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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"As fit as a pancake for Shrove Tuesday"

An engraving by the Dutch engraver H.Cock after the design by Hieronymous Bosch, and dated 1567

That is, of course, a line from William Shakespeare in the ironic, tragic comedy 'All's Well that Ends Well'.

I had always remembered it as "...fat as a pancake..." When I googled the quote just now, I realized the flaw in my memory.

That may be due to my early childhood recollection of my mother's pancakes.  They weren't the wimpy ones you see in Aunt Jemima commercials.  Her pancakes did not come out of a package mix.  She used a mixture of real flour, corn meal and sugar, sifting it several times with baking soda and mixing them with eggs and milk.

My mother also did not make a stack of the small round cakes we know today.  Her's filled the whole of her black cast iron pan and sizzled and popped and rose high, frying happily in the thick slather of  bacon grease she scooped out from the old coffee can she kept on the back of the stove.

I guess I was a teen before I realized that what she made weren't the 'pancakes' my friends were eating.  And while they would never have been mistaken for lovely, delicate crepes, she called them pancakes anyway.

As Roman Catholics, it was the last of what we would have of eggs or meat during the long, austere Season of Lent.  Nothing fried, either.  Nothing sweet. 

The worst of it, at least for us kids, was that there was also no discussion about the fact that ALL of our allowance was to be saved.   I got a dollar a week.  Ten cents off the top automatically went into the church collection plate - "The Children's Offering". 

We were allowed to use the rest  to purchase a treat or a sweet (like bubble gum or soda). It's a good thing that, back then, candy was not called 'penny candy' for nothing, because that's really all we had left after tithing to the church and putting "something away for a rainy day". 

On Shove Tuesday, however, in addition to the fat pancakes, sausage and bacon my mother made, we were allowed to eat a whole, entire Candy Bar for dessert - not the usual fare of eating one quarter of a Candy Bar which my mother would dutifully cut into four precise pieces, one for each child. 

No, this night, we got an entire Candy Bar all to ourselves. I loved Baby Ruth and Buttercrunch. Lord, have mercy! 

Oh, my soul!  What a delight to have pancakes for supper AND candy for dessert.  I ate that supper like a condemned man eats his last meal.  I savored every single bite.  Didn't have to wash my hands after supper because I would slowly lick my fingers of the maple syrup and grease as well as the nutty, chocolaty sweetness of my Candy Bar. 

After eating that gloriously fat feast, I was as fit as a Shrove Tuesday pancake to begin to shrive - to obtain absolution for my 'sins' (whatever abomination a young child might be able to commit at that tender age) by way of confession and doing penance.

Tonight the St. Paul's "Knight's of the Roundcake" will present yet another Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper. A selection of plain, chocolate chip, blueberry and banana nut pancakes will be offered, in addition to bacon and sausage, and with the alternative of scrambled eggs for those on low carb diets.

We'll have a traditional pancake race with the "dead pancakes" - although lots of families are out of town / on vacation because this is School Break in Chatham - but we'll carry on in good form in our own way.

We'll not be burning palms for ashes this evening, after supper. We have more than enough left over from last year.

Ash Wednesday will fall like a dark curtain after a festive performance. The house lights will dim and the characters will walk off the stage. When they reappear, they will be dressed in sack cloth and ashes, with the smear of a large dark cross on their foreheads.

Soon enough we will hear, over and over and over again, "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return."

Since that's the case, and no truer words were ever spoken, as they say in NOLA during Mardi Gras, "Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez" - let the good times roll.

Or, as Willy would say, be as 'fit as a pancake for Shrove Tuesday'.

Because, you know, in the ironic, tragic comedy that is the human enterprise of life, all's well that ends well - and we all know how the story of Lent ends.


J. Michael Povey said...

Although my up-bringing was strictly English Protestant, we too had pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.

But they were nothing like those stodgy American comestibles.

They were in fact crepes. We would eat them rolled up, after being bathed in a bit of sugar and lemon juice.

Whenever I see or eat an "American" pancake I want to mutter "this is not the real thing"!

Grandmère Mimi said...

In New Orleans, we didn't do the pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. I guess we were too caught up in masking and parades.

Your description of your mother's supper made my mouth water.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Just talked with some British folk in my congregation who said the same thing. Sometimes, they would put a sausage (banger) in the middle and roll it up, dip it in lemon juice and sugar. Yum!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, Mimi, from what I understand about the way y'all celebrate Mardi Gras, would you even remember eating pancakes and sausage?

Brings new understanding to your phrase, "Who dat?"

Kirkepiscatoid said...

If anyone feels like they missed out on the ash burning, just send them over to my Facebook photos and let them see how their country cousins do it!

Grandmère Mimi said...

Elizabeth, I speak of the olden days when I was a child. Even in loose and wicked New Orleans, the children did not imbibe on Mardi Gras. However, we were allowed a small glass of half water and half wine during Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

IT said...

My beloved is attending a zydeco mass this evening.

I, for my sins, am teaching.