How did we get so flipping mad for pancakes?

Patricia Feehily

Reporter:

Patricia Feehily

Tetyana Vysochan, breakfast chef; Tom Flavin, executive chef and Janet McNamara, pastry chef promoting a special Pancake Tuesday menu at the Strand Hotel Limerick earlier this week.  This week Patricia looks back to a time when pancakes had little to do with Shrove Tuesday. Picture: Alan Place
THE whole country has embarked on a healthy eating trip and far be it from me to disparage or criticise the campaign in any way, seeing that I’m in such dire need of a dietary transformation myself. In any case, even I have to admit that the HSE has enough on its plate already without having to cope with a nation bingeing on sugar and saturated fat. But when this healthy eating project starts to interfere with Pancake Tuesday, maybe it’s time to sit up and take notice.

THE whole country has embarked on a healthy eating trip and far be it from me to disparage or criticise the campaign in any way, seeing that I’m in such dire need of a dietary transformation myself. In any case, even I have to admit that the HSE has enough on its plate already without having to cope with a nation bingeing on sugar and saturated fat. But when this healthy eating project starts to interfere with Pancake Tuesday, maybe it’s time to sit up and take notice.

The day has become something of an institution in the country in recent years and maybe they should have left us this space to enjoy a bit of a splurge before the Lenten fast begins. Instead they are now advocating only ‘healthy pancakes’ made with wholegrain flour and soya milk and filled with blueberries. Bord Bia must be hopping mad!

It’s not that I was ever a great fan of Pancake Tuesday. Usually, it crept up on me unawares and I’d come home from work exhausted to find my three offspring waiting eagerly for their pancakes, and neither flour nor eggs in the house.

“Pancake Tuesday was never this early,” I’d wail. But there was no way out. The ingredients had to be procured and the batter prepared. They’d feel deprived, disadvantaged and underprivileged for the rest of their lives if Shrove Tuesday wasn’t celebrated in traditional style. The sad thing is that you can buy a ready made mix now and just pour in the milk.

Two of them liked maple syrup with their pancakes and this was usually sold out by the time I got to the shop. One of them liked chocolate spread on hers and also insisted that at least four flips were necessary to make a pancake edible. It was a nightmare.

I couldn’t even toss a coin in the air without either hitting myself between the two eyes or having the coin roll out sight, never to be found again. The pancakes weren’t much different, but I suppose I should count myself lucky that I wasn’t around in the days when housewives were expected to run a race as well, tossing pancakes in the air as they ran.

Now the offspring have all flown the nest, and the pressure is off. Pancake Tuesday will never be the same again.

I’ll relax with a nice glass of wine before sacrificing the demon drink for Lent, and I won’t even contemplate a pancake. But I’m not off the hook either. The now grown up children will be home at the week-end and we’ll have pancakes then, they told me. I hadn’t the heart to tell them that nobody eats pancakes in the middle of Lent. Then again, ‘healthy pancakes’ made from wholegrain wheat and soya milk are a different kettle of fish altogether and for all I know, they may even have a sacrificial flavour.

Shrove Tuesday, of course, was never about pancakes back in the day. It was more about shriving ourselves of our sins and preparing for the Lenten fast. For some of us that preparation entailed stuffing our faces before launching into seven long weeks of doing without, a concept that is alien to youngsters today.

Usually I’d give up sweets and chocolate in a vain attempt to improve my canonization prospects later on, but my resolve seldom lasted beyond St Patrick’s Day and I’d arrive at Easter Sunday regretting my lack of will power and feeling too guilty to even tackle an Easter egg. But on Shrove Tuesday I could eat all the sweets I could lay my hands on without any self recrimination.

Shrove Tuesday was also the day in rural Ireland when people got married. I have no recollection of this, but apparently every parish in the country had a least one wedding on Shrove Tuesday. I do, however, recall people wishing each other “a merry Shrove” but I thought they were referring to the feasting before the fast. There were no marriages performed during Lent in those days, so Shrove Tuesday was the last chance people had, for a whole seven weeks of joining together in wedlock. Seven weeks must have felt like a lifetime back then!

Making pancakes, however, was a walk in the park compared to the pressures that single marriageable men and women had to endure in the run up to Shrove Tuesday every year. Matches were made and dowries exchanged without their knowledge. Most of the time, they didn’t even know of each other’s existence.

Sometimes, if they were still single after all the matchmaking, they were chalked to mark them out, while at other times salt was thrown over them to ‘preserve them’ for another Shrove. Merciful hour, the country was always mad!

But thankfully, that’s in the past and all we have to worry about now, on the eve of another Pancake Tuesday, is the health risk of the traditional pancake. But how are we going to use up all the butter and flour that we’re giving up for Lent then?

There was a purpose behind Pancake Tuesday and we seem to have forgotten it.