It’s Pancake or Shrove Tuesday next week – traditionally the final feasting day before the start of the six week Lenten period. Shrove comes from the word “shrive” meaning to absolve.
It’s observed by many Christians who consider the wrongs they need to repent and seek absolution for, hence the name.
Cultures across the globe celebrate this day. In New Orleans the famous Mardi Gras, or literally Fat Tuesday, festival takes place and it’s replicated in Portugal, Southern American, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and Italy, as well as many commonwealth countries.
Eating pancakes was introduced initially to use up all the eggs, butter and milk before the fasting began on Ash Wednesday.
Tossing pancakes is a tradition that dates back to 1445 when a housewife from Olney in Buckinghamshire was so busy making pancakes that she forgot the time until she heard the bells ringing for the church service.
She rushed out of the house, still carrying the pan, and tossed it the whole way there to prevent the pancakes burning. It’s still part of the culture throughout England to this day.
In England, French style crepes are made – thin batter that’s spread across the pan to almost lace like consistency. Here in Northern Ireland we favour the Scottish style drop pancakes. This thick and fluffy variety is also what you’d find in typical American diners. Each is lovely in their own way.
When I was a student in Belfast, in the eighties, there was a restaurant called Frogites in Shaftsbury Square. It had the feel of a French bistro but the menu mainly consisted of pancakes.
The prices were well suited to a student budget and the food was really good. They did a tasty mince beef pancake topped with grilled cheese sauce that I still think about.
When I went to study in America we made a weekly Sunday trip to the International House of Pancakes, or I-hop as it was fondly known. They had every kind of pancake known to mankind and I steadily worked my way through the menu over my time there.
During my childhood, my mum made pancakes every Saturday morning. She made them on an old, heavy iron griddle and they never seemed to make it to the plate as they were scoffed straight from the pan.
Usually my brother and I smeared them with butter and sprinkled sugar on top. My first recipe is for these thick pancakes, flavoured with cinnamon and served with caramelized bananas and hot chocolate sauce.
The other recipe is for a savoury crepe. You can buy specialist crepe pans at this time of year – they have low sides for easy flipping. The batter is blended with some sweetcorn and then filled with smoky chicken and baked with cheese.
Happy flipping and remember a pancake is a thing of beauty all year round.