Monday, February 28, 2011

Meatless Monday: It’s Pancake Time!

Having pancakes for supper this week or next would be in keeping with a time-honored Christian custom. The penitential season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, — March 9 this year. The Tuesday before is traditionally a day for using  up all the rich foods observant Christians “give up” during these 40 days preceding Easter. 

Fats are among the foods the faithful eschew for Lent. To ensure that no food goes to waste, families feast on this Tuesday, consuming all the taboo foods (formerly including eggs and dairy products) that won’t last for 40 days hence the name Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”). Pancakes are often the food of choice, since the cook can create a meal using up all the eggs, fats and milk in the house, merely by adding a bit of flour.

How long have Christians been indulging in pancake feasts? At least since 1445 when the women of Olney, England competed in their first recorded pancake race!

Fat Tuesday is known as Shrove or Shriving Tuesday in the church calendar. In the past, all Christians used to shrive, or present themselves to a priest for confession and absolution of their sins on that day. The tradition of the Olney pancake race is believed to have begun when a woman busily making pancakes lost track of time, and upon hearing the bell summoning the faithful to confession, raced out of the house to the church, still wearing her apron and with her frying pan in hand. Each year female residents of Olney race from the Bull Inn to the parish church wearing an apron and cap (as well as their normal clothes) and wielding a frying pan with a real pancake. They must toss the pancake once at the start and then again at the finish of the race. There are prizes for the fastest runner, the oldest runner, and the one who raises the most for charity. 

Since 1950, the race has taken on an international flavor. After seeing a photo of the Olney race in a magazine, the president of the Jaycees in Liberal, Kansas challenged the women of Olney to a friendly competition. The women of Liberal have been running a charity pancake race of identical length, and with the same rules, ever since. The day is now designated as International Pancake Day. The current tally is 34 wins for Liberal and 25 for Olney. There was no winner declared in 1980, because a truck blocked the finish line in Olney. 

In an early observance of the occasion, I whipped up a batch of my husband’s favorite cornmeal pancakes. The recipe was gleaned from an elementary school field trip to the Boothe Memorial Park and Museum in Stratford, Connecticut some 8-10 years ago. I still retain vivid memories of a bus filled with little kids from the city on a big trip to this “farm” some 15 miles (1/2 hour) away. That day we tried out stilts, looked at antique farm equipment, visited a blacksmith’s shop, watched a demonstration of weaving, and made pancakes. Everything was a new experience for many of the students, most of whom had never seen farm animals. One girl was so afraid of the chickens that when asked to harvest an egg for the pancakes, she burst into tears. When we arrived back at the school, she hopped down from the bus and proclaimed, “I never though it would feel so good to have the sidewalk under my feet again.”

Here’s the recipe. It’s really easy and I bet you have the ingredients in your cupboard.

Cornmeal Pancakes

Sift together:
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar

Add: 1/2 cup boiling water

Stir into batter:
1/4 cup milk 
1/4 cup cup canola oil
1 well beaten egg
1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)

Drop large tablespoons of batter onto a hot, well greased
 frying pan or griddle. 
Turn the heat down, and cook the cakes until brown. 
Then flip them over and brown on the other side. 
Serve with maple syrup and enjoy!

For those of you who can’t get enough of a good thing — tomorrow, March 1, is IHOP’s 6th annual observance of what IHOP calls National Pancake Day. From 7 am-10 pm IHOP is serving up complimentary short stacks. In return, IHOP asks that you donate a little something to Children’s Miracle Network or a designated local charity. To date IHOP has given away over 10 million buttermilk pancakes in National Pancake Day events.

Those of you who live in the New Haven, CT area can get another pancake fix on Saturday, March 5 from 9 am until noon at the United Community Nursery School Open House and Pancake Breakfast — $2/each or $6/family of 4. There is yet one more opportunity after the Sunday, March 6th service at United Church on the Green (service at 10:30 am, pancakes around 11:45, free).

Whether you choose to dine out, to make your own, or to do both, ENJOY!

I try to blog on food or food issues each Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”


  1. Jesse's Favorite
    Banana Flapjacks (From Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Moscowitz)

    2 very ripe bananas (mashed)
    2 Tbs. canola oil
    1/2 C water
    1/2 non-dairy milk (soy, almond, rice)
    1 tsp vanilla
    1 C flour
    2 1/4 tsp baking powder
    1/4 tsp cinnamon
    pinch allspice

    Mash bananas then stir in all wet ingredients.

    Fold in dry ingredients and mix until there are very few lumps. (Don't over mix)

    Use a 1/3 C measuring cup to drop batter onto a preheated skillet. Test to be sure a few drops of water "dance" before you start the pancakes. Be sure to use a bit of cooking spray so nothing sticks...

    Jesse likes these best with a few chocolate chips thrown in :-)

    This is a GREAT way to use up those bananas that you let go just a little too long! (and it's easier than making banana bread)

    Have fun!

  2. These sound great. I'm always looking for new ways to use up old bananas! Thanks.

  3. Somehow or other the usual e-mail alerting me to this post never arrived so I just came across it today checking out "Freebie Friday". I first learned about this tradition reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's THE FITZGERALDS & THE KENNEDYS. It seems Honey Fitz developed an abiding love of pancakes because of his mother's observing this Lenten tradition. I looked into it because the tradition was foreign to me.It had obviously fallen out of practice since Honey Fitz's day, since I knew of no Catholics in Boston who did this. You mentioned that it was a way to use up perishables. I learned that it was a way to consume those things which weren't allowed during the Lenten fast, in particular eggs. At one time these were considered the same as meat so forbidden under the old & much stricter fasting practiced throughout Lent.