The Witch & The Horse Devil or The Pancake Palaver

In which we discover that you shoudn’t judge your beloved by his looks especially if he’s a horse, that not being to provide a pancake on demand can prove fatal and that that there are times when listening to your sisters is not always wise.

So what did you think about our tale? I loved it, it has some problemaric places but it has so much energy although I do feel that our horse devil hero could have been a bit less opaque in his explanations. Especially when you consider how scary his mum, dad and auntie are. This tale has strong elements of two taletypes: ATU 425B Son of the Witch (previously The Disenchanted Husband: the Witch’s Tasks) and ATU 425A Animal as Bridegroom which includes famous tales like East of the Sun and West of the Moon.

Impossible Tasks

The Husband in the first tale type doesn’t have to be in the form of an enchanted animal but does need to have a relative of the groom who stands in the way of the happiness of the couple. This is usually his mother and she is often a witch or sorceress, an ogre or a troll. She usually sets impossible tasks for the bride and the groom appears briefly to help with each one. His mother usually knows he’s helping but doesn’t actually do anything about it until the couple make a break for it.

Some scholars believe that it isn’t a true example of the tale type if the bride doesn’t have to gain a casket from an even more fearsome female family member as the last task but this seems to be a bit too strict definition for me. However our tale also doesn’t contain an extra bride or bribing with gifts so ATU 425B is probably the winner here even thought the hero is a horse 50% of the time.

Animal as Bridegroom

The second tale type that this story falls into is doesn’t necessarily have to have tasks and the fearsome female in these tales doesn’t have to be related to the hero. She does however, often take him prisoner by enchantment and wants him to marry her daughter. The heroine of the tale then has to win opportunities to remind the hero who she is, usually by exchanging magical objects in exchange for a night spent in his company. The heroes of these tales are usually in animal form during the day and human form at night and disappear at the point which the heroine does the thing her bridegroom warns her she should never do.

Cupid & Psyche

We discussed the connection between these tales and the Cupid & Psyche myth in my previous episode ‘The King of Love’ and this tale has all the necessary elements. The envious sisters pop up here as well. Pintosmalto (another earlier episode) is also ‘Search for Lost Husband’ tale but it is one of the more rare types which is ATU 425 itself. This is where a maiden crafts a husband out of raw materials and he becomes alive via various routes, and is then lusted after by a foreign queen and stolen. The maiden then has to exchange magical items to get the chance to remind her oblivious love of who she is as in ATU 425A. This is a more direct tale than ours where the hero has to protect our heroine from his mother as well as being an animal bridegroom.

A Worldwide Phenomenon

There are lots of variants of these tales from all over the world. Around 1,500 variants of tale type ATU 425 and its sub types have been collected from Europe, Asia, Africa and North America, with 580 of those variants appearing across six European countries: Sweden, Norway, Ireland, Germany, France and Italy. No-one can agree exactly where the tales originated, and even the more simple ATU 425 is disputed over between Italy and Greece. There is also much disagreement about whether the tales traveled East to West or West to East but it is likely at least that variants that appeared in North America were more likely transported over from Europe.

We do know however that our particular tale is adapted from two tales that were collected from the oral tradition of what is now Turkey. One tale appears in Forty-four Turkish Fairy Tales, collected and translated by Dr Ignácz Kúnos and another from the Archive of the Turkish Oral Narrative, Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library which was collected in the 1950s. Turkish storytelling was predominately in the oral tradition as the rate of literacy remained below 10% until the mid 1920s.

The Travelling Teller

The role of the travelling storyteller was vital in spreading tales. These storytellers, known as Meddahs, were trained in a master and apprenticeship arrangement and they would perform in public venues such as coffee houses and would use various everyday objects as props in their stories. There were even honoured at court and many rulers had their own storyteller at court.

Traditional Turkish stories have many fantastical elements, partly due to the rich background they have to draw from due to their tumultuous history, and geographical position as the crossroads of routes between Europe and Asia. They are not the stories of 1001 Nights, although some do feature, but have a thriving life and culture of their own. The fantastic creatures like our horse devil are one of countless magical creatures. Devil in this instance is more that of djinn or jin, rather than the devil of European tradition.

