cakes cooked directly in the embers of the fire.

Perhaps because of this ancient lineage, pancakes are associated with rituals in many countries – Shrove Tuesday, Candlemas, and Chanukah to name a few.

From these rudimentary beginnings sprang a vast array of bread and pancakes, but the two were originally the same.

The ancient Greeks used griddles to cook a flat loaf drizzled with honey called ‘kreion’ and cakes of soft cheese.

The Romans as revealed in the cookbook by Apicius made dishes similar to modern pancakes.

Medieval pancakes, frequently made batter from barley or rye and lacking leavening, were relatively heavy affairs. They were quite different from contemporary fluffy or tender versions.

Pancake Day is another name for Shrive Tuesday, from the custom of eating pancakes on this day, still generally observed.

Shrive is an old Saxon word, of which shrove is a corruption and signifies confession.

The custom of dining on pancakes on Shrove Tuesday is of Roman Catholic origin that on the day when all rejoiced alike in the forgiveness of their sins, all should feast alike on the same simple dish. The pancakes were prepared, denoted by the ringing of the ‘pancake bell’ from the church tower.

Pancakes are an essential part of a classic American breakfast. One of George Washington’s breakfast foods were pancakes that were literally drenched in maple syrup. He would plunge each piece of his pancake under the syrup, sopping it good before he ate it. 

Pancakes somehow evolved to be exclusively Sunday morning or overnight-guest breakfast fare. Since they are easy to make and there are so many different ways to prepare them, pancakes are a favorite hearty food to cook for a crowd.

The first colonial settlers were taught by local Native American to make griddlecakes from Rhode Island Narragansett maize. These griddlecakes soon became a staple, known among the settlers as johnnycakes.

Pancakes prevailed as the household bread in homes with no ovens, only an open hearth.

Pancakes from around the Globe

There is a style of pancake associated with almost every culture around the world.

Here are some you may be familiar with.

They all differ slightly from the pancakes we know in the UK, but all are formed from similar ingredients and cooked and prepared in a similar fashion.


Russia…….                             Blinis


Greece……                            Tiganites    


Hungary…..                           Palacsinta  


India………..                           Rava Dosa


Austria……                            Wein Palatschinken


America…                            Flapjacks or Johnny Cakes


France……                             Crepes Suzette  (originally created for the Prince of Wales)


China……..                            Scallion Pancakes (reported to be the forerunner of the                                               modern day pizza, taken back to Italy by Marco Polo)


Japan………                          Okonomiyaki


Iceland……                           Ponnukka  


Korea……..                            Jeon


Poland…..                             Syrniki


South America…                 Cachapas



and New Zealand…             Pikelets


The list appears to be  endless, as each culture has adapted many variations of the humble pancake, both nationally and regionally and though they have developed throughout the centuries, they all stem from the same basic ingredients.