Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pancake Day - Shrove Tuesday

Today is the traditional Pancake Day in this part of the world, certainly in Ireland and Britain, and probably in many other countries. Wikipedia tells us that it is tradition to eat pancakes among Anglican and Lutheran communities on this day - which is why I am always a bit skeptical about the veracity of Wikipedia reports as fact! I always reserve judgement, as I would argue that Pancake Day is as much an Irish Catholic tradition as it is among the Protestant community!

Pancake with cream, maple syrup, banana and pecan nuts

The day before Ash Wednesday the first day of Lent is known as Shrove Tuesday in these parts, and radio and television reports today are full of voxpops on the favourite way to eat pancakes as well as numerous recipes and much debate about the best fillings/toppings. As Lent was a time of fast and abstinence (in the past more so than now), Shrove Tuesday was seen as the last fling before the penance began. I can recall my mother abstaining from meat for all of Lent, and Ash Wednesday and Good Friday being "Black Fast Days" where you could only drink black tea (a real hardship in the home of milky tea!) and eat dry bread and one meatless meal. In other words, no meal at all by Irish standards in those pre-vegetarian days!

Shrove has something to do with shrive which means getting absolution for sin, which Irish people excel in, as we lead the world in Catholic guilt. This has somewhat diminished in recent years as the church was forced to loosen its stranglehold on the nation's morality since it lost its own moral compass when the scandals of child abuse and clerical collusion were exposed.

We always called today Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day, and Ash Wednesday marked the start of six weeks of Lent, which always entailed fast and abstinence - the giving up of something addictive like alcohol or cigarettes, or in the case of children, sweets or chocolate, or crisps, or soft drinks. It is often seen as a good opportunity in these secularised times to go on a bit of a detox and lose some weight! Of course the one exemption is St. Patrick's Day, when anything goes in the name of the national Saint.

One nice custom that is synonymous with Lent in Ireland in recent years is the Trócaire box, where families and individuals are encouraged to put the money saved from the abstention from treats in a box which goes to the aid agency for a specific project every year in the developing world. The focus is generally on children affected by war, famine, climate change, child labour, and this year's theme is forced migration from war, either as refugees or internally displaced persons. It is always personalised, with a real child's story told on the box, which really speaks to the relatively privileged Irish kids. Regardless of the economic hardship we might be facing here it is nothing compared to what kids and adults in the conflict zones of the poorer countries face.

In my childhood Pancake Day was a much anticipated feast, as pancakes were not eaten during the rest of the year and were associated with this day. Sugar and fresh-squeezed lemon juice were all that you needed for a delicious treat! Today the humble pancake has been pimped totally over the top, with every imaginable filling competing for space in the cookery pages and television cookery programmes. I have just had a feast of pancakes with sugar and lemon filling, which is probably the best as it brings me right back to my childhood and is pure nostalgia trip, and a fancy filling of maple syrup and cream with roast chopped pecans or walnuts sprinkled on top. Strawberry jam or Blackcurrant jam, honey and lemon, and Chocolate spread are other options, and cinnamon and cocoa dusted over the top, or icing sugar, are worth a try. In fact, anything goes!

In Ireland there is a savoury potato pancake called Boxty, which uses both mashed boiled potatoes and grated raw potato, millk, egg and flour - plain or wholemeal flour or a mix of both. These can be eaten with eggs, or ham and cheese, or a ragout-type sauce filled with mushrooms, chicken, ham - any savoury filling you like!

A pancake in the pan!

In Holland some years ago we visited a wonderful "pannekoekhuis" in Lierop, a village in Brabant, with some Dutch friends. It was in an old building in the centre of the village and had the biggest pancakes I ever saw, and they were both savoury and sweet, with wonderful fillings. In Spain, our son Shayne has worked for a number of years in an internet cafe-cum-gelateria and creperie, Melias in Malgrat de Mar near Barcelona, and they do wonderful crepes and pancakes in which I over-indulge every summer! My favourite is the banana, honey, whipped cream and walnuts, which is (cliché alert!) to die for.

So after all that rambling around, here is my recipe, which has pretty standard proportions, with a slightly higher egg ratio, most recipes of this quantity use 4 eggs but I prefer to add one more.



  • 11ozs/300gms plain flour

  • 5 eggs

  • 1 pint/600ml milk

  • quarter-pint/150 ml water

  • pinch salt

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence (optional for sweet pancakes; omit for savoury pancakes)


Put all ingredients into blender jug and whizz for 1 minute until smooth batter consistency

Alternatively put flour in bowl, add beaten eggs and pour in milk while beating with whisk -hand or electric - till smooth.

Add vanilla and pinch salt.

Stand covered in jug or bowl for an hour or more - no idea why but it is part of the pancake gospel that it mproves the end product.


Heat small frying pan or crepe pan, add some cooking oil - I use olive but any good oil will do - and heat to smoking.

Pour in ladle of batter and swirl pan immediately to spread over base thinly.

Cook until set, turn down heat to medium to avoid burning

Flip over by tossing pan if you have good wrist action and are feeling lucky! (or use spatula!)

