This Pancake Day I indulged my inner food-historian and recreated two medieval pancake recipes.
Galen explores the nutritional properties of literal ‘pan-cakes’ (têganitai) in his On the Properties of Foodstuffs (De alimentorum facultatibus, 2nd century); yet, historic recipes for traditional pancakes are rare due to their simple set of ingredients and easy cooking instructions. For this reason, the first ‘pancake’ I made comes from the Apicius Manuscript, an early 5th century collection of Roman cookery recipes.
Ova spongia ex lacte (egg sponge with milk) does not call for flour like a traditional pancake recipe, but it is the earliest written example of a ‘cake’ made in a pan!
- 4 eggs
- A hemina (240 ml) of milk
- Honey and pepper to garnish
- Beat eggs into the milk
- Heat oil in a frying pan
- Cook egg/milk ‘batter’ on one side, then flip and cook the other side
- Serve with pepper and honey
Unsurprisingly, this recipe turned out a bit like a soggy omelette. However, in his De alimentorum facultatibus, Galen suggests that the honey served with the Ova spongia ex lacte ‘gives rise to a humour that is a mix of thick and thin, and in healthy people [is] better for liver, kidneys and spleen than those [foods] that have been prepared without honey’. So, despite the odd texture, the honey garnish makes this ‘pan-cake’ beneficial for our internal humoral balance!
While the recipe wasn’t overly delicious, I was astounded by the ancient origins of the humble pancake.
Albala, Ken. Pancake: A Global History (London, 2008).
Apicius. The Roman Cookery Book: A Critical Translation of the Art of Cooking, for Use in the Study and the Kitchen. Trans. Elisabeth Rosenbaum and Ed. Barbara Flower (London, 1958).
Galen, On the Properties of Foodstuffs (De alimentorum facultatibus). Trans. Owen Powell (Cambridge, 2003).