Second century pancake recipe proves Romans had similarly sweet tooth

Second century pancake recipe proves Romans had similarly sweet tooth

February 16, 2021

When cooking pancakes in Rome! Classical cookbook reveals ancient Romans and Greeks loved crepes – and second century recipe proves they had similar sweet tooth to modern day fans

  • Dish is revealed in The Classical Cookbook by Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger
  • It dates from the second century AD but is very similar to a modern recipe
  • Greek poet Hipponax also wrote of pancakes ‘drugged with sesame seeds’ 

Millions of Britons who are set to make delicious pancakes today to mark Shrove Tuesday might wish to use a second century Roman recipe as a guide. 

Pancake Day sees people up and down the country opting for classic crepes, while others will go for fluffy American-style sweet treats.

Golden syrup and sugar and lemon are both traditional and very popular options which people choose to go with their kitchen creations.

But the below recipe for pancakes with honey and sesame seeds proves that the sweet treats were enjoyed by the Greeks and Romans too.

The guide dates from the second century AD and is featured in The Classical Cookbook, written by Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger and published by The British Museum Press. 


Millions of Britons are set to make delicious pancakes today to mark Shrove Tuesday. The sweet treats were enjoyed by the Romans too. Pictured left: A depiction of a Roman woman kneading dough. Pictured right: A carving of a pancake seller, which dates from the Second Century AD

Pancakes with Honey and Sesame Seeds (vegetarian) 

Serves 4 

These will be thicker than the crepe-style pancakes which most Britons enjoy. The recipe has been adapted for modern kitchens by authors Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger.

  Ingredients:  

  • 4.23 ounces (120g) flour 
  • 225ml water
  • 2 tbsp clear honey
  • Oil for frying
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds   

Method 

Mix the flour, water and one tablespoon of honey together into a batter. 

Heat two tablespoons of oil in a frying pan and pour a quarter of the mixture in.

When it has set, turn it two or three times to give an even colour. 

Cook three more pancakes in the same way. 

Serve all four hot with the remainder of the honey poured over and sprinkled with sesame seeds. 

The pancakes with honey and sesame seeds recipe dates from Second-Century Rome

What the Romans and Greeks said about pancakes 

Writing in the Second Century, Roman physician Galen laid out a description of making pancakes.

It is revealed in Mr Dalby’s and Ms Grainger’s new book, which itself is promoted on the British Museum’s blog.

Galen, writing in his work On The Properties of Foodstuffs, says: ‘Let us find time to speak of other cakes, the ones made with wheat flour. 

‘Teganitai, as we call them, are made simply with oil. The oil is put in a frying-pan resting on a smokeless fire, and when it has heated, the wheat flour, mixed with plenty of water, is poured on.

Writing in the Second Century, Roman physician Galen laid out a description of making pancakes. Pictured: A woman sitting by a bread oven

The Classical Cookbook, written by Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger, is published by The British Museum Press

‘Rapidly, as it fries in the oil, it sets and thickens like fresh cheese setting in the baskets. 

‘And at this point the cooks turn it, putting the visible side under, next to the pan, and bringing the sufficiently fried side, which was underneath at first, up on to the top, and when the underneath is set they turn it again another two or maybe three times till they think it is all equally cooked. 

‘Some mix it with honey, and others again with sea-salt.’  

The early Greek poet Hipponax also wrote of pancakes ‘drugged with sesame seeds’. 

When is Pancake Day and what is Shrove Tuesday? 

Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday, is celebrated in the UK, Ireland and parts of the Commonwealth on a Tuesday in February or March by gorging on pancakes before the 40 days of Lent.

Always preceding Ash Wednesday, Pancake Day falls 47 days before Easter.

Many Britons take to the streets to participate in pancake races.

In other countries, the day is celebrated with a carnival and is referred to as Mardi Gras, or ‘Fat Tuesday’, the last night of eating fatty foods before the fasting period of Lent begins.

When is Pancake Day?

Pancake Day falls on Tuesday, February 16 in 2021, 47 days before Easter on Sunday, April 4.

However, Pancake Day will always be between February 3 and March 9.

Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday, is celebrated in the UK, Ireland and parts of the Commonwealth on a Tuesday in February or March by gorging on pancakes before the 40 days of Lent

What is Shrove Tuesday?

The phrase ‘Shrove Tuesday’ is derived from the word ‘shrive’ meaning ‘absolve’ and Christians consider any wrongs they may need to repent on this day.

Being the last day of the Shrovetide season, those who observe Shrove Tuesday will make a sacrifice, most commonly indulging in food, before starting the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday.

Why pancakes? 

Pancakes are eaten as a meal on Shrove Tuesday because it was a good way to use up rich and fatty foods such as eggs, milk and sugar before the 40 days of Lent.

During Lent, many Christians would refrain from eating food that would give them pleasure such as meat, dairy products or eggs.

Other than eating Pancakes, the UK has a rich history of celebrating the day in weird and wonderful ways.

In the 17th-Century, many English towns held Shrove Tuesday mob football games.

In Ashbourne, Derbyshire, the Royal Shrovetide Football game still takes place each year.

Pancake Day was also once a ‘half holiday’ and pancake races would be held and still occur in towns and villages across the UK.

The tradition started in Olney, Buckinghamshire when a housewife, while making pancakes, is said to have lost track of time and raced to church still carrying her frying pan and tossing it to prevent it from burning. 

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