Lo and behold, friends, the most wonderful day of the year is upon us! Forget Valentines, which is for schmucks: this Tuesday 16th February is Shrove Tuesday, a.k.a Pancake Day, a.k.a the Best Day of the Year.
Yes, that’s right. It’s the time of year to completely ignore the point of Lent — an old English word for lengthen. It signified the period when households historically used up all their ingredients ahead of a 40-day fast before Easter. Over the years we’ve taken the opportunity to erode the origins of this great tradition, commercialising it with a big dollop of maple syrup and bacon and using it as an excuse to eat fried batter for days on end. Frankly, though, I’m not complaining. Crêpes or American, Scotch or Dutch, the humble pancake mixture is versatile and literally boundless, inspiring variations the world over.
To share my two great loves in life – food and films – and for your own Pancake Day inspiration, here are 10 of the best, most important pancake scenes in cinema. Whether you like your pancs with blueberries or bacon, lemon, sugar, honey, or in the form of Ryan Gosling, the movies don’t discriminate: you’ll crave an entire stack of the things by the time you’ve finished reading this piece. Get cooking!
10. Pulp Fiction – You want bacon?
One scene that really needs no introduction is the notorious Pulp Fiction breakfast. A simple remark about bacon soon escalates into something much deeper and philosophical as Jules (Jackson) and Vincent (Travolta) ponder the occurrences of the morning on a fateful day.
It’s often been remarked that food is something of a precursor to misfortune in Tarantino’s work. Whether it’s Reservoir Dogs or Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, just take a step back and look at what’s about to happen when a character goes in for a meal. Little needs to be said for the events that lead us here, but it’ll give you pause next time you go to top your stack of fluffy white pancakes with pork.
9. The Big Lebowski – Lingonberry pancakes.
This bizarre little scene is strangely eerie and points to the larger, more ominous kidnapping plot, but you can’t ignore how much these crooks love their Lingonberry pancakes – as well as ze pigs in blanket.
The German language in this scene somehow just capitulates the tension, and there’s an unmistakably sinister pan down to a severed toe (ick!), but at least we know they’re being looked after in the food department.
8. Groundhog Day – You don’t even have to floss!
Bill Murray’s Phil Connors might not have got everything right in the existential time-loop that is Groundhog Day, but one thing he does which is completely, irrevocably wrong, is eating such a breakfast so greedily, ending with the immortal words: You don’t even have to floss!
He has a point, but Connors will have to look beyond gluttony and indulgence if he is going to find any meaning in his repetitive spiral. Is it any wonder it takes so many do-overs for Rita (Andy MacDowell) to finally want to be with him?
7. Uncle Buck – Birthday pancake
Miles (Macaulay Culkin) gets more than he bargained for on his birthday morning when his Uncle Buck (the late great peerless comic, John Candy) cooks up a storm in the form of a gigantic birthday pancake. Woah, mama!
Many have tried to emulate this gargantuan dish with varying degrees of success, but I have to hand it to Uncle Buck, whose sheer effort into his nephew’s birthday celebrations remains unparalleled. Complete with birthday streamers, party decorations, and the biggest, welcoming smile, Uncle Buck shows that he has a heart of pure gold.
6. (500) Days of Summer – Breakup pancakes
“I got it! Pancakes.”
Oof. Tom’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) famous last words outside a record store, desperately trying to draw out the day, before the noncommittal Summer (Zooey Deschanel) breaks up with him.
“We’ve been like Sid and Nancy for months now,” Summer admits.
“I hardly think I’m Sid Vicious” deflects Tom.
“No, I’m Sid.”
“Oh, so I’m Nancy?”
If it’s been a rocky ride so far, then these pancakes – a sad, laughably deflated version of a normally harmless food- are really just the final nail in the coffin. I don’t know if it’s the lighting or the general tragic comedy of the scene, but it’s just the wrong place for this talk on so many levels. Tom takes another date to the pancake parlour later in the movie, but it’s not to last. Proof, if ever it’s needed, that food is the only real constant in life.
5. Rain Man – Pancake Tuesdays
The idiosyncratic Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) has an unusual breakfast regime: on Tuesdays, he always eats pancakes, and he always eats them with cocktail sticks. Every week, without fail. In the movie, this little scene is the first glimpse we get into the mannerisms of the savant and the aloof, impatient Charlie (Tom Cruise).
We see the two interacting and it’s fascinating that their relationship is drawn so economically but in a scene that is also so telling. How does he know, for instance, that there are 246 toothpicks on the floor? However he does it, he’s marvellous, though it takes a while for Charlie to realise. This Tuesday, why not give the cocktail sticks a go?
4. Malcolm in the Middle – Pancakes á la Hal
While breakfast scenes are plentiful in Hollywood, so much of my favourite childhood TV show, Malcolm in the Middle, revolves around the table that it warrants a mention high up on the list. The pilot episode has Lois (Jane Kaczmareck) cooking pancakes for the boys; it’s there that they reveal their positions in the family and the one thing that unites them – a love of food, food, food. And in one memorable cold open to the show, their father Hal (Bryan Cranston) cooks up the boys a special pancake treat with an interesting twist. [Ed. ignore the weird dub!]
3. Back to the Future -- Breakfast to the future
“What the hell is this?”
The breakfast scene in Back to the Future is probably the single most important part of the film, revealing, as it does, the fruit of all Marty’s (Michael J. Fox) labours. It comes late in the story after Marty has travelled back in time and rectified some of his parents’ disastrous adolescent choices. Waking up the next morning back in 1985, he immediately notices something’s different. This bountiful spread of a petit-déjeuner is the opposite of the opening scene for the family and immediately shows their improved appearance, class, and general lives as a result of the escapades 30 years ago. For a teenage boy such as Marty, of course, the priority is his stomach. Bon appétit!
2. The Kid – The Tramp and the Kid
One gem of cinema that absolutely must never be forgotten is Chaplin’s delightful 1921 feature-length movie, The Kid. Starring four-year-old Jackie Coogan, it’s a wonderful story featuring Chaplin’s iconic Little Tramp who takes in an abandoned child to share in his vagabond life. The two have such fun and genuine on-screen chemistry, and the story is such a characteristic blend of comedy and bittersweet pathos, it’s a foolproof tearjerker. Enjoy this gleeful scene in which young Jackie is already house-trained and adept at rustling up a breakfast fit for a king.
1. Matilda – Send Me On My Way
No Pancake Day list would be complete without mentioning the one, the only, Matilda. With characteristic flair, the precocious four-year-old (played by Mara Wilson) whips up a delicious spread of fluffy American pancakes and garnishes the table with a flower for her breakfast. It’s a beautiful fusion of the culinary and cinematic worlds, a classic lesson in cooking the best American-style pancakes and a study of a child prodigy with zero parental supervision. It’s perfect, paired with the classic Rusted Root song, Send Me On My Way – little wonder it’s the favourite pancake scene of cinephiles and foodies alike.