A stack of dark pink pancakes sit on a wooden plate, topped with apricots in syrup. A white bowl of apricots sits in the background, with an upturned spoon on the plate.

It’s Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras/Pancake Day today and Valentine’s Day tomorrow so why not celebrate both by making these 18th century pink pancakes!

Pancakes or crepes are traditionally on Shrove Tuesday, the last day before the beginning of Lent as a final hurrah before fasting. Fancy pancakes made with sugar, spices, wine, eggs, milk, cream, and/or butter would have been a particularly special treat, but even poorer households could afford a simpler version.


18th century painting of a kitchen interior. An older woman sits in front of the fire cooking pancakes, which are being placed on a plate on a table to the right. An older man with a pipe, a young woman, and a boy are gathering around, as if attracted by the smell of the pancakes.

The Pancake Cook, Adriaan de Lelie, c. 1790 – c. 1810, Rijksmuseum. Public Domain.

Eighteenth-century cookbooks have dozens of different recipes for pancakes, from Scotch pancakes to tansy pancakes to rice pancakes. Given that pink is the colour of the season, however, my eye was drawn to this recipe for pink pancakes in Elizabeth Raffald’s The Experienced English Housekeeper (3rd ed., 1773):

To make a pink-coloured PANCAKE
BOIL a large beet root tender, and beat it fine in a marble mortar, then add the yolks of four eggs, two spoonfuls of flour, and three spoonfuls of good cream, sweeten it to your taste, and grate in half a nutmeg, and put in a glass of brandy; beat them all together half an hour, fry them in butter, and garnish them with green sweetmeats, preserved apricots, or green sprigs of myrtle. It is a pretty corner dish for either dinner or supper.

This recipe turns up in dozens of other cookbooks throughout the century and into the next, but this was the earliest version that I could find. It stands out because of it’s use of beetroot to make them pink, and because of the instructions for how to serve them. The remark that this is ‘a pretty corner dish for either dinner or supper’ reminds us that these pancakes weren’t served for breakfast but would have been one dish out of many served together at the main meals of the day. Served as a corner dish, they would have been an accompaniment arranged in a symmetrical manner around larger dishes, often of meat. For more on the arrangement of eighteenth-century meals see my post on A Flanc of Greengages.

These make a very nice pancake that is more similar to a crepe than cakey American pancakes. The beetroot adds a beautifully rich colour but not much flavour. Instead, the taste is dominated by the brandy and the nutmeg, and I recommend halving the amount of nutmeg to start because it can be quite overpowering. Since modern eggs are much larger than those in the past, I used two large egg yolks to get a thin batter consistency.

Pink Pancakes

Makes 5-6 small crepes.

1 medium beetroot
2 large egg yolks
2 heaped tbsp plain flour
2 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp cream
1/4 nutmeg, freshly grated
1/4 cup brandy
Butter, to cook

1. Boil the whole beetroot until tender, about an hour. Allow to cool enough that you can handle it and remove the skin and the top and bottom. Quarter and use a food processor to blend to a smooth puree.
2. Mix the pureed beetroot with the eggs, flour, sugar, cream, nutmeg, and brandy in a medium bowl.
3. Heat a frying pan over low heat and add 1/2 tbsp butter. Add a scant 1/4 cup of batter to the pan and spread it into an even circle with the back of a spoon. Cook until the colour changes and the middle of the pancake lifts slightly. Flip, and cook the other side until lightly coloured. Repeat with the remaining batter, adding more butter to the pan after every 2-3 pancakes.
4. Serve warm with butter, sugar and lemon, or preserved apricots.

a view from above shows dark pink pancakes on a wooden plate, topped with preserved apricot halves