Honestly, every day should be pancake day, but today is the day that gets the official designation. For National Pancake Day, here are 10 facts you might not know about the lovely, fluffy breakfast favorites.
1. THE ROMANS INVENTED PROTO-PANCAKES.
While some suggest that Ötzi the Iceman was eating einkorn wheat in an early sort of flatbread form, most food historians say that the earliest pancake-like dish, known as Alita Dolcia ("another sweet" in Latin), was made by Romans in the 1st century CE from milk, flour, egg, and spices. They were sold hot from vendors on the corners of the new market squares—the first version of our modern-day crepe stand, you might say. Rather than slathering them in syrup, they'd use honey to sweeten their pancakes.
2. YOU SAY PANCAKE, I SAY PANNENKOEK.
A group of trainee cooks from the London School of National Cookery watch an expert toss a pancake, circa 1933. Getty
By the 15th century, many European countries had their own types of pancake using a wide range of ingredients such as wheat, buckwheat, occasionally alcohol like wine or ale, and herbs and spices like cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. In 18th-century Friesland (a province in the Netherlands) the traditional wedding breakfast was pannenkoek with milk and honey. Pancakes take various forms around the world, from the wafer-thin, buttery French crepe to the savory, crispier Japanese okonomiyaki.
3. PANCAKE DAY IS ABOUT MORE THAN JUST IHOP.
In the U.K., Ireland, and Australia, Pancake Day (also known as Pancake Tuesday) is celebrated on Shrove Tuesday (which you might know better as Fat Tuesday). It's the last day before Lent, the traditional Christian 40 days of abstinence before Easter. Traditionally, the custom was to empty the pantry of all sugar, fats, and eggs to avoid temptation and reduce waste. These ingredients were put to good use by making and consuming large batches of pancakes.
4. PANCAKE RACES HAVE BEEN AROUND FOR CENTURIES.
A pancake race in Olney, England in 1927. Getty
The all-female annual Pancake Race began in the town of Olney, England in 1445. Legend says it was inspired by a harried housewife arriving at church on Shrove Tuesday still clutching her frying pan, complete with the pancake. Since 1950, the race has become an international event, with the Olney racers competing against the women of Liberal, Kansas. Unfortunately, this year's Olney leg suffered from a technical glitch, meaning no official time was recorded for its winner and making a showdown with Liberal impossible. As it stands, the ladies of Liberal are leading with 37 wins to Olney’s 29.
5. PANCAKES HAVEN'T ALWAYS BEEN IN VOGUE.
In 1935, Vogue told its readers that "pancakes are frankly difficult and not worth eating at all unless they are of paper thinness and succulent tenderness." These days, they seem to have changed their tune—they at least offer a recipe for gluten-free chocolate banana pancakes online.
The world's first pancake mix was made by the R. T. Davis Milling Company, who hired storyteller, cook, and missionary worker Nancy Green as a spokesperson for their Aunt Jemima mix in 1890. Green was born in Montgomery County, Kentucky, and she played the Jemima character until her death on September 23, 1923. In 1937, the Quaker Oats Company first registered the Aunt Jemima trademark.
7. ONE MAN HOLDS NUMEROUS PANCAKE RECORDS WITH GUINNESS.
The flipping-a-pancake-while-running-a-marathon award goes to Dominic "Mike" Cuzzacrea, who completed a 1999 marathon at Niagara Falls in a time of 3 hours, 2 minutes, and 27 seconds—all while battling wind from the falls. Of course, he had to have some specialty gear, considering he was estimated to have flipped the pancake once every 1.8 seconds for the duration of the race. "There’s a special technique for the pancakes," Cuzzacrea said last month while reminiscing about his pancake-flipping runs. "When you make them for a marathon, they have to be wrapped in Saran Wrap with weather stripping because they have to go through 5000 to 6000 flips over 26.2 miles, plus consider the elements of wind and rain."
And, that wasn't Cuzzacrea's first time setting that particular record, nor would it be his only pancake-related record. He also holds the record for the highest pancake toss at 31 feet, 1 inch, which he set in 2010.
