With Lent fast approaching I thought it would be good to dip once again into the cookbook of Hannah Glasse to see how she made pancakes.
This is an 18th century Dutch dish such as Hannah Glasse might have used to serve up her pancakes*.
Traditionally of course pancakes were made on Shrove Tuesday, when western Christians were shriven of their sins and used up foods they were forbidden to eat during the fasting period of Lent. Because the date of Easter is moveable so is the start of Lent, which this year begins on Ash Wednesday, February 13th.
This time of year is also known as the ‘hungry gap’, when foods stored over the winter are running out and new spring crops have not yet come in.
Hannah Glasse lists seasonal foods in her book and mentions a huge range of fish available during the winter – many now unavailable or ignored, including a surprisingly large range of freshwater species the fishing for which, of course, would not be so adversely affected by winter weather.
She mentions dorey, brile, gudgeons, gollin, smelts, crouch, perch, anchovy and loach, scallop and wilks, periwinkles, cockles, mussels, geare, bearbet and hollebet. She also advises on how to chose for freshness salmon, pike, trout, carp, tench, grailing, barbel, chub, turbot, cod, ling, skate and thornback, sole, sturgeon, herring, mackerel, lobsters, prawns and more.
Of January Fruits which are yet lasting, she lists some grapes, fifteen varieties of apples (most of which I regret to say I have never heard of) and five kinds of winter pears. In February she adds to the list the Pomery, the Winter Pipperning and the Dagobent Pear. Even in March, and with no refrigerated storage, she expected to have available five apple varieties and two pears. By April her list of available vegetables and salads is increasing and includes cucumbers, mushrooms and purslane grown on hot beds – making use of the huge quantities of manure available to 18th century farmers and market gardeners.
We are not so used now to having to think seasonally about our food, but even in our relatively sheltered economy the UK is suffering some shortages due to having experienced an eighteen month drought followed by many months of exceptionally high rainfall. Farmers are still unable to lift root crops from saturated ground, two weeks of heavy snow meant crops such as leeks and greens could not be harvested, and until the ground dries out new seed cannot be sown as cultivation with heavy machinery only compacts the soil destroying its structure. In any case the ground is so wet that seed would rot if planted.
Although food prices are pushed up by such conditions, the wealthy West can today afford to import food to make up any shortfall. It is worth remembering that 18th century Jamaicans too were heavily dependent on imports, despite the island’s potential for growing its own food, with planters preferring to give their land over to the monoculture of sugar, coffee and other cash crops. Some native foodstuffs, such as the green turtle, were exported to the profitable markets of London, and in the fifth edition of her book Hannah Glasse included lengthy instructions on preparing a turtle in the West Indian Way. This was for a turtle weighing sixty pounds!
And so back to pancakes. Hannah Glasse included several pancake recipes in her book, most of which are far more generous with cream, eggs and butter than is fashionable now. Most use spices such as cinnamon, mace and nutmeg as well as sugar, and in the case of at least one recipe the quantity of nutmeg is quite large.
If you are thinking of trying the recipes remember 18th century eggs would have been smaller than today, and spare a thought for Hannah when you reach for the packet of caster sugar. She would have had to shave her sugar off a Jamaican sugar loaf and to pound it with pestle and mortar to achieve the desired fineness; her nutmegs would have been bought whole and her cinnamon as curled bark, all to be grated and pounded by hand.
Several of the recipes make use of ‘sack’ which was a fortified white wine approximating to a sweet sherry. It was imported into England, but would also have been imported into Jamaica from the Canaries which were on the shipping route for the outward journey of many of the supply ships.
18th Century Cream Jugs recently sold by Lacy Scott and Knight.
To make Fine Pancakes.
Take half a Pint of Cream, half a pint of Sack, the Yolks of eighteen Eggs beat fine, and a little Salt, half a pound of fine Sugar, a little beaten Cinnamon, Mace and Nutmeg; then put in as much Flour as will run thin over the pan, and fry them in fresh Butter. This sort of Pancake will not be crisp, but very good.
Take a Quart of Milk, beat in six or eight Eggs, leaving half the Whites out, mix it well till your batter is of a fine thickness. You must observe to mix your Flour first with a little Milk, then add the rest by degrees; put in two Spoonfuls of beaten Ginger, a Glass of Brandy, a little Salt, stir all together, and take your Stew-pan very clean, put in a piece of Butter as big as a Wallnut, then pour in a Ladleful of Batter, which will make a Pancake moving the Pan around, that the Batter be all over the Pan; shake the Pan, and when you think that side is enough, toss it, if you can’t, turn it cleaverly; and when both sides are done, lay it in a Dish before the Fire, and so do the rest. You must take care they are dry; when you send them to the Table, strew a little Sugar over them.
A Quire of Paper
Take a Pint of Cream, six eggs, three Spoonfuls of fine Flour, three of Sack, one of Orange-flour Water, a little Sugar, and half a Nutmeg grated, half a pound of melted Butter, almost cold; mingle all well togeether, and Butter the Pan for the first Pancake; let them run as thin as possible; when just coloured they are enough: And so do with all the fine Pancakes.
Interestingly her pancakes seem mainly to have been served on their own with sugar rather than with sweet or savoury fillings.
* By Leoboudv (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons