What's the story of the pancake?

GVien reached out during mrlucky's dark period with this entreaty:

Mr. Lucky: My youngest daughter, always trying to "stump the geezer" has decided that I would not be able to come up with the story on the pancake. So far, it appears she's right; I've tried a number of web things to no avail. You appear to be my last hope, Mr. Lucky. don't let the pressure get to you...just bear down and try to assist a fellow American, albeit long in the tooth, to pull yet another one over his youngest...How did the pancake come into being, by who and when? An answer would be greatly appreciated and would probably make you famous (locally, at least)

Thanks to the anonymity of e-mail, mrlucky has no idea to where his fame may have spread, but that won't stop our quest.

It's pretty much impossible to identify a person responsible for the pancake, but as you can see from the orts and leavings below, the pancake is at least 300 years old, and perhaps as much as twice that. The term flapjack dates back to circa 1600. johnnycake and hoecake are from the 1700's. Pancake seems the earliest term, from the 14th century. I hope this stuff helps you with your inquisitive youngster.

It never hurts to start with the dictionary: Merriam Webster Dictionary Main Entry: 1pan·cake Date: 14th century a flat cake made of thin batter and cooked (as on a griddle) on both sides.

Thanks, M-W. The New Food Lover's Companion, Second Edition, by Sharon Tyler Herbst elaborates thusly:

As one of humankind's oldest forms of bread, the versatile pancake has hundreds of variations and is served for breakfast, lunch and dinner and as appetizers, entrées and desserts. Pancakes begin as a batter that is poured into rounds, either on a griddle or in a skillet, and cooked over high heat. These round cakes vary in thickness from the wafer-thin French CRÊPE to the much thicker American breakfast pancake (also called hotcake, griddlecake and flapjack ). Many countries have specialty pancakes such as Hungarian PALACSINTA and Russian BLINI.

At the vast Epicurious site, the pancake's ancestry got this once over:

johnnycake; johnny cake, jonnycake johnnycake; johnny cake, jonnycake Thought to be the precursor of the pancake, the johnnycake dates back to the early 1700s. It's a rather flat griddlecake made of cornmeal, salt and either boiling water or cold milk; there are strong advocates of both versions. Today's johnnycakes often have eggs, oil or melted butter and leavening (such as baking powder) added. Some renditions are baked in the oven, more like traditional cornbread. Also called hoe cake or hoecake .

American Cookery by Amelia Simmons published in 1796, was the first cookbook to contain native American specialties. Two of the recipes included were Indian slapjack (pancakes) and the above-mentioned jonnycake. Lots of folks have purchased reproductions of this seminal tome. At Haystax, I found the charming page entitled "Elly-May's RECIPES FROM WAY BACK", in which we learn the specifics of the slapjack:

The Kentucky lady who sent us this un says it was printed in an 1796 cookbook. One quart of milk, 1 pint of Indian meal, 4 eggs, 4 spoons of flower, little salt, beat together; bake on griddles, or fry in a dry pan, or bake in a pan which has been rub’d with suet, lard or butter.

The Good Cooking website featured this missive in its guest recipe section.

Dear John,

I was searching the web for a flapjack recipe and was delighted to find the one on your pages from Ms Alyx Jenkins, Brentford, Middlesex, UK. I also originate from the UK, and this is the flapjack of my childhood.
The 'Shorter' Oxford English dictionary has three definitions:

1. A flat cake or pancake; an apple turnover (usage dates from early 17th Century)
2. A sweet biscuit made from rolled oats (usage dates from mid 20th Century)
3. A powder compact (usage dates from mid 20th Century)

Chambers 20th Century Dictionary has a similar entry: a kind of broad, flat pancake (Shakespeare): an apple puff (dialect): a biscuit made with rolled oats and syrup: a flat face powder compact.

So it seems that flapjack has been used to describe a pancake for far longer than an oat biscuit! Despite it's use by Shakespeare, however, most British people will only know it as the oat biscuit. It seems that the original meaning has persisted in the States. The powder compact is news to me!

Shakespeare's use of 'Flapjack' Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Act 2, Scene 1 First Fisherman (to Pericles): ...Come, thou shalt go home, and we'll have flesh for holidays, fish for fasting-days, and moreo'er puddings and flap-jacks, and thou shalt be welcome. '97

Best wishes, Sian Goldthorpe Stein, Munich, Germany

Phew! A woman who quotes Shakespeare on the subject of griddle cakes. mrlucky is abashed. mrlucky pretty much stole this column from the rest of the web. mrlucky is hungry. Slapjacks, anyone? I'll get the suet!

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