8. PANCAKES ARE FLAT, BUT SEVERAL U.S. STATES ARE FLATTER.
Circa 1955. Getty
A tongue-in-cheek study from the Annals of Improbable Research used polynomial equations to figure out that Kansas was flatter than a pancake, but six states are flatter, namely Florida, Illinois, North Dakota, Louisiana, Minnesota, and Delaware. Incidentally, according to the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, the phrase "flat as a pancake" has been used since the 1500s to describe everything from flat-chested women to the vast Australian outback.
9. THE WORLD'S LARGEST PANCAKE WEIGHED MORE THAN THE AVERAGE HIPPOPOTAMUS.
Measuring over 49 feet in diameter and weighing 6,614 pounds, the world's biggest pancake was made in Manchester, U.K. in 1994 by the Co-Operative Union, Ltd. And yes, in order to qualify for the record, the giant pancake must be flipped and be edible.
10. THE WORLD'S MOST EXPENSIVE PANCAKE COST MORE THAN A TRANSATLANTIC FLIGHT.
Circa 1957. Getty
If your love of pancakes knows no bounds (and you have a budget to match), the Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel's Opus One restaurant in Manchester, U.K. holds a place on the culinary map for having the "most expensive pancake in the world." Created in 2014, it would set you back a solid £800 (around $980), but at least that includes lobster, caviar, and Dom Perignon champagne.
If you’re an American fan of The Great British Bake Off you probably know it better as The Great British Baking Show (though its most devoted fans simply call it GBBO, which saves a lot of time). While its ninth season just kicked off on England’s Channel 4, American audiences are only now just getting caught up on season eight via Netflix. And with new hosts Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig taking over for Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, plus Prue Leith taking over for Mary Berry as host, the latest incarnation of the show looks a lot different.
A bona fide global sensation, the baking competition has the power to cause otherwise rational human beings to immediately run to their nearest supermarket in search of obscure ingredients like psyllium or Amarula cream liqueur. It’s a charming, retro, warming hug of a TV show. But how much do you know about what goes on behind the scenes? Without destroying any of your illusions, here are some secrets about how the producers whip up one of the world's most beloved cooking shows.
1. THE REASON WHY IT HAS TWO DIFFERENT NAMES IS SIMPLE.
If you’ve ever wondered why the series is called The Great British Bake Off in England and The Great British Baking Show in America, the answer is simple: Pillsbury. The Pillsbury Bake Off, which kicked off in 1949, is probably America’s most famous baking contest. And the company didn’t want there to be any confusion among viewers, hence The Great British Baking Show.
2. THE OVENS ALL HAVE TO BE TESTED EVERY DAY.
It’s difficult enough to make a cake that Paul Hollywood won’t declare either under- or over-baked without having to worry about whether your oven is working properly. So for every day of filming, every oven has to be tested. And because this is a baking show, they’re tested with cakes. Yes, every day every oven has a Victoria sponge cake cooked in it, to make sure everything’s working exactly as it should be.
3. EVERY TIME SOMEONE OPENS AN OVEN DOOR, THERE'S A CAMERA WATCHING THEM.
To make sure they catch all the drama, GBBO producers insist that every time a bake is put into or taken out of an oven, the moment must be caught on camera. So whenever a baker wants to put their goodies into an oven, or check if they’re ready to come out, they need to grab someone to make sure the moment gets captured on film. (Which must be a hassle for the first couple of weeks, when there are more than 10 bakers all trying their best to produce a perfect bake at once.)
4. THE CONTESTANTS HAVE TO WEAR THE SAME CLOTHES ALL WEEKEND.
It’s a minor thing, but have you ever noticed that the bakers wear the same clothes for an entire episode, even though it’s shot over two days? For continuity purposes, the contestants are asked to wear the same outfits for the entire weekend. If you’re the kind of baker who ends up with flour all over your shirt whenever you bake up a loaf of bread, the second day of filming could be a bit of a nightmare.
"Luckily they change the aprons so we don't look like a Jackson Pollock painting by the end of it," 2013 champion Frances Quinn toldCosmopolitan. "I think layers [is the answer], but even then you still have to wear what you had on, on top. Difficult."
