Where do crêpes come from?

A massive anthropological tome could be written on the subject of pancakes, as they were in all likelihood one of mankind’s first prepared foods. Hunter-gatherers have been cooking gruels of mashed grain on hot rocks for millennia. When they invented the first Stone Age IHOP is unknown, though remains of paleolithic policemen have been found huddled over platters of what look like Pick-A-Pancake double blueberry stacks. Experts are still debating the evidence, of course. They might be Rooty Tooty Fresh n’ Fruity combos.

But I digress. Pre-modern proto-pancakes evolved in all sorts of interesting directions. In northern Europe they evolved in the direction of what we now know as pancakes. And in the region of what is now Brittany, France, they evolved into crêpes. Crêpes are of course quite thin as pancakes go, and were originally made with buckwheat flour. In fact until about 100 years ago the buckwheat crêpe was the norm in France. They’re still quite common, especially for savory entrée crêpes.

Crêpes probably arrived in America in the 30’s, mostly in fine dining establishments, mostly as desserts. The French food crazy of the early 60’s brought crêpes to the forefront of American popular consciousness where they remained for roughly 15 years. By the 70’s they were on every brunch table in the lower 48. But that largely ended by the early 80’s, and crêpes went the way of French onion soup and quiche Lorraine. Exactly why is a bit of a mystery, though my guess is that too many people associated them with mauve tights and platform shoes.

7 thoughts on “Where do crêpes come from?”

  1. When you’re done with crepes, would you consider posting a recipe for a simple pancake? I’ve been trying recipes for years but have yet to accomplish the perfect fluffy pancake.

    1. Sure, Jacki. Though I have to confess the thought intimidates me a little. A perfect pancake is, well…hard to pull off! But I’m up for the challenge!

      – joe

  2. Where I’ve lived, crepes are still quite “in!” We had at least four creperies within a couple blocks of campus (all had regular business), and people loved to hire catering to make made-to-order crepes at large parties. Also, I still love French onion soup and quiche Lorraine! Maybe my town is backwards 🙂

    1. You aren’t emailing me from the past, are you, Anne? ‘Cause that would completely freak me out.

      – Joe

  3. On the other side of the channel, traditional English pancakes are what Americans (and the French) call crepes; fluffy, chemically-leavened griddle cakes seem to be an Americanism (from my limited experience – I don’t have any actual history to back that up). In any case, in England they’re traditionally eaten on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, with sugar and lemon.

    From which I can say that the ideal way to eat them is to slide the crepe out of the pan onto a plate, squeeze on a little lemon, sprinkle with sugar, and eat instantly. Burnt fingers are part of the experience 🙂

    1. Sounds fun, Jane! Thank you. I had no idea that English pancakes were/are thin by tradition. I’ll have to do a little investigation on that, clearly.

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