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Shrove Tuesday Pancakes!
by Bridget Haggerty
Throughout the British Isles the day before Ash Wednesday - Shrove Tuesday - is commonly known as Pancake Day. In Ireland, It’s called Pancake Tuesday. As the child of Irish parents living in London, I loved watching the Pancake Races. Usually, the contestants were housewives. Each of them carried a skillet which contained a large, very thin pancake. The idea was for the women to race to the finish line, tossing their pancakes as they ran. It was hilarious - especially when a stray pancake landed where it wasn't supposed to!
My other vivid memory of the day is my dad fixing our Shrove Tuesday supper - pancakes! As good as they were, we never had them at any other time of year. And, as good a cook as my mother was, she always let Dad take over the kitchen. Mum always claimed she was too heavy-handed to make good pancakes. I think it was a ploy on her part to let Dad have all the fun.
Mesmerized, we all watched as he mixed the ingredients, prepared the pan, and then poured the batter for the first cake. Then, we'd let out loud whoops of glee as he deftly tossed the cake high into the air. Everyone held their breath to see if he'd catch it back into the pan again. Rarely did he miss. As soon as the cake was done, he slid it on to a plate that had been warmed in the oven. Quickly, he sprinkled sugar all over it, squeezed on the lemon juice and then rolled it up like a crepe. In fact, that's really what it was. One after another, the cakes were piled on to the plate and kept warm in the oven until he'd made enough to feed us all.
The pancakes disappeared almost as quickly as my father did when supper was over. As the next day was the beginning of Lent, he'd be taking the pledge - i.e. abstaining from alcohol until Easter Sunday. So, he always went off to the local pub on Shrove Tuesday to enjoy a last night out. An exception was made for St. Patrick's Day - but that's another story.
In many countries, Shrove Tuesday was, and still is, a day of public revelry and carnivals. But, in Ireland long ago, it was usually a family celebration. For the faithful, Lent meant abstaining from eggs and all dairy products, so all of these had to be used up before Ash Wednesday.
Generally, the family, and sometimes friends and neighbors, gathered around the fire which was often fueled in part by the Christmas holly, saved just for the occasion. The pancakes were baked over the fire and the honor of tossing the first cake was always given to the eldest, unmarried daughter of the host. It was said that if she could toss it and receive it back into the pan successfully, she'd be married within the year; but, if it didn't turn or was dropped, she would remain single. Often, her mother would put her wedding ring into the batter for the first cake; if the daughter was successful in her toss, she would immediately divide the cake into enough servings as there were guests. The person receiving the piece that contained the wedding ring was doubly fortunate - they'd be married that year and their choice of a spouse would be a good one.
In addition to enjoying their pancakes, an Irish family in the old days would also have served generous portions of meat as the main course. I do recall that, while my father was making a great show of tossing our pancakes, my mother was at his side fixing his favorite pork chops. But, I don't remember my parents following the tradition observed in some parts of Ireland where a small scrap of meat from the Shrove Tuesday supper was pinned to the kitchen ceiling or inside the chimney. It remained there until Easter Sunday and was done so to bring good luck, prosperity and to ensure there was no shortage of meat.
It's hard to believe, but nearly half a century has passed since I first recall my dad making and tossing Shrove Tuesday pancakes. Since then, I've adopted many of the customs we follow in the United States. We'll don Mardi Gras beads and masks, play foot-stompin' jazz on the stereo and indulge in some great New Orleans-style cuisine. However, on the side, there'll also be a plate heaped high with Dad's Irish pancakes!
TED O'FLAHERTY'S IRISH PANCAKES
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1 oz unsalted butter
Additional butter for frying
1. Beat the milk and eggs together in a bowl. In another bowl, sift the flour and salt together; add half the milk and egg mixture, stirring constantly.
2. Melt the butter and whisk it in. Whisk in the rest of the remaining milk and egg mixture.
3. Allow the batter to stand at least two hours.
4. Melt 1 tbs butter in frying pan, add 1/4 cup batter and tip until the pan is evenly coated. Keep the pan moving as you cook to prevent sticking. When the underside is golden brown, flip the pancake and cook the other side.
Slide onto an oven proof platter; sprinkle with sugar and lemon juice and then, roll up.
Keep warm in a 300 degree oven until ready to serve.
I was interested in the information on Shrove Tuesday.
When I was growing up in Ireland,in the Midlands, we always called it "Pancake Tuesday" although lots of people called it "Shrove Tuesday." "Pancake Day" was rarely if ever used. At school we learned the Irish version which was "Mairt na hInide" (or, "Mairt Inide"). "Inid" is an Iris approximation of "Shrove. Very few people in Ireland refer to the Irish language as "Gaelic".
We were invariably assigned an essay to write, in Irish, on how we spent the day. The trouble was, nothing more festive occurred than
eating pancakes - which we did, with enthusiasm! How I wish now I'd kept a few of those essays!
Slainte agus slan! Go neiri an tadh libh!
Tue, Dec 2, 2014
Holly and Ivy hanging up and
something wet in every cup*
Not so long ago, Irish Christmas decorations were much simpler than they are now. The children gathered holly and ivy for adorning, windows, doorways, mantles and pictures, and the father would carve out a turnip in which would be placed a large red candle. This would go in the window to light the way for the Holy Family on Christmas Eve. Only in relatively recent times did an Irish family have a Nativity scene and a decorated tree in the house. As for Mistletoe, it's quite rare in ireland and is generally associated with ancient Celtic and Druidic fertility celebrations; this is most likely where the custom of kissing under the mistletoe comes from.
*Old Irish Christmas toast
Image: Pashley Manor Gardens.
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