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``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D



The Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday are known as "Shrovetide," from an old English word "shrive," meaning "to confess," a name gotten from the tradition of going to Confession in the days before Lent started. Shrovetide is traditionally the time for "spring cleaning," and just as we clean our houses in these days in prepation for Lent, we also "clean our souls" through confession so we can enter the penitential season fresh.

Shrovetide is the last two days of "Carnival," an unofficial period that began after the Epiphany and which takes its name from the Latin carnelevare, referring to the "taking away of flesh" (meat) during Lent which begins on Ash Wednesday, the day following Shrove Tuesday. Catholics want to eat while they can and get the frivolity out of their systems in preparation for the somber Lenten spirit to come.

The Tuesday of Shrovetide is a particularly big party day known as "Mardi Gras" (French for "Fat Tuesday") -- or "Pancake Tuesday" because fats, eggs, and butter in the house had to be used up before Lent began, and making pancakes or waffles was a good way to do it. In many places, especially in England, pancake races became popular and remain popular today. In these races, women must run while flipping a pancake so many times, and whoever crosses the finish line first wins. The largest pancake race in England is in Olney, in Buckinghamshire. There, the women must wear a dress, apron, and bonnet, and flip the pancake three times -- while ensuring it is intact after they cross the finish line, of course. The story told to explain the origins of this race is that in 1445, a homemaker heard the shriving bell (the bell rung to summon people to confession on this day) as she was busy working in her kitchen. Not wanting to be late, she rushed about and ran off with her skillet still in hand.

At Westminster School in London, the "Pancake Grease" is held, an event during which the schoolmaster tosses a very large pancake over a bar that's set to about 15 feet high. The children make a mad scramble for it, and whoever emerges with the largest piece is the winner.

Below is a recipe for Shrove Tuesday Pancakes:

Shrove Tuesday Pancakes

4 large eggs
1 cup milk (do not use low-fat or nonfat)
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla, extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all purpose flour
Additional melted butter

Powdered sugar
Fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Blend first 6 ingredients in blender. Gradually add flour; blend until smooth. Let stand 15 minutes.

Heat medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Brush with butter. Add 2 generous tablespoons batter, tilting pan to coat bottom. Cook until golden on bottom, about 45 seconds. Turn pancake over. Cook until bottom is speckled with brown, about 30 seconds. Turn out onto paper towel. Cover with another paper towel. Repeat with remaining batter, brushing skillet with butter as needed.

Butter ovenproof dish. Sift powdered sugar over speckled side of each pancake, then sprinkle lightly with lemon juice; fold pancakes into quarters. Overlap pancakes in prepared dish. Cover; bake until heated through, about 10 minutes. Serve with more powdered sugar and lemon juice.

And here is a recipe for "Dutch Baby" pancakes that are baked:

Dutch Babies (serves 1 or 2)

1 cup flour
1 TBSP sugar
1 1/4 cup milk
2 eggs
pinch of salt
1 TBSP butter melted in a 9" pie pan in the oven
Powdered sugar and fresh lemons

Mix flour, sugar, milk, eggs and salt, and beat at high speed for 1 to 2 minutes. Pour into buttered pie pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, until edges have risen and are crisp and golden brown. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and squeeze lemon juice over the top.

An old German tale to tell your children while making pancakes:

The Runaway Pancake

Two women in Jetzschko were baking a pancake, and when it was almost done they began to quarrel, because each one wanted the whole thing.

The one woman said, "I get the pancake!" The other one replied, "No, I want all of it!"

Before they knew what was happening, the pancake suddenly grew feet, jumped out of the pan, and ran away. He came to a fox, who said to him, "Pancake, pancake, where are you going?" The pancake answered, "I ran away from two old women, and I shall run away from you as well!"

Then he met a hare. It too shouted, "Pancake, pancake, where are you going?" The pancake answered, "I ran away from two old women, Reynard the Fox, and I shall run away from you as well.

The pancake ran on until he came to some water. A ship full of people was floating on the water. They too cried out to him, "Pancake, pancake, where are you going?" Again he said, "I ran away from two old women, Reynard the Fox, Speedy the Hare, and I shall run away from you as well."

Then he came to a large pig. It too shouted to him, "Pancake, pancake, where are you going?" "Oh," he said, "I ran away from two old women, Reynard the Fox, Speedy the Hare, a ship full of people, and I shall run away from you as well."

The pig said, "Pancake, I am hard of hearing. You'll have to say it into my ear!" So the pancake went up close, and bam! bam! the pig snatched him and ate him up, and with that the story is ended.

In Poland, the food of the day is "Paczki" (pronounced "punch-key") -- large, filled fried "doughnuts" of sorts ("paczki" is plural; the singular is "paczek," pronounced "pon-check"). So ubiquitous is this treat among Poles that Shrove Tuesday is known as "Paczki Day" (this may be more common among American Poles, as Poles in Poland celebrate Paczki day on the Thursday prior to Ash Wednesday).

Paczki (3 dozen)

12 egg yolks
4 1/2 cups flour 1 tsp salt
3 TBSP rum or brandy
2 pkg. yeast
1 cup whipping cream (heavy cream), scalded
1/4 cup warm water
1 1/2 cups thick jam or preserves -- esp. cherry, prune, apricot
1/3 cups butter, at room temperature
lard (or oil, or combination of the two) for deep frying
1/2 cup sugar for sprinkling

Beat yolks and salt together a small mixer bowl at high speed until mixture is thick (about 7 minutes). Soften yeast in warm water in large bowl. Cream butter, add sugar gradually, creaming until fluffy, then beat into softened yeast. Stir one-fourth of flour into yeast mixture. Add rum and half the cream. Beat in another one-fourth flour. Stir in remaining cream. Beat in half of remaining flour. Then beat in egg yolks and continue to beat for 2 minutes.. Gradually beat in remaining flour until dough blisters. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and tea towel and set in warm place to rise. When doubled in bulk, punch down. Cover; let dough rise again until doubled. Punch down.

Roll dough on floured surface to about 3/4-inch thickness. Cut out 3-inch rounds. Place 1 teaspoonful jam in center of half the rounds.. Brush edges of rounds with water. Top with remaining rounds and seal edges. Place on floured surface and let rise until doubled in bulk (about 20 minutes). Heat fat to 360 degrees F, and fry doughnuts in hot fat until dark golden brown on both sides (about 3 minutes per side). Drain on absorbent paper. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Shrove Tuesday has also become a party day in the secular world, too, where, sadly, decadence tends to reign -- extreme decadence in many places, such as the French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana, infamous for its vulgar Mardi Gras celebrations. Elsewhere in the "Big Easy," parades and partying are less Dionysian and more family-friendly, but still raucous and lots of fun. The sort of King's Cake eaten on the Feast of the Epiphany which begins Carnival is often eaten during these Louisiana Mardi Gras celebrations.

Note: the painting at the top of the page, which is called "The Battle of Carnival and Lent." It was painted by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, A.D. 1564-1638. The portly figure of Carnival on the left leads a procession opposing the procession on the right, led by the gaunt figure of Lent. I provide a close-up detail of these two figures below. Note the pretzels at Lent's feet...

detail of Lent painting

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