“Turkish fairy tales are as crystal, reflecting the sun’s rays in a thousand dazzling colours, clear as a cloudless sky, and transparent like the dew upon a budding rose. In short, Turkish fairy tales are not the stories of the Thousand and One Nights, but of the Thousand and One Days.”

Ignác Kúnos

There are some really wonderful collections of Turkish folktales, some of which appear in my further reading section and I encourage you to track down some others yourself.

Finally Food

I can’t believe I’ve got this far without discussing food but we have reached that time. You may have guessed though from the tale and from the time of year. If you guessed pancakes, clever you and well spotted, imagine not having the ingredients for pancakes! Although if you are listening to this on the day it comes out and are in Britain, you may struggle to get a least one of the essentials due to Shrove Tuesday panic buying. There’ll be more of that later when we look at folklore. Pancakes have been around for a long time, although not necessarily in the form we recognise them as today.

We’d probably better start with a definition of pancake to differentiate it from lots of similar items. Firstly it must be made from a batter not a dough even if the ingredients are identical. Secondly it should be cooked on a pan or a griddle over a heat source, not in an oven. Thirdly, it needs a fairly substantial carbohydrate element to make it an actual pancake otherwise we could count omelettes which definitely aren’t pancakes.

Pancake History Ahoy

So back to pancake history. We are pretty sure that the pancakes we know and love today and would recognise as pancakes (see earlier definition) in Europe, at least date from 13th century. People have been cooking something that may have been pancakes/omelettes/fritters/flatbreads since the ancient Romans and Apicius. We don’t have enough information to tell exactly which as often the cooking method will define the product.

The difference between pancakes and fritters is very slight really. Fritters and pancakes can have very similar recipe but one is cooked in deep oil whereas the other is cooked on a griddle. Sometimes it can still be tricky, I make courgette & feta fritters which I shallow fry which probably makes them more pancakes than fritters but who cares when they taste that good.

Crepes Forever

Anyway, back to history of pancakes and by that I mean the British pancakes, sort of like French crépes but sometimes a little thicker. There is so much more pancake history from across the globe and through time but due to my limited time and resources I’ve concentrated on essentially the British pancake. That’s not to say that American style pancakes or other delicious pancakes sweet and savoury, from other parts of the world aren’t wonderful but they are a different animal or at least a different pancake anyway.

References to pancakes date back to the 13th Century and recipes start appearing in books from the very late 16th century and early 17th century. The became increasingly popular in the eighteenth century appearing in Hannah Glasses’ famous work among many others. She pinched them pretty much wholesale from The Whole Duty of a Woman in 1737 but who’s counting. Some recipes are rich with cream and spices, some contain milk instead of cream although they are still spiced.

Rural and Urban Poor

This was also true of those pancakes that were served to working people to an extent though. William Ellis writes in The Country Housewife’s Family Companion at length (several pages) on how useful they are to bulk out other foods for labourers and encourages the use of ginger as part of the recipe for the plainer pancake. He also suggests the use of water when milk isn’t available as the pancakes will still be filling.

Pancakes appear in Alexis Soyer’s Shilling Cookery for the People and in Francatelli’s A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes as they are good for filling out the diet of the urban poor too in the 19th Century. The spices have long since left by this point and the recipes are very similar to those we see today. I’d also like to take the time to reference a charming recipe for Snow Pancakes in Dorothy Hartley’s Food in England which does add a lovely touch of whimsey.

Collop Monday & Shrove Tuesday

So that’s a very short history from Ancient Rome to the present day. It’s partly short because I also promised you folklore and there is quite a lot of that. Well there is around Shrove Tuesday anyway. We should probably start properly with the idea that pancakes are made on Shrove Tuesday to use up ingredients that can’t be eaten in Lent. This is true to an extent, both Collop Monday and Shrove Tuesday were the days to use up your supplies. Most people don’t know of Collop Monday but it was the day to use up any remaining overwintered bacon in the form of thick steaks (think gammon) and eggs. It was very much the opposite of meatless Monday and the remaining fat from the bacon was used to fry pancakes on Tuesday.

