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!