Pancake Day in the Georgian Era

We all like a good pancake so we thought we would take a trip back in time to look at some eighteenth-century recipes as well as some newspaper articles about pancakes. And like now, people didn’t just eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.

Caledonian Mercury, 13th August 1724

London, August 6. We hear from Harrow-weel, near Stanmore in Middlesex, that a Labourer’s Wife in that Parish, having been delivered on the Wednesday of a fine Child, was found the next Day by the Midwife, with her Stays lac’d on, frying Pancakes for her Husband’s Dinner.

 Salisbury and Winchester Journal, 23rd March 1767

IRELAND

Cork, March 5 – Monday last, at Mallow fair, a man choaked himself by excess of eating. He had laid a bet with his companion that he would eat three pennyworth of new bread and two pounds of cheese, while the other could sip two quarts of ale with a table spoon; and while the deceased was taking the last bit, he declared he had never before got such a delicious feast of the kind, but he was afraid it would spoil his meal of pancakes the next day. [Shrove Tuesday fell on the 3rd March that year.]

The Pancake Woman by Willem van Mieris c.1710-19 (c) Paintings Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
The Pancake Woman by Willem van Mieris c.1710-19
(c) Paintings Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

 Stamford Mercury, 1st April 1773

Extracts of a letter from Exeter, March 19.

Wednesday last Matthew Hutton, an ostler in this city, was committed to the gaol of this city for the murder of his wife; it appeared upon examination before the coroner, that on Friday last he came home and ordered his wife to get some pancakes for supper, which she did, and when she had fryed one, he took it to his plate, and then sent her out for some beer, during which time it is supposed he put some arsenic in the batter, as he ate no more, and she died the next morning at eight o’clock in great agonies; and on opening the body some arsenic was found, and several symptoms to corroborate the suspicion, and influence the Jury to bring in their verdict, wilful murder.

What adds to the general opinion that he is guilty is, that he endeavoured to poison her about a month ago in coffee, and never came home till the above evening for a long time past, keeping company with another woman. The remainder of the batter is taken care of, and is intended to be analysed.

[NB he was named Robert Hutton in a report of him being committed to gaol in the Bath Chronicle, 25th March 1773.]

Woman Baking Pancakes, Adriaan de Lelie, c. 1790 - c. 1810 Rijksmuseum
Woman Baking Pancakes, Adriaan de Lelie, c. 1790 – c. 1810
Rijksmuseum

Perthshire Courier, 16th August 1810

The warm approbation and applauses given by the generous inhabitants of the City of Perth, to the Exhibitions now in the Theatre here, are extremely flattering to Mr HERMAN BOAZ, and highly honorable to his labours; he seeks not to conceal that the love of public fame, more than private interest, is his chief thirst, and the applauses which every spectator have bestowed on his Performances, have amply gratified his expectations and wishes; he therefore, begs leave to render his unfeigned thanks to the numerous audiences who attended him the three first evenings, and begs leave to inform the Public, that he exhibits again on FRIDAY Evening, the 17th inst. August.

N.B. MR BOAZ begs leave to observe, that on the above evening, he will Fry Hot Pancakes, in a Gentleman’s Hat, without the assistance of Fire, or damage to the Hat. The Performance will conclude with the Grand Coup de Main.

The Doors will be opened each Evening, at half-past Seven o’clock, and the operations begin precisely at Eight, and finish at Ten.

PIT, 2s. – GALLERY, 1s.

Chester Courant, 26th February 1811

SHROVE TUESDAY – The following account of the origin of frying pancakes on this day, is copied from Mr Gale’s Recreations:- One Simon Eyre, a shoe-maker, being chosen Lord Mayor of London, instituted a pancake feast on Shrove Tuesday, for all the apprentices in London; and from that it became a custom. He ordered that, upon the ringing of a bell in every parish, the apprentices should leave off work, and shut up their shops for that day; which being ever since yearly observed, is called the Pancake Bell. In that same year he built Leadenhall, viz. 1406, so that the present Shrove Tuesday will be the 365th since its institution.