A Confession of Sorts

Shrove Tuesday actually comes from the need to shrive or confess before the start of lent and the day eventually took its name from this. However post Reformation in England it gradually lost its religious meaning as confession was not part of the new Protestant church. However the need to give up things for Lent did remain although Collop Monday was definitely a casualty of the Protestant insistence on eating meat in Lent. Pancakes and Pancake day remained though as they retained that party and celebration feeling before the abstinence of Lent. Apprentices were often given the day off and traditionally also made and ate pancakes. Even Shakespeare connected the day absolutely with pancakes in All’s Well That Ends Well:

“As fit as ten groats is for the hand of an attorney, as your French crown for you taffety punk, as Tib’s rush for Tom’s forefinger, as a pancake for Shrove Tuesday, a morris for May-day, as the nail to his hole, the cockold to his horn, as a scolding quean to a wrangling knave, as the nun’s lip to the friar’s mouth, nay, as the pudding to his skin.”

William Shakespeare
Pancake Race

There is even a ladies pancake race in Olney in Buckinghamshire on Shrove Tuesday where you have to flip the pancakes as you run which has been running year since 1445 with only a short lapse during WW11. No-one can confirm the origin of the race: One tale tells of a stressed out housewife who heard the Church bells and dashed off to attend with her frying pan and pancake in tow – and this remains the most popular of the origin stories for the tradition. Another tale suggests that giving pancakes was a bribe to get the Ringer, or Sexton, to ring the bell earlier to start the day’s festivities – as it used to be a half-day holiday.

Wanton Wenches

Shrove Tuesday definitely used to be a lot more fun and as well as pancakes there was much more revelry similar to that around the Lords of Misrule and 12th Night. There was a very long rhyming poem written by Naogeorgus (A Protestant Reformer) which highlights the excesses of feasts of pork and puddings, games, heavy drinking and gambling with cards and dice, running round the streets naked (which must have been chilly in February).

He is clearly disgusted by the amount of dressing up as animals and playing in the street as well as cross dressing. He in particular refers to ‘wanton wenches drest like men’ which I think might be an excellent team name for any sport or any pub quiz when I come to think about it. Pancakes are also mentioned.

A Touch More Folklore

There are a few non pancake related items of folklore for Pancake Day or Shrove Tuesday. One: that you should use this day to sow onion seeds on this day so that they grow very big. Two: you should sow parsley and lettuce seed on this day to ensure their greenness. The third one is weather related: thunder on Shrove Tuesday indicates storms to come and plenty ahead in the harvest, sunshine means there will be sun on every day in Lent. Wind on the same night however indicates a death amongst learned people and the death of much fish the following summer. No, I don’t know about that last one either, it suggests further questions at the very least.

Recipe & A Recommendation

I suppose all that’s left now is to provide you with a pancake recipe and I’m going to link you to my favourite recipe since 2018 (previously I used one from the BBC Good Food website). The one I use now is this one from Olivia Potts which is perfect to make on Pancake Day and squeeze over lemon juice, sprinkle with lemon juice and roll up and eat standing over the cooker, making the next one. Sadly the original link no longer works so I’ve had to link to the web archive version:

There are also ideas of alternative toppings if lemon & sugar doesn’t float your boat. Olivia is a fantastic food writer and her book about her experiences with grief and learning to cook should be on everyone’s list. It was the winner of the Fortnum & Mason’s Debut Food Book Award and you can buy it here:

Further Reading

Forty-four Turkish Fairy Tales, by Ignácz Kúnos, illustrations by Willy Pogany; 1913
Greenwood Encyclopedia of Fairy tales – Donald Haase
Secrets of a Vanishing Country by Pelin Turgut
Turkish Folktales by Barbara Walter
The Art of Turkish Tale, Volumes I & 2 – Barbara Walter
Once There Was, Twice There Wasn’t: Fifty Turkish Folktales of Nasreddin Hodja – Michael Shelton
Archive for Turkish Oral Narrative (ATON) – Courtesy of the Archive of the Turkish Oral Narrative, Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library
The Whole Duty of a Woman 1737
Pancake: A Global History, Ken Albala
Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson
Smith, E., The Compleat Housewife – E Smith 1758
The Accomplisht Cook – Robert May 1660
The English Housewife – Gervase Markham 1631
The Good Huswifes handmaid – 1597
The Country Housewife’s Family Companion – William Ellis – 1750

Featured Image: From probably 16th century Ottoman Miniature –, Public Domain,