Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Food to shrive for...

Today is Shrove Tuesday, usually referred to as Pancake Day, of course the day before Ash Wednesday. In the times of truly strictly observed Lenten fasting, Shrove Tuesday was a day of feasting and merriment. Pancake recipes were a good way of using up richer, fatty foods such as eggs, milk, butter and sugar. Liturgical recommendations, by the Catholic church and other Christian denominations, emphasised plain foods and refraining from rich foods for the 40 days of Lent. However, the righteous were also called to church on Shrove Tuesday to confess their sins and be "shriven" before Lent began. The words shrove and subsequently shriven, derive from the Old English word "scrifan": to prescribe. People would be shriven of their sins; the priest would prescribe their penance to enable their absolution before Lent. Folklore has it that the traditional pancake race originated in Olney, Buckinghamshire, as far back as 1440, when a housewife was still making pancakes as the church-bells tolled for the Shriving Service. Rather than be wasteful and leave them, she ran to the church with the batter in her frying pan, turning it as she went. In Olney and elsewhere, pancake races still take place each year: tossing pancakes has become a culinary art.
As a vegetarian, I love my cakes, biscuits and chocolate spread. With 40 days of confectionery-free days looming, I'll be off to make my pancakes before this post has settled on the screen. But my Irish side, which tends to come to fore where food is concerned, reminds me that the beginning of February was the feast of St Brigid of Ireland, the Abbess of Kildare and the spiritual patroness of all Irish nuns.. In days gone by, Irish housewives and cooks would honour this feisty and much loved saint as the patroness of the dairy cattle, who loved to cook to feed the poor, with recipes including butter AND buttermilk and also traditionally potatoes. This is my kind of cooking. "Boxty" pancakes - poorhouse bread - was traditional fare on the feast of St Brigid centuries ago, originating in the north west of Ireland. Boxty pancakes are still popular in Northern Ireland today; certainly my Antrim-born mother must have taught my Belgian Dad the recipe. He made them with generously with lashings of butter, throughout the year.
As I've now made myself hungry, here is the recipe for:
Boxty - Irish Potato Pancakes
2-1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2-1/2 cups buttermilk
1 cup freshly grated raw potato
2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla
(Makes 3 dozen 4-inch pancakes)
Way To Go:
Mix and sift flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Beat eggs lightly in a large bowl; stir in the buttermilk. Now stir in the dry ingredients, mixing just until blended (batter will be slightly lumpy). Stir in grated potato, butter or margarine, and vanilla.
Spoon the batter, just a 1/4 cup for each pancake, onto greased heated pan or griddle. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes, until bubbles form on top and the underside is golden. Turn the pancake over to repeat.
Serve at once, with plenty of butter. Sprinkle generously with sugar, the Irish way, and enjoy.
Don't wait until the next Pancake Day.

"Take me to the Mardi Gras"  Paul Simon


  1. Ok that's my diet gone - thank you xx p.s. Love the history Gigi xx

    1. History and food: talking and eating are two things I'm rather good at! x