Chester Chronicle, 14th February 1812

Shrove Tuesday was celebrated in this city with the usual solemnities – pancakes, cockfighting, and fuddling, were the orders of the day; and scarce a snip or a snob were to be found within the hills of mortality – at work: it was a holiday for them, as it always has been from time immemorial – all the close pits in the neighbourhood were thronged with eager spectators of the royal pastime! As night spread around her dusky mantle, the participators in the festivities of the day staggered towards home, with head and pockets ‘light as air,’ many of them ornamented in the most luminous part of their person.

Kitchen-sene with a Girl frying Pancakes, Louis Aubert, 1740 - 1780 Rijksmuseum
Kitchen-sene with a Girl frying Pancakes, Louis Aubert, 1740 – 1780
Rijksmuseum

And we thought we would end with a few recipes, should you fancy trying something a little different this Pancake Day.

A recipe for Rice Pancakes (from the Oxford Journal, 20th February 1796)

Boil a quarter of a pound of ground rice in a quart of milk till the rice is tender, then strain it; put to the Rice four or six eggs, leaving out half the whites; cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar to your taste, and a large spoonful of flour; mix it some time before you fry them. Great attention must be given whilst frying them, lest they burn.

To make fine Pancakes

Take a pint of cream, eight eggs (leave out two of the whites) three spoonfuls of sack or orange flower water, a little sugar, if it be agreeable, a grated nutmeg; the butter and cream must be melted over the fire: mix all together, with three spoonfuls of flour; butter the frying pan for the first, let them run as thin as you can in the pan, fry them quick, and send them up hot.

To make a pink coloured Pancake

Boil a large beet root tender, and beat it fine in a marble mortar, then add the yolks of four eggs, two spoonfuls of flour, and three spoonfuls of good cream, sweeten it to your taste, grate in half a nutmeg, and put in a glass of brandy; beat them all together half an hour, fry them in butter and garnish them with green sweetmeats, preserved apricots, or green sprigs of myrtle. – It is a pretty corner dish for either dinner or supper.

Apple Pancakes – this recipe certainly sounds like one worth trying from William Ellis’s Country Housewife’s Family Companion!

Apple Pancakes for Gentry

We have even managed to find a Youtube ‘how to’ for pancakes using recipes in the book

Sources not mentioned above:

The experienced English house-keeper, consisting of near 800 original receipts by Elizabeth Raffald.

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6 thoughts on “Pancake Day in the Georgian Era

  1. I confess I’m puzzled as to how they would analyse pancakes for arsenic in 1773, predating Scheele’s test by two years, the first moderately reliable test for arsenic [though personally I’d not like to be sniffing for arsene gas which is pretty deadly.] Scheele was investigating arsenic generally and also invented at the same time Scheele’s green, so beloved in wallpaper and so potentially toxic on the walls…

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    1. joannemajor

      You’re quite correct but we’re afraid we’re as puzzled as you, and can’t give you an answer. From what we know of Scheele, his early death is partly attributable to his habit of sniffing and tasting various ‘interesting’ substances – hopefully not poisoned pancake batter though!

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      1. It wouldn’t surprise me at all! curiosity killed the … chemist. I know something of arsene, as my husband used to work at the cutting edge of optoelectronics, and they coated chips using it, for gallium arsenide, faster than silicon chips. He built some of the chips that are in the transatlantic fibreoptic cable. And there was enough arsene gas on the premises to kill our moderate sized town of 250k people. The firebrigade had a direct line to the works, and the employees were told that if they smelled garlic they might have time to recognise it before they keeled over. Laarverly!
        The only test before Scheele was to feed part of the suspected poisoned food to a dog and see if it died, which is a bit hit and miss. I can only assume that was what they meant! but I write Regency murder mysteries, so the connection clicked into place, and I had to go check up the dates…
        By the way, I just made pancakes for lunch,as you inspired me, served with maple syrup, lemon and nutmeg. Had never thought to use nutmeg before reading your post: beautiful!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Pancake Day in the Georgian Era – All Things Georgian | First Night Design

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