Tate and Lyle Factory

It’s the time of year when food writers wheel out as many ‘flipping’ clichés as their copy – and conscience – will allow.

Shrove Tuesday or as it’s now commonly known, Pancake Day, is the first day of the season of fasting and prayer or Lent.

Back in the day, the idea was to use up rich ingredients –eggs, sugar and flour – before a forty day abstinence kicked in.  Made from batter and fried in fat, the ingredients symbolise four crucial points of significance.  Eggs for creation, flour for the staff of life, salt for wholesomeness and milk for purity.

These days unless you’re religious, have kids, a decent calendar or trip over the promotional display in the supermarket, Pancake Day will probably pass you by.   Well dear reader, not this year – not if I have my way.

A basic pancake batter is probably one of the easiest things you’ll ever make – no real technical skill or equipment needed.  You can make savoury but because I’ve got the sweetest tooth in the capital I’m going for desert pancakes.   Which brings me nicely on to my favourite topping.  It’s a glorious, gloopy, wasp-attracting jaw-sticking, toffee-tasting nectar and it’s a staple ingredient for flapjacks and goes very well in a steamed pudding.  There is no better than glorious ribbons of golden syrup free-falling onto a pancake.  And if it’s good enough for Her Royal Highness then it’s good enough for me.   As I prized off the lid to the all familiar gold and green tin I wondered where and how it’s made?  Well, for 128 years they’ve been making it in Plaistow so of course I had to get myself a visit to the factory I had no idea existed.  Ian Clark’s in charge of the site and he’s something of a syrup-afficianado.  I get the full tour, feeling more than a little privileged knowing that the factory is not open to the public.

Cue rivers of flowing gold accompanied by something soothing by Debussy.  Scratch that.  There are no huge open vats being worked on by hair netted white booted workers. This is a closed production site.  A series of pretty clever machines do the job.  The tins are made on the premises from scratch, given a base, sent through a sorting machine which checks for leaks.

They’re then sent through to a machine which fills them up with syrup,

they’re lidded, packed and put straight on pallets and dispatched all around the world.  Simples.

But how do they do it?  Well the sugar molecules are continually refined throughout the process – the sucrose molecule splits in half to give glucose and fructose sugars.  This inverted syrup is blended back with the original syrup to give a partially inverted syrup.  The final blend of sucrose, glucose and fructose allows the syrup to be thick without crystallising.

Of course I was allowed to try every syrup flavour they make from squeezy chocolate to the particularly good maple syrup but how I left that place without sending myself into a diabetic coma is beyond me.

Thank you to Ian Clark for his time and patience and to the well organised team at Epicurus.

You may hate syrup and if you do you can’t beat fresh lemon and caster sugar.  A guilty pleasure of mine – which harks back to my childhood ‘Little Chef hankerings’ – is cherry pie filling with ice cream.

I’d really like you to try making your own pancakes – you could buckle and buy the just-add-water-can’t-be-arsed- shake-to-make pancake mix but making your own will be tastier and a lot cheaper.

Here’s how


Makes around 12 using an 18cm frying pan.

110g/4oz plain flour sifted

A pinch of salt

2 medium eggs lightly beaten

200ml/7fl oz milk mixed with 75ml water

50g butter

Sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl and hold the sieve high to give the flour an airing.

Make a well in the centre of the flour and break the eggs into it
Begin whisking the eggs – a whisk or a fork will do – making sure you get all the flour from around the edge of the bowl

Add the milk mix gradually – still mixing – don’t panic if you see lumps – they will disappear

When the liquid has gone use a scraper to get the bits of flour stuck to the bowl incorporated

Whisk again so the mix looks like single cream.

Melt the butter into a frying pan and spoon 2 tablespoons into the batter and whisk it in, pour the rest into a bowl and use it to grease the pan.  Use kitchen paper (or a napkin) to smear it round before you make each pancake.

Get the pan really hot, turn it down to medium and do a pancake “test” to see if you’re using the right amount of batter.  A couple of heaped tablespoons for a regular sized (18cm) frying pan is usually enough.

As soon as the batter hits the pan swirl it round to cover the base.  It should take half a minute to cook and you can lift the edge to check it’s going golden – as it should.

Flip the pancake over with a fish slip or palette knife – giving the flip side only a few seconds.  Slide it out of the pan onto a plate.   The pancakes can be stacked between greaseproof paper on a plate over simmering water to keep them warm while you finish the batter.

Apply golden syrup liberally (if you’re me) or add just a little lemon and sugar.

These are suitable for freezing and I suggest you store them in between greaseproof paper – so they don’t stick during the freezing process – in a large freezer-suitable bag.