Back in South Africa, the trimmings around Easter, such as Lent, Ash Wednesday and Shrove Tuesday are only really observed in the Catholic community. I was vaguely aware of Lent, but all the others were only found in the pages of fastidious almanacs.
Here, however, Lent is commonly mentioned (if not commonly observed), and Shrove Tuesday is a national institution. Not entirely, I must mention, for the religious significance, though: it’s much better known by the alternative name of Pancake Day.
Having a day dedicated to pancakes is something I can really get behind. They were always a huge treat growing up. They’re connected in my mind with two events during my childhood. One was Methodist Church fêtes, where there was always a pancake stall (selling at a price of 20c apiece, if I recall). The other is rainy days. Where we lived at the time, rain wasn’t particularly common, and when it arrived, it was usually in short, sharp thunderstormy bursts. Occasionally, you’d get a day where it hung around and rained all afternoon. This was, in local parlance, ‘pannekoekweer’, or pancake weather.
Because there’s nothing better for days like this than a supper of pancakes. There’d be the cajoling and pleading (by the children), followed by a half-reluctant acceptance (by the parents). Then there’d be the long build-up: my mother at the stove, cooking a double batch three at a time, with the stock piling up on a plate. By the time she was done, the whole house smelt delicious, the family were waiting in the kitchen like vultures, and once the lid was lifted on the pile, there was a rapid devourance in a flurry of cinnamon sugar, with a tally kept of how many each person had eaten as a sort of badge of honour.
It must be said, though, that what we called pancakes are probably what most over here would call crêpes. What they call pancakes (such as you’d see in this delightful post), we’d probably call large flapjacks. What they call flapjacks, we’d call crunchies (although theirs tend to be a lot stodgier and moist than ours).
As a footnote, I might mention that whenever we make pancakes now, I get a poignant memory: the recipe is on an email sent when we lived in Ireland, 16 years ago now. It segues seamlessly from “so nice to talk to you on the phone at the weekend” to the recipe, to news about my grandfather, who was dying of Alzheimers at the time. Wonderful, yet sad. Interesting how one dish links together so many different strands of life…