Tuesday, 24 February 2009

From the Frying Pan

This morning children and adults all over the UK were waking up to the sweet smell of frying pancakes, letting everyone know that today is Pancake Day!

Also named Shrove Tuesday, this day traditionally marks the last day before Lent, a time of abstinence and giving up luxuries and pleasures. During the 40 days and 40 nights of Lent, Catholics historically - and still to this day - would give up eating things like fats, eggs and dairy products. Not wanting anything to go to waste, families would have a feast on Shrove Tuesday using up any foods that would not last the entirety of Lent.

As plenty of fats were used during these feasts, the day became known as Mardi Gras or "Fat Tuesday" in France, which in turn gave rise to Carnival in many famous cities all over the world, including Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and New Orleans in Louisiana.
Alternatively, in Poland the feast was traditionally held on the last Thursday before Lent and became known as Tłusty czwartek or "Fat Thursday". During the day families would eat Pączki (Polish Donuts), a tradition that is still celebrated by Polish communities all over the world.
Here in the UK however, pancakes became an integral part of this day, using up your eggs, milk and fats with only the addition of flour, and in time became known as Pancake Day.

In modern times, the religious connotations of this day might no longer be the main focus, and most people celebrate Pancake Day without partaking in Lent. However this day is still steeped in tradition and you can join in many activities such as Pancake Races, Pancake Flipping competitions, Mob Football games and the famous annual Pancake Grease, held by Westminster School.

Not one to let an opportunity to cook something special pass me buy, I was first one in the kitchen this morning. I already had the eggs cracked, the milk and oil whisked, the flour sifted and the thick, smooth, cream-coloured batter ready by the time the rest of the house started the process of getting out from under their warm duvets. Although English pancakes are usually very thin and served with caster sugar and lemon juice, I decided to brake the mould and do things my way. I used an American breakfast pancake recipe for the batter, which uses both self-raising flour and baking powder to give risen, fluffy pancakes to really sink your teeth into. After heating my frying pan with a tiny dash of oil, pouring the eggy-batter into it and giving it a swirl around, I threw caution to the wind and added a handful of blueberries. As I turned out one golden pancake after another, the delicious smells drifting throughout the flat soon brought everyone to the kitchen, tousle-haired and all. On the table I already had waiting, bowls of blueberries and sliced bananas, a pot of my orange sugar (caster sugar infused with orange rinds), a tub of runny honey and some whipped cream. As we all devoured the breakfast feast, my Polish husband not even caring that there weren't any Pączki, I knew why this tradition has lasted for so long :)

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