Sunday, March 6, 2011

Pancakes and Self Denial

In the Christian faith, this Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the period proceeding Easter, which makes Tuesday traditionally the last day to indulge in the luxuries that you'll be abstaining from for the next 40 days (actually 46 but Sundays don't count!). Around the world that day will be noted with festivals and food; Mardi Gras (Fat Tues), Carnival, Shrove Tues, Pancake Tues; in my predominently Polish neighbourhood, it's known as Doughnut Day and there's some delicious treats to be had. All of these celebrations come from the same source; one last blow out before a period of self denial and reflection (hangovers are an excellent incentive for the latter).

In my family growing up it was all about the pancakes and although I no longer follow the faith of my childhood I can't help but crave pancakes when Lent rolls around. We happen to have the all the stuff for making some pancakes from scratch in the house so I dragged out my trusty Five Roses Flour cookbook circa 1960.

Basic Pancake recipe
1 1/2 cups Five Roses enriched flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
1 egg
3 tbsp melted butter
1 1/4 cups milk
1/4 tsp vanilla extract (I omitted this)

Fat (butter, bacon fat etc) for cooking.

The recipe indicates you can substitute 3/4 cup of white flour with graham or whole wheat flour so I used some Red Fife stone ground whole grain flour as well. This made a much stiffer batter than regular white flour so if you like runny batter you may want to add additonal milk. I didn't and my pancakes were a bit dense but still airy.

Mix and sift dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, beat egg thoroughly and add milk (and vanilla if using).
Make a well in the centre of dry ingredients and slowly add milk mixture. Add melted butter and mix only till smooth.

Using a heavy iron frying pan or griddle, heat fat until melted but not smoking. Pour batter in small circles, allow room for each to spread without touching. Cook the pancakes until bubbles appear through out, then turn to cook the other side. Do not turn more than once.

I wanted bacon pancakes so I partially cooked two slices of bacon, cut in small pieces and added to the batter before cooking. I cooked the pancakes in the resulting bacon fat but I had reduced the melted butter to 2 tbsp in the batter and they were still lovely and moist and slid from the pan easily.

Top with real maple syrup or fresh or frozen fruit for breakfast. Or if you prefer, have them for dinner. It was tradition in my family to have them with a side of maple baked beans that my mom would make for Pancake Tues when we were kids and it was our kick off to Lent. In my case it's been many years since I gave up anything for Lent but as we are currently restricting our normal behaviour (for a totally different reason) I feel a resonance with that ancient ritual. In this case it is the purchasing of food that we are denying ourselves rather than the consumption but it sometimes amounts to the same thing. If it isn't in the house now, I won't be enjoying it for about 3 more weeks.

So far it's been rougher than I anticipated. Not because we are lacking in options- the cupboards and fridge are still pretty full. But it's the idea of choice (or lack there of) that's been causing me to question my ability to see this through. I'm fairly organized about shopping and cooking but I'm also prone to whims in our dietary decisions and often will decide to make something because it appeals to me in the moment. Living within walking distance to any number of options for food shopping makes picking up additional ingredients an every day occurrence if I choose. I found not being able to do that felt really restrictive over the last few days. On top of that I realized that food shopping is a form of retail therapy for me. Often my trips elsewhere are coupled with a stop at a food retailer and even when I'm broke I can always justify spending a few dollars on food. Not having that option made a long week seem even longer. Coupled with a bad head cold and the general end of winter blahs, this plan to restrict ourselves added more misery and made me wonder why anyone would choose to do this voluntarily.

Lent occurs at relatively the same time each year; this year is actually later than usual but it's dependant on the lunar calendar. The earliest Lent can begin is Feb 4, the latest is Mar 10. Which means it inevitably falls in the latter half of winter, when we are already feeling a bit deprived. The original purpose of Lent was to promote fasting and prayer, signifiying the time Jesus spent alone in the desert (pondering his fate, no doubt), but I don't suppose the early Christians had northern hemisphere winters in mind when they worked out the dates. Little wonder that the ritual has evolved into choosing only certain things to abstain from rather than complete abstinence of all things pleasurable. Still it's a long way from total fasting to giving up chocolate for 40 days -something I could do with ease (gingerale on the other hand...). Choosing self denial isn't something we are accustomed to these days, yet in a few short days I have been made aware yet again of how little I know of real deprivation. Maybe I was due for some reflection. Maybe I lose some weight or finally ween myself from sugary drinks. Or maybe I'll just be unbearable by the end of this month. Time will tell. In the meantime, there's always pancakes!


  1. My grandfather always said that Lent occurred at the time when meat hung in the barn was starting to go rancid, the vegetables and fruit stored in the cellar were soft, sprouting, or just plain rotting, and neither the new baby animals nor the earliest produce had yet appeared.

    He said that a period of church-imposed denial at that time helped people feel good about the lack of fresh food!

    The restriction from shopping is grating at me, too. I want to go grocery shopping SO badly!

  2. Hmmm Bacon pancakes, that sounds great, I will have to pull down some of my homemade bacon and make something with it later this week, can't wait for the first of the corn beef to be ready, the little one should be this week, the big one for St. Patricks.

    I liked reading your post, always interesting to see what families did for their own traditions.

    I feel for you on challange, Its bad enough on the farm but to be within such close distance to the stores has to be hard, DH says that its worse for him when he is at work as they bring round food for sale to boot. Not to meantion the always free food being offered in the lunch room by someone.

    It is worth noting girls that the rules we set up didn't say we couldn't shop for great loss-leader sales, we just can't use them this month.. so if you really need to. Go shopping and then admire it till april :) LOL

    Or was I the only one that put that rule in place? Have not used it yet but for the right sale price I certainly will.

  3. Well, I bought some baby Tylenol. We're all doing this to see *what* we can do, and how long our storage lasts, not to have dirty hair and dishes. :P

  4. Wow. If only I'd known yesterday was Fat Tuesday, I would have gone all out so I could abstain today. Bacon pancakes sound so amazing that I may have to prepare some soon.