July 3, 2017
One could easily refer to the next few weeks as ‘pancake season’ in Calgary. The Calgary Stampede is drawing near and its harbinger, the pancake breakfast, is always along for the ride.
Whether you call them hotcakes, Johnnycakes, griddlecakes, flapjacks, or pancakes, the method is always the same; small flat cakes made of of fried batter, cooked in hot fat, oil or butter.
History of the pancake
If you read National Geographic you’ll find out that humans have been grinding grain and cooking it in one form or another for about 30,000 years. Milling grain, and mixing it with water, goat or sheep’s milk or eggs (think duck or quail) and cooking it on a scalding rock was about as easy a hot food as you could get back in ancient times, so it’s no surprise this simple food has stood the test of time.
While most of us these days use plain old flour for pancakes, there are recipes with more ancient grains like buckwheat, spelt or other flours.
Pancakes are Stampede tradition
In Calgary, pancakes have been traditionally tied to the Stampede. Lore has it that back in the era of the first Stampedes, free breakfast was an easy lure for the masses, and pancakes were a quick and easy crowd pleaser.
That tradition evolved with neighbourhoods inviting visitors to share flapjacks, shops engaging patrons with pancakes and communities getting together to celebrate and get to know one another.
Pancakes are also the ultimate cowboy food; they're fast, can be made easily at camp, the ingredients are infinitely transportable and when they’re cooked right, they require minimal cleanup.
Is it a pancake or a crepe?
What makes a pancake, a pancake? Is it the act of frying it? Is it the use of the pan? The answer is both yes and no.
Traditional pancakes are most often round and slightly fluffy with a spongy texture, thanks to the addition of some kind of leavening agent like baking soda or baking powder. Served piled several high, in North America they’re often paired with butter and maple syrup.
On the other hand, pancake cousin the crepe is much thinner and more delicate with a focus on special filings that get wrapped up in the crepey blanket.
Pancakes exist in all cultures
Many cultures have some variety of crepe they’ve been making for eons; the French have the traditional crepe or buckwheat galettes. For a delicious example of these, pop in to Calgary’s Suzette Bistro one day for lunch or dinner. With savoury, fresh fillings like mushrooms, eggs and greens they’re a light and satisfying meal folded up in a tender and lacey wrap.
Pannenkoek is the Dutch word for pancake. These extra large flat cakes can be had at the city’s Pfanntastic Pannenkoek Haus.
In central and eastern Europe you’ll find the sweet jammy palačinke.
There’s also a part crepe, part omlette version of a pancake called a socca made with protein rich chickpea flour (which also means it’s gluten free).
Whatever you call your fried batter and however you like it served, pancakes and crepes are an easy meal. While getting out to attend one of the many fun Stampede breakfasts is a great way to make new friends and meet your neighbours, you can also opt for quiet pancake breakfasts at home.
For a basic pancake recipe, mix flour, eggs, milk, baking powder, salt, and some oil or butter. This easy recipe can be your guide to perfect pancakes at home.
Want to attempt crepes? The keys to great crepes are leaving the batter to rest for an hour or so, and greasing the pan very well. You’ll also want to make peace with the fact that your first couple of crepes will probably be throwaways. But that’s why there’s lots of batter. Try this simple crepe recipe.
Whether you flip pancakes at your community centre or throw a backyard breakfast for the family, try one of these diverse types of pancakes this summer.