Cook flipside till golden brown

Eat immediately with preferred filling.

Enjoy with lots of different fillings!

Handy Tip: Keep warm on plate over saucepan of hot water, do not heat in oven as this will crisp them and pancakes must be soft. They are not chappatis or tortillas!


FoodFunFarmLife said...

Thanks for a very interesting post ! We do not celebrate Shrove Tuesday/Pancake Day here in Tanzania - maybe in the big cities & at some of the schools but I'm really not sure. I do remember celebrating it as a child growing up in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe though. My favourite way to eat pancakes is just simply with sugar, lemon juice & a little cinnamon - yum !

Debbie said...

I am Catholic and only learned about the pancake thing this year by blogging! Never heard of it before.

Jeanne said...

Thanks so much for coming by! What an interesting post. I'd forgotten Pancake Day and reading your post was a reminder of growing up in a Catholic household as a child. Your pancakes look wonderful, I've never had them with cream, being a maple syrup and butter gal myself. We're getting prime weather right now for the maple trees here to run their sap to make that nectar of sweetness.
I see you like to read, as do I. I think we'll have lots to visit about.

Irene said...

Your pancake recipe looks very interesting, although it is very different from mine. Either way, I'm sure we both enjoy good eating, especially with all the different fillings in them. Your Dutch husband must be very happy with such pancakes. As you know, I'm sure, we Dutch are great pancake eaters. I am following you now, so I'll be seeing you around. Ciao...

Reasons said...

Yummy, i know what I'm having for breakfast now!

Glennis said...

Love pancakes and haven't had any for ages, I must make some!
That counter on the cost of the war is a scary thing, it just keeps on racing along.

Glennis said...

That is a lot of eggs in the recipe, but I guess that makes the pancakes lighter.

Catherine said...

I only realised when I got Glennis's post that I hadn't replied to anyone else's on it - sorry as I have stated above that I would do my best to reply to them all - this is where in good time is applicable! A bit late but better late than never.

LYNDA - I always enjoy your feedback and of course your blog - and I don't specifically recall pancake day/Shrove Tuesday as being a big thing in Tanzania only among our Irish friends when we were in Iringa - in Mishamo (Rukwa region) or Kagera we were with a wider European (=Dutch/Scandinavian mostly) community so it didn't have as much significance. We probably had pancakes at other times as well, and here in Lismore I often cook them as one son loves them and my daughter likes to cook her own.

Catherine said...

DEBBIE - glad to be able to share what is probably a bit of Irish and British culture not just Catholic as it seems to be known among a wider Christian culture in some countries. I don't know if it is widely known in the USA. It is a nice custom and has survived the march of secularism in this part of the world where the church's influence has diminished and Lenten abstinence is much less common among the younger more cynical generation. Glad to share this cultural custom with you!

Catherine said...

JEANNE - lucky you to have maple syrup there - we have maple trees or acers here but I don't think they give syrup so maybe it's the type you have. I buy it as a treat as it is over twice as dear as honey but is special and lovely with pancakes as well as porridge! I have looked at your blog and it is lovely, in many ways you are a woman after my own heart - some books and music (Bruce!) and I will comment on some of your recent posts soon!

Catherine said...

Irene - thanks for the comment. Yes I know the Dutch are great Pannekoek eaters though hubby isn't a big fan (his loss!). I may have told you - I meant to but could have forgotten, too many senior moments lately!- but I went to a wonderful pannekoekhuis in Lierop in Brabant or Limburg, not sure exactly where but near Deurne so probably Brabant, somewhere in De Peel anyway, some years back with friends from Deurne. They had nothing else but pannekoek - savoury and sweet. Boxty is the potato pancake here but I don't really make it, not much interest in this house. I like your posts, very open. Keep in touch - tot ziens!

Catherine said...

REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL 123 - New blog for me, just looked at yours and added myself as follower, looks witty and wry and I like some of your bookshelf! Hope you enjoyed the pancakes, and come back again, follow mine if you like. I love the different styles of the various blogs out there, the American and Australian ones are very different in writing style to the English ones so it is a fascinating cultural journey. I am reasonably new to blogging as I think you are from your blog. Bye for now.

Catherine said...

Glennis, thanks for the comments which arrived today and lucky they did as I realised I hadn't responded to any of the earlier posts thereby breaching my self-imposed netiquette code - or whatever blogging etiquette is called!

As for the number of eggs, don't forget the volume is large, the mixture is a litre when everything is in the bowl, so it is probably proportional and not too rich. I used a 4 -egg recipe with 500mls milk/water (400 mls. milk, 100mls water) so it is just scaled up for the 5 eggs.

Anyway eggs are back in favour now and seem to be not as bad for cholesterol as we thought for years. Seems the cholesterol in eggs isn't readily bioavailable. (our bodied don't convert it easily to bad cholesterol).

Yes the war counter is indeed scary, hope it can soon be removed totally.

I went to your blog and it is lovely , I will comment on your posts and follow if possible. Feel free to follow mine if you aren't already. Thanks for dropping by!