Among other mysterious and inexplicable holidays that filled my childhood, courtesy of my English grandmother, was Pancake Tuesday.
The concept was simple: pancakes for supper! What could be better?
It took me years to figure out that the tradition, technically, was an observation of Shrove Tuesday, the conclusion of Shrovetide, the period in which one gobbles down the last remains of fat, butter, eggs, meat, whatever, prior to the advent of Lent, which begins the following day, Ash Wednesday.
Until I reached a certain age, I wouldn’t have understood “Shrove” or its source, “shrive,” anyway, much less the liturgical import thereof. Pancakes, though, were a subject I thoroughly understood and I took every opportunity to broaden my pancake knowledge. Any day that included pancakes for dinner was a holiday in my book.
Pancakes on Shrove Tuesday aren’t strictly an English or Commonwealth countries tradition. A large number of cultures include pancake-related food on the menu prior to “that lenten sesoun,” as my English buddy, Sir Gawain would have called it.
Ours was an American household, so pancakes were traditionally eaten with butter and as much maple syrup on them as Mom would permit, plus whatever accidentally spilled out on them after I meant — really, Mom — to stop pouring.
However, Mom was the daughter of that English grandmother (“the little old lady from across the sea,” as she liked to call herself), and together they taught us another way to eat pancakes. It was right up there with plum pudding, Lipton’s Tea, Winston Churchill and Her Majesty as British institutions to be revered.
The English Way
For your English Pancake Tuesday feast, you need only two relatively simple ingredients in addition to whatever pancake recipe you favor: lemon juice and powdered sugar (or regular sugar will serve).
Sprinkle your pancake with powdered sugar (as much as Mom lets you get away with) and squeeze out lemon juice to taste.
THEN comes the MOMENT.
You roll up your pancake into a cylinder and (make sure Mom’s okay with this) pick it up and eat it with your fingers.
(Or, bonus points if you can eat English fashion with your fork in your left hand, tines down, knife in your right, but although I watched my grandmother for years, I could never get the hang of it.)
Rule Britannia! Long live the Queen! Thank you, Sir Winston! Hip-Hip for the Little Old Lady from Across the Sea!
Many years have passed since those days, and I’ve shifted operations from the American Midwest to the West. Some different customs apply here, which means different recipes. One of the greatest combinations of traditions is blue corn pancakes. I’ve had ’em at Mark Miller’s Coyote Cafe in Las Vegas, Nevada, Cafe Pasqual’s in Santa Fe, New Mexico and any number of other venues across the Southwest.
We’ve also made some delectable ones right here in the Under Western Skies Kitchen.
Most recipes use approximately equal parts regular flour and blue corn meal. Bobby Flay has a number of recipes you can find online. Take it from there.
Happy Pancake Tuesday. What are you having?
© Brad Nixon 2017. Blue corn pancakes photo © Marcy Vincent 2017, used by kind permission.