I don’t have a problem with Mardi Gras. Between the fact that New Orleans is American and my mother-in-law is French, why not celebrate it? Laissez les bons temps rouler and all that. But the most recent immigrant up my family tree is my great-grandfather from Yorkshire, England. Between that and my lifelong membership in the Episcopal church, when I grew up, Mardi Gras took a back seat to Shrove Tuesday.
By now, you may be asking yourself “What the %*#* is a shrove?” I did for years. It is neither a specialized pan nor a gardening tool. ‘Shrove’ comes from ‘to shrive’, which in the Middle Ages meant to confess one’s sins to a priest and gain absolution. One would not wish to die, or enter the holy season of Lent, unshriven.
However, let’s talk about the traditional food served on Shrove Tuesday: Pancakes. Like the fried foods associated with Mardi Gras, Carnival and Fasching, pancakes used up fats, eggs, milk and sugar, all traditionally forbidden during the Lenten fast. They have been around in some form since at least the 15th century, when legend has it that a housewife in Olney, Buckinghamshire got so caught up in making them that she nearly missed getting to church. In her haste, she ran to the church, pan and cooking pancake in hand. Olney commemorates her with an annual pancake race, held since 1445. Several other towns in Great Britain have their own pancake races, but only Olney (say that 10 times fast) competes internationally, with the residents of Liberal, Kansas.
I’m not sure how good a pancake tastes after being flipped several times in chilly air. My own requirements for the golden brown delicacies include being hot out of the pan. I eat mine with butter and maple syrup — real maple syrup, not the corn syrup substitutes so popular these days — and preferably accompanied by bacon or sausage. I’m not ashamed to use the fast recipe on the side of the Bisquick box, but if I’m feeling really ambitious, I will make use the following recipe, from my trusty Joy of Cooking, 1975 edition:
Pancakes, Griddle Cakes or Batter Cakes
Sift before measuring: 1 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour
Resift with: 1 teaspoon salt, 3 Tablespoons sugar, 1 3/4 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
Combine: 1 or 2 slightly beaten whole eggs, 3 Tablespoons melted butter, 1 to 1 1/4 cups of milk
Mix the liquid ingredients quickly into the dry ingredients. Heat the griddle and test it by sprinkling a few drops of cold water onto the hot surface. If the water puddles before evaporating, it’s not hot enough. If it sizzles away immediately, it’s too hot. You want the water drops to bounce and dance around on the pan before you pour in the batter.
Pour the batter on the properly heated surface, then wait for bubbles to form on the upper surface. (Note: this is the upper surface of the middle of the pancake.) This should take 2 to 3 minutes max. Before the bubbles break, flip the pancake only once. The second side takes only half as much time to cook.
I like to serve mine hot from the pan, with any of the following: Butter and maple syrup, powdered sugar and fruit or jam, sugar and cinnamon.
I understand that Scarborough, Yorkshire has a half day holiday on Shrove Tuesday. (Anyone from Scarborough around to confirm or deny that?) And Ashborne in Derbyshire celebrates the day with the Royal Shrovetide Football Match, played over two days. It sounds more like a mob playing rugby than anything else, but I will admit to not knowing the fine points of the game. But what I want to know is: Do they have pancakes?
Do you celebrate Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Carnival or Fasching? If so, what special activities or foods make the day special for you?