5. THE CONTESTANTS DON’T HAVE A LOT OF DOWNTIME.
Having any time to spare is not something that season seven contestant Jane Beedle remembers happening regularly for the contestants. "Maybe once or twice, and when they did we would just sit and have a cup of tea and chat with the people around us,” she told the Mirror. "They don't like it if you have nothing to do, so they try and make the challenges as difficult as possible to keep you busy."
6. THE TEMPERATURE IN THE TENT CAN MAKE OR BREAK A BAKE.
Forget setting the oven to the correct temperature—the temperature inside the tent is just as important to a bake. "It's completely alien to your own kitchen at home,” Quinn toldCosmopolitan. “The temperature fluctuates—you'd be making a meringue and it would start raining, or we'd try and make pastry and it would be 27 degrees outside. The technical challenges and lack of time and lack of fridge and work space are the enemy on that show."
7. THE ILLUSTRATIONS ARE CREATED BY TOM HOVEY, AFTER THE EPISODE HAS FILMED.
You know those fun illustrations of the confections that pop up when each baker explains what they’re going to make that day? Those are all drawn by illustrator Tom Hovey. He was working as a video editor on the first season of GBBO when the producers realized they needed an extra visual element—so he offered his illustration skills. And while we see the illustrations on screen before the bakers attempt to make them a reality, Hovey told the BBC he draws them “a pack of photos of the finished bakes from the set after each episode has been filmed … I sketch out all the bakes quickly in pencil to get the details, form and shape I am after. I then work these up by hand drawing them all in ink, then they’re scanned and colored digitally, and then I add the titles and ingredient arrows. It's a fairly well streamlined process now.”
Even if a bake goes horribly wrong, Hovey said his “illustrations are a representation of what the bakers hope to create. Even if the bakers don't produce what they’ve intended to I have a degree of artistic license to make them look good.”
8. THE CONTESTANTS DON’T INTERACT WITH THE JUDGES VERY MUCH.
“They very much tried to keep it unbiased,” Quinn said about how the bakers don’t spend much time interacting with the judges. “We saw a lot more of Mel and Sue. Mary and Paul would purely come in to do what we called the royal tour—where they'd come in and find out what you were making, and then they'd come back in for judging. You're not in the same hotel having sleepovers! You form more of a relationship after the show when you see them at things like BBC Good Food or whatever—but they need to keep their distance [on the show]. They're there as judges."
9. MAKING SURE THAT THE TECHNICAL CHALLENGE IS ACTUALLY POSSIBLE IS ONE PERSON'S JOB.
Another vital behind-the-scenes role is that of the food researcher. It’s down to them to make sure that the elaborate concoction the judges have decided the bakers have to whip up is actually possible, given the ingredients, instructions, and time the bakers will be allowed.
The tent presents its own challenges, too, because it could be hot or cold, depending on the weather, and it tends to have quite a wobbly floor, which can make delicate decorating work trickier than it might otherwise seem. “The tent is just mocked up, so the floor is really bumpy and bouncy because you’d got so many camera guys running around,” Quinn told the Irish Examiner.
10. THE SHOW GOT INTO SOME TROUBLE FOR ITS PARTNERSHIP WITH SMEG.
Part of GBBO’s homey charm has to do with the setup of the tent where the bakers do their cooking, and few appliances spell “retro” as well as a colorful Smeg refrigerator. A viewer fed up with what they described as “blatant product promotion” wrote to the Radio Times to complain, and an investigation was launched into the series’ agreement with Smeg. As BBC guidelines state that a series may "not accept free or reduced cost products" in return for "on-air or online credits, links or off-air marketing,” the broadcaster ended up having to write the company a check for all the times their product got some screen time.
11. THERE ARE NEVER ANY LEFTOVERS.
The judges only take a mouthful of every bake, which seems to leave an awful lot of leftover pastries, cakes, and ridiculously complicated bread sculptures. But don’t worry—none of it goes to waste. “The crew eats all the leftovers," Beedle toldThe Mirror. "We get some brought to us in the green room so we can taste each other's bakes, but it's only slithers."
