10 Things You Might Not Know About Pancakes

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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.

Graham Crackers Were Invented to Combat the Evils of Coffee, Alcohol, and Masturbation

tatniz/iStock via Getty Images
tatniz/iStock via Getty Images

Long before they were used to make s’mores or the tasty crust of a Key lime pie, graham crackers served a more puritanical purpose in 19th-century America. The cookies were invented by Sylvester Graham, an American Presbyterian minister whose views on food, sex, alcohol, and nutrition would seem a bit extreme to today's cracker-snackers. Much like the mayor in the movie Chocolat, Graham and his thousands of followers—dubbed Grahamites—believed it was sinful to eat decadent foods. To combat this moral decay, Graham started a diet regimen of his own.

Graham ran health retreats in the 1830s that promoted a bland diet that banned sugar and meat. According to Refinery29, Graham's views ultimately inspired veganism in America as well as the “first anti-sugar crusade.” He condemned alcohol, tobacco, spices, seasoning, butter, and "tortured" refined flour. Caffeine was also a no-no. In fact, Graham believed that coffee and tea were just as bad as tobacco, opium, or alcohol because they created a “demand for stimulation.” However, the worst vice, in Graham's opinion, was overeating. “A drunkard sometimes reaches old age; a glutton never,” he once wrote.

Graham’s austere philosophy was informed by the underlying belief that eating habits affect people’s behaviors, and vice versa. He thought certain foods were "overstimulating" and led to impure thoughts and passions, including masturbation—or “self-pollution,” as he called it—which he believed to be an epidemic that caused both blindness and insanity.

Illustration of Sylvester Graham
Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Graham's views directly influenced Victorian-era corn flake inventor John Harvey Kellogg, who was born a year after Graham died. Like his predecessor, Kellogg also believed that meat and some flavorful foods led to sexual impulses, so he advocated for the consumption of plain foods, like cereals and nuts, instead. (Unsurprisingly, the original recipes for both corn flakes and graham crackers were free of sinful sugar.)

In one lecture, Graham told young men they could stop their minds from wandering to forbidden places if they avoided “undue excitement of the brain and stomach and intestines.” This meant swearing off improper foods and substances like tobacco, caffeine, pepper, ginger, mustard, horseradish, and peppermint. Even milk was banned because it was “too exciting and too oppressive.”

So what could Graham's followers eat? The core component of Graham’s diet was bread made of coarsely ground wheat or rye, unlike the refined white flour loaves that were sold in bakeries at that time. From this same flour emerged Graham's crackers and muffins, both of which were common breakfast foods. John Harvey Kellogg was known to have eaten the crackers and apples for breakfast, and one of his first attempts at making cereal involved soaking twice-baked cracker bits in milk overnight.

Slices of rye bread, a jug of milk, apples and ears of corn on sackcloth, wooden table
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However, Kellogg was one of the few remaining fans of Graham’s diet, which began to fall out of favor in the 1840s. At Ohio’s Oberlin College, a Grahamite was hired in 1840 to strictly enforce the school’s meal plans. One professor was fired for bringing a pepper shaker to the dining hall, and the hunger-stricken students organized a protest the following year, arguing that the Graham diet was “inadequate to the demands of the human system as at present developed.” Ultimately, the Grahamite and his tyrannical nutrition plan were kicked out.

Much like Kellogg’s corn flakes, someone else stepped in and corrupted Graham’s crackers, molding them into the edible form we now know—and, yes, love—today. In Graham’s case, it was the National Biscuit Company, which eventually became Nabisco; the company started manufacturing graham crackers in the 1880s. But Graham would likely be rolling in his grave if he knew they contained sugar and white flour—and that they're often topped with marshmallows and chocolate for a truly decadent treat.

7 Tasty Facts About Tater Tots

bhofack2, iStock via Getty Images
bhofack2, iStock via Getty Images

Whether you associate them with your school cafeteria, your childhood home, or your local dive bar, tater tots are ubiquitous. Creamy on the inside and crispy on the outside, the bite-sized pellets rival French fries for the title of most delicious potato product. But they’re more than just a tasty side dish—they’re also an upcycling success story, a casserole ingredient, and one of the few foods that’s more popular frozen than fresh. Here are some more facts about tater tots you should know.

1. The first Tater Tots were made from French fry scraps.

Brothers F. Nephi Grigg and Golden Grigg founded the Oregon Frozen Foods Company, later known as Ore-Ida, in Ontario, Oregon, in 1952. One of their first items was frozen French fries, and after seeing all the potato scraps they had leftover, they came up with an idea. By chopping up the potato parts, seasoning them, and molding them into pellets, they were able to create a new product. With help from a thesaurus, they landed on the name tater tot and debuted their creation in 1954.

2. Tater Tots are the main ingredient in Hotdish casserole.

Hotdish casserole with tater tots.
ALLEKO, iStock via Getty Images

Tater tots are typically served as an appetizer or a side dish, but in certain states, they’re part of the main course. Hotdish follows the long Midwestern tradition of tossing whatever’s in the kitchen into a casserole. It’s made by mixing together ground beef and frozen vegetables and topping it with a layer of tater tots before baking the whole dish in the oven. It’s a hearty match for Midwestern winters, plus, it’s a way to sneak more tots into your diet.

3. The name Tater Tot is trademarked.

If the golden nugget of potato-y goodness you’re eating is not Ore-Ida brand, it’s not really a tater tot. The Grigg brothers trademarked the catchy name shortly after developing the product, and Ore-Ida still holds its trademark on tater tots today. This doesn’t stop people using it as a catch-all term for the generic version of the food. Ore-Ida tried to combat this in 2014 by running an ad campaign warning customers not to “be fooled by Imi-taters.”

4. Tater Tots have different names around the world.

The all-American tater tot has spread around the globe, but it’s usually sold under a different name abroad. Tot-lovers in New Zealand and Australia may refer to them as potato gems, potato royals, potato pom-poms, or hash bites. The food is so popular in New Zealand that Pizza Hut launched a pie with a hash bite crust there in 2016. In Canada, they’re called tasti taters or spud puppies, and they’ve been labeled oven crunchies in the UK.

5. Homemade tater tot recipes may not be worth it.

Tater tots on a plate served with ketchup.
MSPhotographic, iStock via Getty Images

Tater tots are the ultimate convenience food—unless you try making them from scratch at home. Recipes online involve peeling and grating pounds of potatoes, frying them once, chilling them overnight, and then shaping them into tots and frying them a second time. Without the streamlined method and equipment of a factory, the process can take 12 hours. Even fine restaurants that feature tater tots on their menus often prefer the taste (and convenience) of the frozen stuff.

6. Idaho praised Napoleon Dynamite for featuring Tater Tots.

Napoleon Dynamite takes place in Idaho, and one of the ways the 2004 film pays tribute to the state is by prominently featuring the tot. The State of Idaho passed a resolution in 2005 commending the makers of the film, specifically thanking them for “promoting Idaho’s most famous export.”

7. The birthplace of the Tater Tot is hosting a Tater Tot festival.

Nearly 70 years after tater tots were invented there, Ontario, Oregon, is honoring its patron potato product by dedicating an entire festival to it in August 2020. The Tater Tot Festival will feature games, food vendors, and a Ferris wheel, plus special events like a tater tot-eating contest and a tater tot-themed play. The fair will end with the crowning of the tater tot festival king and queen.

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