In Praise of Pancake Day

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Pancakes are important, I think we can all agree on that. This is also evidenced by the fact that we have an entire day devoted to them (and if you’re one of those weirdos who isn’t obsessed with pancakes… don’t speak to me or my all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast ever again). I should also mention here that I’m from the US. So, when I moved to Southampton, finding a kick-ass pancake place was at the top of my settling-in to-do list. Only it wasn’t quite what I expected. So here, in honor of pancake day, are a few fun facts about my experiences and my love of pancakes.

All Pancakes Are Not Created Equal

…and pancake culture is not universally the same. Being from the southern part of the US, I took for granted the fact that I could walk into any café and order a thick, fluffy pancake swimming in maple syrup. In fact, my favorite coffee order back home is a Maple Bacon Pancake latte. (Trust me, way more delicious than it sounds.  …And also about 5,000 calories). This is not the case in the UK!

For those of you who are UK born and bred, this is probably not news. When I finally found a place that served pancakes — a surprisingly difficult endeavor — I was stunned at the flat little crepe-like monstrosity that was placed in front of me. And that’s how I learned that UK pancakes are 1000% not the same thing as what I’m used to.

Stakks is a Pancake Oasis

As shopping centres go, Marlands isn’t quite Westquay, but it does have a hidden gem to offer: Stakks Pancake House. No ordinary café, Stakks is unique and quirky, with a vibrant color scheme and socially responsible practices, to say nothing of the amazing menu. You want pancakes? Okay. But would you like them layered with mango chunks, creme fraiche, mango coulis and vanilla ice cream? Or perhaps you’d prefer vegan pancakes. Maybe pancakes layered with bacon, hash-browns, and baked beans? Whether you’re in the mood for sweet or savory, Stakks has something for everybody, and their menus change with the seasons. (Christmas pro tip: ginger bread stack!)

As if that’s not enough, they describe their menu as being inspired by “cuisine all over the world.” Because not only do they have a Russian stack, a Mexican stack, and loads of other options, it turns out they weren’t just rubbing it in when they called out my order as, “The American!” They really do make American pancakes—and they’re awesome.

Pancake Day Has a Surprisingly Fun History

You may know that Pancake Day originated as a feast day before Ash Wednesday when 40-day fast begins. It’s also known as Shrove Tuesday because in the early Christian faith, worshippers went to confession and were “shriven,” an old English term for being absolved of your sins. Shrove Tuesday was the last opportunity to use up ingredients like eggs, milk, and butter before Lent began.

Bonus fun fact: a bell was rung to call people to confession and as the pancake trend caught on, the bell became known as “The Pancake Bell” (If I get a bell, can I ring it as an excuse to get myself pancakes anytime?) While those may not seem like the coolest trivia facts you’ve learned this week, I loved discovering that in the 1600s, pancake ingredients symbolized four special aspects the Christians associated with springtime:

  • Eggs, for new birth and creation
  • White flour, (apparently) indicating life (the jury’s still out on the logic of this one)
  • Salt, for wholesomeness
  • Milk, for purity

The symbols associated with these ingredients may not make the most sense, but it’s neat to know that at one point, pancakes meant more than just breakfast to people. Perhaps they do to us as well. Today, Pancake Day means fun with friends and family, a time to celebrate tradition and enjoy a favorite food. It’s a way to include “cultural outsiders” like myself, through a celebration of a dish that’s universally loved. And if you need an extra excuse to enjoy pancakes this spring, just tell people the meanings of the ingredients and say you’re focusing on purity and wholesomeness. Which, let’s be honest, is pretty much what pancakes are…

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