12. HUNDREDS OF SEASON FIVE VIEWERS WROTE IN TO COMPLAIN ABOUT “SABOTAGE.”
Midway through season five, contestant Iain Watters had a bit of an issue with his Baked Alaska. Realizing that his ice cream had not yet set, he threw the entire dish into the trash rather than serve the judges a subpar dessert and was sent home as a result. Footage from the episode made is seem as if fellow contestant Diana Beard had removed his ice cream from the freezer. Beard left the show at just about the same time due to health issues, but some viewers (811, to be exact) smelled sabotage—and wrote in to the show’s producers to complain. Media watchdog group Ofcom looked into the matter, but said that they had assessed viewers’ complaints and “they do not raise issues warranting further investigation under Ofcom’s rules.”
Paul Hollywood took to Twitter to clear up what became known as “bingate,” tweeting: “Ice cream being left out of fridge last night for 40 seconds did not destroy Iain’s chances in the bake off, what did was his decision BIN.”
13. MARY BERRY WATCHED BREAKING BAD BACKSTAGE.
Although it looks pretty nonstop on screen, there’s quite a bit of downtime during the show’s filming days. Especially for the show’s judges and hosts. Former judge Mary Berry had one unique way of passing the time: binge-watching Breaking Bad. “It’s shocking,” Berry toldThe Telegraph. “Then you get into it and you think: ‘Have I seen episode four or five?’ You get hooked. It’s better than motor racing, which [my husband] Paul watches—though I’d prefer Downton Abbey.” She’d apparently rope former hosts Mel and Sue into watching it with her on occasion. What better way to relax during a long day of baking than by watching Walter White, umm, baking?
14. THE APPLICATION FORM IS NO JOKE.
Fancy your chances in the Bake Off tent? If you’ve been inspired by the show and reckon you could nab a couple of Star Baker titles, brace yourself: The application form is a whopping eight pages long, and it’s full of probing questions. As well as giving details of your hobbies, lifestyle, and level of experience with various types of baked goods, it also asks applicants to describe their baking style, and answer a couple of existential-sounding questions.
"It's a long application form. I think it's designed to put some people off, essentially," fourth season contestant Beca Lyne-Pirkis said. "It asks you about everything you have done, good and bad. It's designed to get information about your character, stories, mishaps and successes."
Still fancy applying? Though submissions are not open at the moment, you can keep your eyes open for when the next batch of contestants are being accepted here.
15. THE AUDITION PROCESS IS EVEN MORE GRUELING.
If you happen to make it through the application process, the audition process is even more difficult. “Every person who makes it into the marquee has passed a rigorous series of tests,” GBBO creator and executive producer Anna Beattie toldThe Telegraph. In addition to the application form, The Telegraph reported that there is “a 45-minute telephone call with a researcher, bringing two bakes to an audition in London, a screen test and an interview with a producer. If they get through that, there is a second audition baking two recipes … in front of the cameras, and an interview with the show psychologist to make sure they can cope with being filmed for up to 16 hours a day.”
Like it or not, Heinz Mayochup is on its way to a store near you. As Us Weekly reports, bottles of the blended sauce—made from mayonnaise and ketchup, naturally—will be available for purchase later this month.
Heinz's announcement of the condiment back in April was met with mixed reactions. Many were thrilled. Others repulsed. And people from Utah were pretty miffed that Heinz took credit for their beloved "fry sauce," a condiment that was reportedly invented by a local restaurant chain in 1948. (In addition to fries, the ketchup and mayo combo pairs well with burgers and can be used to make a variety of dips.)
Mayonnaise haters (we're looking at you, Millennials) may find Mayochup less than appealing, but at least it's better than Heinz's green ketchup, right? Mayochup also seems to be doing well in the United Arab Emirates—the only country where it's currently being sold. In April, Heinz took a poll on social media to see if there was any interest in bringing the condiment stateside, and 500,000 people voted in favor of the move. This week, the company launched another Twitter poll to see if there's similar interest in the UK.
If you happen to live in Culver City, California; Chicago, Illinois; or Brooklyn, New York, you may have the chance to sample it before anyone else in the country. These cities—preselected by Heinz for being the most "passionate" on social media about bringing Mayochup to the U.S.—are in the running to win a "food truck takeover." Free samples of fries and Mayochup will be dished out to passersby and diehard Heinz fans. People are now taking to Twitter to vote (using the template #MayochupYOURCITY), but act fast—voting ends September 18.