Hundreds of years ago, Brits up and down the country were cooking a distinctive type of thick pancake known as a froise, fraise or froyse, the name – according to dictionary writer Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) – stemming from the French verb froisser (meaning ‘to crease’ or ‘crumple’). Especially popular between the 15th and 18th centuries, they began to disappear during the Victorian era (clinging on in Devon, East Anglia and the West Midlands) before becoming almost completely unknown today.
Historically, the most common version was the bacon froise. This was made by frying small pieces of streaky bacon in a pan and just a minute or two before they’re ready, pouring a thick pancake batter over the top. As the pancake began to crisp, it was then carefully turned (not flipped) to fry the other side too. Other versions mentioned in a 1739 recipe book include apple froise – containing slices of fried apple with nutmeg – and clary froise which had finely chopped clary leaves in the batter (a herb from the sage family) and was served with slices of lemon.
By 1900, when froise had disappeared from mainstream British cooking, the English Dialect Dictionary recorded how the name and the food it signified were still preserved in a few corners of the UK, including Essex where they made froise to fill the full size of the frying pan and Shropshire where it had historically been served with sweet sauce. However, despite being well-known in its day, and even being taken to North America by British emigrants, the froise ultimately fell out of favour and became forgotten.
How to Make Them
You can use any type of pancake mix (or the one below) but aim for a firmer batter than if you were making crêpes. Early recipes (written before baking powder existed) used many more eggs and less flour but if you choose this route make sure it doesn’t turn into an omelette. In this recipe, I’ve included sage leaves (both finely chopped inside the batter and on top too) to give a nod to the 18th-century clary froise and poured enough batter each time to make the pancake fill the entire pan as they used to do in East Anglia.
225g self-raising flour, sifted
250ml whole milk
40g butter, melted
1 medium egg
Vegetable oil for frying
Optional: clary or sage leaves, finely chopped
- Make a well in the middle of the sifted flour and add the melted butter, whisked egg and half the milk. Mix together, slowly adding more milk and the finely chopped sage leaves, to create a smooth, thick batter.
- Lightly oil a frying pan and cook small pieces of streaky bacon. Roughly 1 – 2 minutes before you think the bacon will be ready, pour enough of the pancake mixture over the top to fill the pan
- Shake the pan occasionally to stop the froise from sticking. Once the underside is ready, carefully turn the pancake over (ensuring it doesn’t crack or bend) to fry the other side.
- Garnish with more sage/clary leaves and a squeeze of lemon