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Tasting Tudor Pancakes!

For Shrove Tuesday, Jennifer Reid takes the opportunity to try out something special: Tudor pancakes!

Jennifer Reid

Today is Pancake Day! Or should I say Shrove Tuesday, the first day of Lent.

Evidence of a pancake like food have been found in the tummy of a 5,300 year old iceman found in the Italian Alps, so they have been around for a fair few years, and the word pancake appears in print as early as 1430. The pancake appears all around the world and forms parts of many rituals or religious ceremonies, such as Shrove Tuesday, Candlemas and Chanukah. It goes under numerous different names - European crȇpes, Slovene palačinke, Dutch pannenkoekento or Austrian Palatschinken, but all bare the hallmarks of a similar recipe. They are eaten sweet or savoury, but the type we are interested in are Tudor pancakes.

Tudor Pancakes
The Pancake Bakery, 1560 by Pieter Aertsen (1508– 1575) Purchased by the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen with support of friends of the museum and the J.P. van der Schilden bequest

When Shakespeare was alive Shrove Tuesday is much as it is today – that is, people ate a great deal of  pancakes!. Dinner was at midday instead of the evening, and the pancakes would follow their main meal. The Tudors enjoyed heavily spiced foods, and regularly included ale or beer as ingredients instead of water. They ate very rich foods, and their pancakes could have been enriched with rose water, sherry, eggs, ale or butter – or a mixture of them all.

Markham's Pancakes
Pancake recipe from Gervase Markham’s English Housewife, 1615 (SR93.02)

Never one to shy away from a challenge – or an excuse to eat pancakes – I decided to have a go at making Tudor pancakes, all in the name of research of course. We have a couple of recipes in the collection, a particularly nice one can be found in The English Hufwife by Gervase Markham from 1623.  But I have chosen to test the following recipe from The good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin from 1588:

To make the pancakes:

Take new thicke Creame a pinte, four of five yolks of Egs, a good handful of flower, and two or three spoonfuls of ale, strain them altogether into a faire platter, and season it with a good handful of Sugar, a sooneful of Synamon and a little Ginger: then takea frying pan, and put in a little peece of Butter, as but as your thombe, and when it is molten browne, cast it out of your pan, and with a ladle put to the furthesr side of your pan some of your stuffe, and hole your pan aslope, so that you stuffe may run abroad all ouer all the pan, as thin as may be: then set it to the fyre, and let the fyre be verie soft, and when the one side is bakes, then turne the other, and bake them as dry as ye can without burning.

My helpful colleagues in the Education Department at the SBT have helpful translated this into something more recognisable as a recipe (it is available over on Shakespeare Week).

So how did it go? Well, needless to say the first pancake was a disaster. The recipe called for rather a lot of melted butter in the pan which was quite greasy, but once this was soaked up by the first pancake it was remedied.

Three steps of Tudor pancake making
Three steps of Tudor pancake making

Instead of following the recipe and making large pancakes I made wee ones instead so the recipe would go further. And they tasted delicious! They were extremely rich with all the cream, egg yolks, the spices, and ale, which altogether gave them a lovely flavour. We tried them with butter, honey, and jam, and judging by how long they lasted in our house, we can make a safe assumption that they were a resounding success!

Finished Pile of Pancakes
Finished pile of pancakes!

And finally, here is a cartoon of Shakespeare flipping a pancake. Happy Pancake Day!