10 Things You Might Not Know About Pancakes

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iStock

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 from scratch.

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.

Student chefs learn how to flip a pancake
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

By the 15th century, many European countries made their own types of pancakes from scratch 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. Pancake recipes from around the world create various forms, from the wafer-thin, buttery French crepe to the savory, crispier Japanese okonomiyaki.

3. Pancake Day is about more than just IHOP.

In the UK, 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 40 days of abstinence before Easter practiced by Christians. 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 made from scratch.

4. Pancake races have been around for centuries.

Women race while holding frying pans with pancakes
Fox Photos/Getty Images

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.

6. Aunt Jemima was the first lady of pancake mix.

A magazine ad for Aunt Jemima pancake mix, 1934
Classic Film, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

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 registered the Aunt Jemima trademark.

7. One man holds numerous pancake-flipping records.

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 told a local newspaper 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.

A boy flips a pancake in a frying pan.
Orlando/Getty Images

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 an average hippopotamus.

Measuring over 49 feet in diameter and weighing 6614 pounds, the world's biggest pancake was made in Manchester, England 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.

Woman flips a pancake from a plate
Keystone/Getty Images

The Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel's Opus One restaurant in Manchester, England holds a place on the culinary map for inventing the "most expensive pancake in the world." Created in 2014, it set you back a solid £800 (around $1050 today), but at least that included lobster, caviar, and Dom Perignon champagne.

3 Delicious Mac and Cheese Dishes You Need to Try

A mac and cheese burger
A mac and cheese burger
Mental Floss Video

Is there a more comforting comfort food than macaroni and cheese? If you love mac and cheese—and wish you could include it in every meal—these recipes are for you. Chef Frank Proto, Director of Culinary Operations at the Institute of Culinary Education, has cooked up three creative recipes that use macaroni and cheese as their main ingredient. For a cheesier cookout, try Chef Frank’s fried mac and cheese burger buns; for more upscale dinners, try the mac and cheese stuffed peppers; and for a perfect party appetizer, we recommend the bacon-wrapped mac and cheese. These recipes transform the classic comfort food in surprising ways—and they’re perfect for revitalizing leftover mac and cheese.

Chef Frank's Classic Mac & Cheese Recipe

Ingredients:

1 Box Elbow Pasta
4 ounces (8 tablespoons) butter
3-4 tablespoons flour
4-5 cups milk
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 pound American cheese
1 pound cheddar cheese, shredded
Salt and black pepper, to taste

Instructions:

  1. Cook elbow pasta to desired doneness.
  2. Heat butter in a sauce pot over medium heat.  Add the flour until you get a wet sand consistency. 
  3. Cook over low for 3-4 minutes stirring frequently. 
  4. Add the milk and the garlic and let come to a simmer. 
  5. Lower the heart and let cook for 15-20 minutes.
  6. Add the both cheeses and whisk until combined.
  7. Add the cooked pasta and coat well. 

Mac & Cheese Burger Buns Recipe

Ingredients:

Macaroni and Cheese
2 Eggs
1 Cup Flour
1 Cup Bread Crumbs
Burger Patty
Lettuce
Tomatoes
Condiments (ketchup or mustard)
Vegetable Oil

Instructions:

  1. Refrigerate mac & cheese for two hours.
  2. Use a ramekin or a cup to cut out burger bun shape.
  3. Add flour, egg (beaten), and breadcrumbs to separate bowls.
  4. Dip mac and cheese buns in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs consecutively, covering on both sides.
  5. Turn stove on medium high heat and add oil to pan.
  6. Fry mac and cheese buns until golden brown on both sides (about 30 seconds to a minute).
  7. In a separate pan on medium high heat, grill burger patty until it reaches desired doneness.
  8. Build your burger: Add burger patty, lettuce, tomatoes, and your favorite condiments to your mac and cheese burger patties, then dig in!

Bacon-Wrapped Mac and Cheese Recipe

Bacon wrapped macaroni and cheese.

Ingredients:

Macaroni and Cheese
Bacon
Bread Crumbs

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. In a pan with oil, cook bacon until cooked through but not yet crisp.
  3. Grab a muffin or cupcake tin. Line tin with bacon, using one piece per cup.
  4. Pour mac & cheese into tin.
  5. Sprinkle breadcrumbs on top.
  6. Bake bacon-wrapped mac & cheese in oven for 10-15 minutes or until bacon is crispy.
  7. Let bacon-wrapped mac & cheese cool before removing from tin.
  8. Carefully remove each piece of bacon-wrapped mac & cheese from tin, using a knife to separate any stuck edges.

Mac and Cheese Stuffed Peppers Recipe

Macaroni and cheese stuffed peppers.

Ingredients:

Macaroni and Cheese
Cooked chorizo
3 Bell Peppers
Bread Crumbs
Shredded cheddar cheese

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Add cooked chorizo to macaroni and cheese, stirring in with sauce.
  3. Cut tops off of bell peppers and remove seeds.
  4. If bell peppers cannot stand upright on their own, slice bottom to level.
  5. Pour macaroni and cheese into bell peppers.
  6. Top with bread crumbs and shredded cheese.
  7. Place on baking sheet and bake in oven for 10-15 minutes until peppers are soft.
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Cheese Made from Celebrities' Microbes Is On View at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum

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iStock/bhofack2

London's Victoria & Albert Museum is home to such artifacts as ancient Chinese ceramics, notebooks belonging to Leonardo da Vinci, and Alexander McQueen's evening dresses—all objects you might expect to see in a world-famous museum. However, the cultural significance of the selection of cheeses now on display at the museum is less obvious. The edible items, part of a new exhibition called FOOD: Bigger than the Plate, were cultured from human bacteria swabbed from celebrities.

Though most diners may prefer not to think about it, bacteria is an essential ingredient in many popular foods. Beer, bread, chocolate, and cheese all depend on microbes for their signature flavors. Scientists took this ick factor one step further by sourcing bacteria from the human body to make cheese for the new exhibit.

Smell researcher Sissel Tolaas and biologist/artist Christina Agapakis first conceived their human bacteria cheese project, titled Selfmade, in 2013. When a chef and team of scientists recreated it for the Victoria & Albert Museum, they found famous figures to donate their germs. Blur bassist Alex James, chef Heston Blumenthal, rapper Professor Green, Madness frontman Suggs, and The Great British Baking Show contestant Ruby Tandoh all signed up for the project.

A display of the human-microbe cheese at Victoria & Albert museum
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Once the celebrities' noses, armpits, and belly buttons were swabbed, their microbiome samples were used to separate milk into curds and whey. The curds were then pressed into a variety of cheeses: James's swab was used to make Cheshire cheese; Blumenthal's, comté; Professor Green's, mozzarella; Suggs's, cheddar; Tandoh's, stilton.

The cheeses are being sequenced in the lab to determine if they're safe for human consumption. But even if they don't contain any harmful bacteria, they won't be served on anyone's cheese plates. Instead. they're being kept in a refrigerated display at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Museum-goers can catch the cheeses and the rest of the items spotlighted in FOOD: Bigger Than the Plate from now through October 20, 2019.

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