Tuesday, 28 February 2017

The Significance of Pancake Tuesday

When one is already on a punitive diet, it is a challenge thinking up an appropriate Lenten penance. Is it still a Lenten penance if your original goal was not personal holiness but fitting into that dress you bought at Phase 8 last summer? My guess is "No" although it is still training in self-denial.

It is Pancake Tuesday, the Anglo-Saxon world's modest and humble Carnival. No wild partying in the streets for us! When it comes to pre-Lenten binges, the Polish Fat Thursday custom of eating as many doughnuts as possible makes more sense than eating the relatively humble pancake. However, as we are frequently told, pancakes were (allegedly) a way of using up the last eggs, milk and fat in the house before Lent began. 

I am frankly astonished that members of the Latin-speaking wing of the Church ever gave up eggs and milk for Lent. Fat I can understand, but hens lay eggs and cows need milking in and out of season.* I suppose, though, that one never HAD to drink the milk: it could be made into butter and cheese instead. I wonder what happened to the eggs. 

Anyway, I like the practical, pantry-cleaning aspect of Pancake Tuesday.  I was going to buy ricotta cheese for ours, but I have suddenly decided that I will make normal carby pancakes for B.A. while making almond flour ones for myself, a la Blood Sugar Diet Recipe Book. Naturally there will be bacon.

(By the way, I hope I am not getting terribly boring on the subject of the BSD. Food, grocery shopping and cooking are suddenly fascinating. For seven years I have allowed B.A. to burble about in the kitchen after work, making very masculine, high-carb suppers, and now he sits in the warmest corner of the sitting-room reading online Catholic news while I wield the Thai fish sauce bottle.) 

Here's a cheerful post by an Evangelical at Patheos about what Christian fasting used to look like. Meanwhile, since B.A. and I have already severely cut the calories and gone teetotal at home (madness!), we will have to come up with another penitential plan. Ironically enough, it may involve cutting back on Church news. 

*Update: Or not! See Clio's scholarly comment below. 


  1. Ahem. It's a seasonal thing. Lent falling in late winter/early spring, the milk would not have been flowing and the last stores of it would have been nearly used up. The cows, goats, sheep etc. would have been expecting young, and then would have had to feed their young at least until early summer. Hens in natural conditions would lay mainly in spring and summer and stop in winter; when they began again in spring perhaps their owners wanted to ensure their eggs were fertilized so they could have more chickens.

    In short, Lent was the season, in the Northern hemisphere, in which there was little food available anyway, until very recent times. You should read the late Patience Gray's Honey From a Weed, which is a sort of cookbook-memoir of life in southern Italy and Greece.


  2. AHA! Thank you for clearing up the mystery. I was hoping someone would chime in. "Honey from a Weed" sounds super and very much in accordance with my present mood!

  3. It's especially suitable for reading in Lent (though it may make you hungry); it's subtitle is 'Fasting and Feasting in Tuscany, Catalonia, the Cyclades and Apulia'.


  4. I can't believe I put an apostrophe in my 'its'. Sigh.

    That's what I get for posting while at work.


    1. Take comfort from the fact that you have influenced my purchasing decisions! "Honey from a Weed" is on its way to the Historical House.