Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Shrove Tuesday - Pancake Day

(UPDATE: My 2007 Pancakes are savoury and contain wine in the batter.)

The very British way to celebrate the day before Ash Wednesday when the lean period of Lent begins, is by stuffing your face with pancakes and taking part in quirky races .

But before we start gobbling down too many of these delicious treats, let's stop for a moment and consider the history behind this holy feast. Shrove Tuesday's name comes from "to shrive" meaning to confess. In terms of English,Christian religion, Shrovetide was the time when you were meant to visit your confesser and admit to all the naughty things you'd been up to. Ok, ok, I admit I ate a whole bar of chocolate, all by myself, when no one was looking.

No stay of execution for these babies...tonight they're all pancake fodder!

Where do pancakes fit into this dour equation? During the long and miserable forty days of Lent, desirable edibles such as eggs and butter were not permitted to be eaten. In order to use up these non-virtuous ingredients prior to the fast, pancake day was invented. Hooray!

When I was a kid, I absolutely loved pancake day. It was always such a treat. Imagine a day, when instead of returning home from school to a meal of overcooked pork chop with boiled cabbage and potatoes, or lumpy cauliflower cheese, you were allowed to gorge yourself on as many sweet, lemony pancakes as you could eat!

My mum was always an absolute star on pancake day. Well, actually, she was a star every day and is still a star to this day, but maybe I didn't always appreciate that fact when I was sitting down in front of a plate of, yet uneaten, cold brussel sprouts and gravy. (It wasn't her fault they were cold, she served them to me hot, but in a pathetic and always unsuccessful attempt at avoidance, I just usually failed to eat them when they were in their prime.)

But on this special, only once a year day, she would have a big bowl of pancake batter ready, beaten and well aerated. She would heat up some fat and spoon a ladelful of the pale yellow liquid into the frying pan. The first one would always come out misshapen. Too fat, lumpy and with holes in it. It's just the way it goes. It still tasted good, someone would always eat it. But after that, she'd be on a roll. We'd beg her to toss the pancake up in the air and catch it, the other side up, back in the fryer. She would always try this once for our entertainment. Sometimes it would work, but sometimes it wouldn't and then we'd all share a good giggle.

My sister, Beccy, dad and I would form a little queue in the kitchen, each of us holding out our dinnerware like Oliver Twist waiting for gruel. Oh, but we were much happier than Oliver, as mum would slide another golden pancake onto our plate. As soon as we'd captured a glorious specimen, we'd dash to the table, drench it in freshly squeezed lemon juice and white granulated sugar and gobble it down, almost before she'd finished cooking the next one.

Tonight I will be cooking pancakes using this recipe from good, old, Delia Smith, the mother of British celebrity TV chefs. (I can't call her the grandmother, because that auspicious title deservedly belongs to Margeurite Patten, whose classic Every Day Cook Book I happily learnt to cook from, but sadly left in my mum's attic somewhere when I moved to San Francsico).

So, later today it will be lemon and sugar for me and Gruyere cheese for Fred. If I manage to get a flippin' good photo of us being a couple of pancake tossers, I'll post it up later...
Shrove Tuesday - Pancake Day


  • At 8/2/05 07:48, Blogger Owen said…

    Sam, it is hard for me to imagine that you or Fred could ever be tossers!

    Have fun!


  • At 8/2/05 07:58, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm with Owen. No kidding! Stuff your faces et Bon Appétit! :-) Viv

  • At 8/2/05 10:41, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    It was great fun reading your recollections. Sadly I can't cook pancakes anymore beause of dad's diabetes, but I'm glad you and Becs are keeping up the tradition Mum

  • At 8/2/05 20:09, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    my uncle has diabetes and i have made him things with splenda which is actually pretty good. much nicer than other sugar substitutes and i have always used part whole wheat pastry flour in my crepes if you can't have white flour. it seems like these are very crepelike.

  • At 9/2/05 04:55, Blogger Niki said…

    It's a great Aussie tradition as well, and I have very fond memories of mum making us pancakes for breakfast before school - a wonderful change from toast & vegemite or corn flakes.
    And I love that you enjoy them with lemon & sugar too. It must be an Anglo thing, as so many people are unfamiliar with it. In fact, I wrote about working hard to maintain my pancake tradition after a long day at work in my entry last night!

  • At 9/2/05 07:08, Blogger Sam said…

    Owen & Viv - you were right - of course we're NOT tossers, we got so carried away stuffing our faces as you suggested (me 3x cheese, 3 x lemon sugar; Fred 4 x cheese, 2 x lemon & sugar) that we didn't flip a single one, or find time to take any pics. Guess we enjoyed ourselves all the same.
    Beccy - I am glad the kids liked it - what was Dillon's total tally in the end? You must have been exhausted - I hope Jules cooked you a couple too!
    Mum - I am glad you liked the post - I was worried that you might be upset about describing your boiled cabbage and dry pork chops in public. It's OK everyone, Britain is out of the food dark ages these days and mum doesn't cook that kind of food anymore.
    Anonymous - thanks for the Splenda tip - I'll check with my mum to see if it is available in Britain. I have heard it is quite good.
    Esurientes - yes! lemon & sugar. It's the only way they do it in the UK as far as I know. I admit I stumbled upon your pancake post yesterday and it looked beautiful. It kept me going through the day until I got home to make mine.

  • At 9/2/05 20:49, Blogger Sam said…

    beccy - did you use the gingernut and peanut butter cookie recipes from my blog too? arent the peanut better ones great - who would have thought? Glad you liked the digestives too.

    Keiko - sorry no pics this time, we got carried away with stuffing our faces and didn't snap a single shot. uh oh - there is always next year!

  • At 28/2/06 14:08, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm so inspired that I'm going home for pancakes right now.

    Pancake You,


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