What better time to have a little party than just before we tighten our belts for Lent? We can be extravagant at the table for the last time this winter. Tomorrow is always soon enough to feel deprived.
Shrove Tuesday, 16 February in 2010, is the day before the penitential and fasting season of Lent. While the Lenten fasting was far more an issue in pre Vatican Council II days, Ireland was slow to let go of the more difficult of the religious duties, even when they were no longer “officially” required by the Vatican. But let Lent come, with all it attendant mortification of the flesh, if only for Shrove Tuesday Pancakes. These delectable delights are the larder’s last hurrah before the meatlessness of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday in modern days.
In the year 2010, Ash Wednesday falls on 17 February. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, and is a time of repentance. Ashes made by burning Blessed Palm from Palm Sunday the previous year are applied in the Sign of the Cross to the foreheads of the faithful as a sign of their repentance and atonement. It is customary for people to “Give It Up For Lent.” Fill in the “it” with whatever your own most difficult habit may be, and the remembering throughout the 40 days of Lent just may help you to overcome a bad habit. Popular “its” with Irish Catholics have always been sugar in the tea, cigarettes, Guinness, and so on. Personally, I stopped my three sugars in tea during Lent the year I was 10, and ever after have been cured of the habit. A little sacrifice for the greater good?
Way back in early Christian times, if fasting was good, more fasting was better, so meat and eggs were not permitted during Lent. The hens paid no attention to this, so there was an abundance of eggs by Easter. The Easter Bunny was invented. What would Easter be without eggs? Before Lent, any eggs that were around could be used to make the pancakes richer. You have to remember that this was before the tigers roamed Ireland, and then, as perhaps now again, food was more often on the mind than in the belly.
In more affluent days and to the young especially, the idea that a few pancakes was looked forward to all year long seems ridiculous. It was not the pancakes so much as the change in routine and the permission to eat something novel and sweet. Lemon juice? A real treat then. To be sure, it was innocent enough. We felt that our European neighbors---and especially those to the south---really knew how to throw a wild one. There was Mardi Gras, or Carnival, for example, and with names as exotic as these we knew we were missing out. To comfort ourselves we identified with those southern neighbors. Doing so confirmed for us, against the evidence, that we could be the daring, risk-taking, dark, and handsome ones that strode across our imaginations and not the pale, gawky teenagers of Ireland. We were, each of us, as they say in Kerry, outstanding in our own field.
Lent was tough enough, but to enter it without a good hooley was cruel and if the party was no more than a virtual one, so what? As for Shrove Tuesday, let them eat cake, pancakes, that is. Enjoy.
Shrove Tuesday Pancakes
4 oz. white flour
1 cup milk
butter for cooking and for spreading
For the pancakes: Mix flour, eggs, and milk. Whip well to beat air into the mix. Beat for 10 minutes if using a whisk, slightly less with an electric mixer. Let stand for 1 to 2 hours.
Butter a heavy pan and pour about 1/2 cup of batter for each pancake, twirl the pan to spread the batter, and turn when the top is covered with bubbles.
Transfer cooked pancake to a plate covered with wax paper. Spread with butter, sprinkle with lemon juice, dust with sugar, roll into a cylinder, and eat.
If you want to prepare the pancakes for later, as these pancakes are traditionally served at dinner hour, place a layer of waxed paper between each pancake and let cool until required. When ready to serve, heat by threes in the microwave and add topping, roll into a cylinder, and serve.
Shrove Tuesday Pancakes
2 cups white flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups milk
1 Tbs. butter, melted
butter for the pan
1/4 cup butter
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Whisk the milk and eggs. Sift the salt and the flour. Mix half of the liquid into the salt and flour, add the butter and mix well; add in the remaining liquid. Let the batter rest.
Using a heavy frying pan, melt enough butter to lightly cover the bottom. When the butter bubbles---be careful not to burn the butter---pour 1/3 cup of batter onto the pan. Swirl the pan to spread the batter. When the bottom of the pancake is set, and the top covered with bubbles, turn it over and cook until set.
Slide the pancake onto a warmed plate and drizzle with Lemon Sauce.
To make the Lemon Sauce, melt butter over low flame, add the sugar; dissolve sugar in the butter, and then stir in lemon juice. When the mixture starts to bubble, it's ready to drizzle over warm pancakes.
Super Irish Breakfast