Pancake or Shrove Tuesday is a global celebration of the start of Lent

It's Shrove Tuesday. Will you be helping yourself to pancakes today?
It's Shrove Tuesday. Will you be helping yourself to pancakes today?

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 Pancake, 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.

My first recipe is for a sweet pancake that uses the new season rhubarb, along with strawberry jam in a blintz. A blintz is a traditional Jewish, filled pancake. The pancake is filled with sweetened cream cheese and fruit, rolled up and fried. It’s certainly a decadent way to go into Lent.

My other recipe is for a savoury herb pancake filled with leeks and cheese. It would be a good way of using up excess cheese or just go with a sharp cheddar.

Happy flipping and remember a pancake is a thing of beauty all year round!