Monday, February 23, 2009

Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras?

In much of Latin Europe and America, tomorrow is 'Mardi Gras' or 'Fat Tuesday', the last day to celebrate and indulge to excess before the season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. However, tomorrow is known as Shrove Tuesday in England and many of its formercolonies. The term comes from the verb 'to shrive', meaning to hear the confession of a sinner, impose penance and pronounce absolution. Believers in England were expected to go to confession by not later than Shrove Tuesday, to be spiritually cleansed of sin prior to the forty days of Lent, a period of repentance, fasting and abstinence that precedes the Easter celebrations.

It's an old English custom to eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, which is also known as 'Pancake Day' for that reason. Why and how this arose, I'm not sure, but it's fun! I can recall my mother cooking up heaped piles of thin, crepe-like pancakes, each sprinkled with cinnamon powder and castor sugar, then dribbled with lemon juice (from cut lemons, none of this plastic-bottle nonsense!), then rolled into a cylinder to be eaten by the dozen. Alternatives were pancakes with fruit and cream. Oooh, the stomach-aches I had as a child on Shrove Tuesday! (But they were worth it!)

English newspapers are publishing pancake recipes right now, and households all over the country will be preparing them for dinner tomorrow. They'll be topped with savory meat dressings, or lemon, or treacle, or anything else that takes the family's fancy. My mouth's watering at the memories, and part of me is wishing I could be there! I guess I'll have to make my own, to celebrate. Being in Bayou country, I wonder whether crawfish pancakes are an option?

One scientist in England has come up with the perfect recipe, in true laboratory tradition.

With Shrove Tuesday tomorrow it was perhaps inevitable that an eager scientist would apply their skills to creating the perfect pancake.

Maths expert Dr Ruth Fairclough stepped up to the challenge, unveiling a complex algebra formula to help chefs nail the dish on the day.

The 34-year-old senior lecturer of mathematics and statistics worked out the food formula because her two daughters loved eating pancakes so much.

Dr Ruth, who teaches at Wolverhampton University found that
100 - [10L - 7F + C(k - C) + T(m - T)]/(S - E) created the tastiest snack.

In the complex formula L represents the number of lumps in the batter and C equals its consistency.

The letter F stands for the flipping score, k is the ideal consistency and T is the temperature of the pan.

Ideal temp of pan is represented by m, S is the length of time the batter stands before cooking and E is the length of time the cooked pancake sits before being eaten.

The closer to 100 the result is - the better the pancake.

Dr Ruth reckons the frying pan's temperature is one of the most important parts, together with the preparation of the tasty batter.

She said: 'The first thing to do is that you must get the pan temperature exactly right. When the oil starts lightly smoking you need to pour the mixture in.

The next thing is that you have to get the consistency of the mix spot on - it can't be too runny as if it is the pancake just falls to bits. Saying that, it can't have any lumps in it either.

'You can check it's right by lifting up a spoon and the mixture should just fall lightly off it.

'You should let the mix stand for 20 minutes so the flour has time to absorb into the milk.

'Make sure you have a medium sized pan, too big and it could be really hard to flip it.

'The pancake should be served piping hot off the pan with sugar and lemon.'

Yum! I'm getting hungry just reading that.

Two chefs in England have made me even hungrier by building the world's tallest stack of pancakes, to claim a place in the Guinness Book Of World Records.

Sean McGinlay and Natalie King of Glasgow's Hilton Grosvenor hotel measured their pancake tower at 29.5 inches (75cm) - beating the current title by 0.4in.

The chefs mixed about 100 eggs, more than 17 pints of milk, 11lbs of flour and 6.6lbs of butter for the challenge, a hotel spokeswoman said.

The hotel's general manager Stuart Nelson said: 'It was a bit shaky towards the end but somehow we managed to pull it off.

'Special thanks must go to Sean McGinlay and the kitchen team, who have spent a great deal of time this week perfecting their pancake recipes and stacking techniques.'

According to Guinness World Records, the current official record stands at 29.1in (74cm), achieved in Slovenia in August 2008.

That 672-pancake stack took 22 hours to build.

Dammit, now my mouth's watering fit to flood the garden! Just wait until my blog posts are done tonight. Pancakes, here I come!



Diamond Mair said...

Isn't it funny, how different cultures celebrate? Of course, in bayou country, I'm sure you've tried King Cakes {we've a friend in Baton Rouge who helps out in a bakery this time of year - we've HAD his King Cakes - DELIGHTFUL!} - the Pennsylvania Dutch {Amish & Mennonite} celebrate with fastnachts & apple fritters - fastnachts are just regular doughnut dough, fried with no holes; apple fritters are actually glazed doughnuts {again, with no holes}, with chunks of cinnamon'd apples throughout ................ don't these all go back to the tradition of using up all one's "fats", prior to the fasting of Lent?


Anonymous said...

Glasgow is in scotland...not england.

Wayne Conrad said...

I've never heard of Shrove Tuesday, but breakfast for dinner was often had at my house when I was growing up. It's still one of my favorite meals. Now that I've read this, I think it's pancakes and sausage patties for dinner tonight, with real maple syrup. That's something to look forward to!