I promise to keep this light and fluffy in honor of today's holiday.
National Pancake Day is once again upon us, and the best way to celebrate — obviously — is to go out and order a stack.
But what do we really know about one of the world's most popular breakfast items? Turns out, if you think pancakes are ONLY a breakfast item, then you probably don't know about the flapjack's historic background and its worldly notoriety.
Archaeological evidence has suggested that the pancake is probably the earliest and most widespread cereal food eaten in prehistoric societies.
The ancient Greeks made pancakes called tagenites — loosely translated, it means "frying pan." The earliest attested references are in the works of the 5th century B.C. poets Cratinus and Magnes. They were made with wheat flour, olive oil, honey and curdled milk, and were served for breakfast. Other variations were found to have been topped with honey, sesame and cheese.
Its shape and structure varies worldwide, with some cultures foregoing the rising agent in the batter, resulting in a thinner final product. In some countries, it's cooked in a special pan to achieve special designs in the bubbles on the outside of the food. Some cultures even fry them and fill them with fruit.
But the earliest use of the word "pancake" appears in England around the 1400s, making the official pancake at least 600 years old.
In the U.S., we know it to be fairly simple: A relatively simple batter mix on a hot pan or on a griddle, flip it once then serve with butter, syrup or any number of other items.
Turns out, that's just how Americans see it.
In central Europe, the various pan-cooked food is made very thin, then rolled and stuffed with jellies, spreads, sauces and other sweet treats. A Kaiserschmarrn is an Austrian pancake that includes raisins, almonds, apple jam or small pieces of apple; it's split into pieces and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Hungary has a version called the palacsinta made from flour, milk or soda water, sugar and eggs. Sweet wine is added to the batter and then, once cooked, it's filled with jams, walnuts or poppy seeds, sugared cottage cheese, sugared cocoa or cinnamon powder.
Some even have savory fillings. In central Europe, a version is filled with cheese, has yogurt poured over it and then is baked. Also popular with the Hungarian palacsinta are meat and mushroom fillings.
Traditionally, the rest of Europe prefers the thinner pancakes, often referred to as crepes, that are cooked in similar fashions with similar filings.
However, versions can be made with potatoes, saffron and rice. Typically, these "alternative" versions of the flapjack are from the northern parts of Europe. However, the Swedish have a version called the "eggcake" that is even thicker — up to 2 inches tall — and is served with jam and bacon.
In the UK and in Ireland, pancakes are often eaten as a dessert and are a staple on the table during Shrove Tuesday — the day preceding Ash Wednesday. Typically, it's served with a large beef dinner.
We even have our own unique flavors in the Americas outside of the traditional hotcake.
A Johnnycake uses cornmeal, and is typically associated with today's "Rhode Island" foods. Yanikekes are a fried version of the hotcake served primarily in the Dominican Republic. Sourdough pancakes were made by prospectors and pioneers who couldn't carry yeast. They would use a pot of sourdough to make pancakes and bread as it could last indefinitely, needing only flour and water to replenish. These are a specialty in Alaska. Many restaurants even still use the same strain of sourdough used by pioneers of the Alaskan frontier.
In Asia, the griddlecake takes on a more traditional cake sense. "Flapjacks" are often made from dough rather than batter, and are wildly different, depending on the region.
Australia uses a mish-mash of other continents' versions of the pancake, and African countries primarily use it as a "dipping" item, much like chips or flatbread would be used with other paste foods or sauces.
Worldwide, the pancake can take on many different shapes and sizes, but as far as this part of the world is concerned, a bit of batter on a griddle in a frying pan is all it takes to create the perfect pancake.
Whether you like short stacks or piling them high, today's the day to enjoy all that is the flapjack.