Yesterday, as I am sure everyone is well aware, was Shrove Tuesday. A day when Facebook and Twitter feeds abound with people posting picture of their perfect pancakes. Several historical twitter feeds shared images of early modern pancake recipes, so I don’t wish to do that here. The London Metropolitan Archives tweeted a recipe attributed to Lady Barrington, made of 3 pints of milk, 10 eggs (only 5 whites), and flour.
The basic components on a pancake appear to have changed little, although these seem much more ‘eggy’ than modern concoctions. These recipes are interesting in and of themselves, but I have come across a few snippets outlining that pancakes have a hidden (or just not realised yet) history as components of early modern cures.
In the book Collectanea Medica: the country physician: or, a choice collection of physick English empiric William Salmon describes using a pancake to cure a man suffering from an “inflammation of the Testicles with Suppression of Urine“. The fifty-year old man was prescribed an enema and bled, while his reins (the area around the kidneys) was anointed with the oil of scorpions. After this oil had been rubbed onto the patient, Salmon explained, “I caused a Pancake made of Onions cut in small bits, and Eggs beaten together with Hogs-grease, to be applied to the same part”. Evidently this omelette/pancake was being used as a medicated plaster.1 These efforts were successful and the patient “pist lustily”, relieving the pressure on his bladder. For his swollen testicles he was given a bean-meal plaster (a common remedy for this type of condition).
The translations of the book written by French surgeon La Vauguion, suggested a similar use of pancakes. In this case for children suffering from stomach cramps caused by wind, the belly was to be smeared with oil of sweet almonds, or oil of walnuts, chamomile and melilot (sweet clover). To cover this a cloth could be dipped in the same mixture and laid to the stomach, or ‘a small Pancake may be made with an Egg or two fried in Oil of walnuts‘ could be placed over the top.2
Pancakes were apparently then a good substitute, in some cases, for more convention plaster made of fabric or leather. I think I will stick to eating mine.
- William Salmon, Collectanea Medica: the country physician: or, a choice collection of physick (London, 1703), p. 171.
- de La Vauguion, A compleat body of chirurgical operations (London, 1707), p. 262.