Nothing beats a pancake breakfast! Growing up, come Sunday morning, I knew what was on the menu: pancakes, served up by my father. Pancakes are his specialty. Ask him what’s his secret to making such great pancakes, and he won’t tell you. But no secrets are kept if you hang out long enough in the kitchen. He’s got every pan going, and all the ingredients are all over the kitchen. You may as well have walked into pancake war zone, but who cares? his pancakes taste great, so clean up can wait!

So great in fact, that pancake breakfasts at my parents are a tradition held for not just family, but many friends as well. A little time spent in pancake study hall shows that dad is not alone in his love of sharing pancakes. They have become festive food the world over.

Depending on where you are in the world, the pancake is loosely defined. Basically, it would appear that nearly anything goes provided it is formulated on a 1-to-1 ratio. For each part flour, you balance it out with another part liquid, and you’ve got a pancake. Cooked in a pan or on a hot griddle, it will come out thinner than cooked in an oven – but even the cooking method offers flexibility.

Pancakes are universal fare going hand-in-hand with festivals. Americans know them traditionally as thick, round, and dry griddle cakes stacked up with a hearty pad of butter and smothered in maple syrup. Take a trip to England, and the pancake is quite different. Thinner and oilier, pancakes are often rolled up with sugar and lemon juice in the center. Then, of course, the French have the crepe. All of these are various forms of pancakes, and, of course, some are healthier than others.

My father’s recipe, from what I have observed, relies primarily on oil as the liquid ingredient! In recent years, he’s turned to olive oil (because it’s healthier!!), but there’s been no consideration to cutting back. His pancakes are thinner than the typical American pancake. Definitely not health food, these pancakes are sinfully good – but then, the history of the pancake would suggest that this is exactly what they are supposed to be!

The tradition of making up batches of pancakes to be shared with family and friends began in the middle ages and then became linked with the Christian practice of Lent in the fourth century. The Lenten practice meant giving up meat, fats, eggs, and milky foods for 40 days. The cupboards needed to be cleaned out, or all the food would go to waste in those 40 days, so the pancake was created to clean out the cupboards.

The tradition of eating up the fat gave rise to the French name, Mardi Gras, which meant “fat Tuesday.” Gather all your eggs, fats, and milk in the house, add the flour, and pancakes were born. And while you’re at it, have a festival as the last hurrah – confession of sins followed by abstinence and self denial would follow for the next 40 days.

Over time, many festivals became centered around the pancake. The English have pancake races each year dating back to 1445. Legend has it that a woman was busy cooking up her pancakes on fat Tuesday, when she heard the church bells ring she realized that she was late for church. Without thinking, she ran out in the street in her apron with fry pan in hand. Every year since, Olney in Buckinghamshire has had a “flap jack” race. The competition is open to women 16 years and older. They must wear traditional housewife costume consisting of apron and head covering. They run a 415-yard course with fry pan in hand, flipping pancakes. The winner must have the fastest time, and the most flips. Extra bonus points are rewarded for the height of the flips!

The race became international in 1950 when the town of Liberal, Kan., challenged Olney, and has been challenging them ever since. As of the year 2000, Liberal was leading Olney 26 wins to 24. Who knows – maybe some day, Scarborough will adopt the pancake race tradition.

But for now, the 350th Anniversary Commmittee will be serving up pancakes at Winterfest on Saturday, Feb. 18, at Scarborough High School from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. This all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast will be cooked up by Scarborough resident Jack Kelly. Like many great pancake cooks, he’s got his favorite recipe and great sausage. Suggested donation is $5 per person. Sinfully delicious pancakes with no mess to clean up. That’s my idea of a pancake breakfast. See you there!

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