Pancakes - courtesy Google

The day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday, is known as Pancake Tuesday in Ireland. So, while those in New Orleans were reveling at Mardi Gras today, folks in Ireland were ‘feasting’ on pancakes.

With strict religious traditions followed in the past, abstaining from eggs, fat and butter during Lent was required, so these products were used up on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday in a feast, which in Ireland included pancakes. On Pancake Tuesday in the old days, families would sit around a fire, often fueled with the addition of holly from Christmas, where they baked the pancakes. The honor of making the first pancake was usually awarded to the eldest, unmarried daughter. It was said that if she was able to flip the pancake and it landed neatly back in the pan, she would be married within the year! If the toss were unsuccessful, she would remain single. I’m sure there were a few ‘first pancakes’ purposefully flipped over the side of the pan into a bit of a mess… as well as, a few lovingly flipped with practiced expertise!

These days Pancake Tuesday is a nod to tradition and fun way to have something a bit different for dinner, and in Ireland, pancakes are rarely seen except for on this day. With the exception of a few tourist places, breakfast in Ireland does not include pancakes. Apparently, the Irish find the American taste for pancakes at breakfast and throughout the year… along with our restaurants almost entirely dedicated to pancakes, a bit of a curiosity and uniquely American. In fact, when we have had Irish visitors over on holiday, bringing them to a local pancake restaurant, or pancake house, has become a part of their sight-seeing and the American experience!

The year I lived in Ireland was the first I had ever heard of Pancake Tuesday. To me it was a great excuse for an easy dinner, as well as, a fun opportunity to take part in the local culture. So, on Pancake Tuesday of 2002 in County Kildare I made a huge, American sized stack of pancakes for dinner. Kate was thrilled to be having pancakes! Declan looked a bit confused. Why had I made so many pancakes? I just shrugged and told him pancakes always come in stacks, besides it’s our dinner. When he then told me that usually dinner on Pancake Tuesday included pancakes – but also consisted of other food items, such as meat and vegetables and that the pancakes were more of a dessert… I felt a bit like the befuddled foreigner again. However, we ate the stack of pancakes, with maple syrup, and they were delicious! And what’s more, they reminded Kate and me of home.

Tonight I served pancakes of a sort for dinner. Potato pancakes – with applesauce on the side. I’m not sure if they count as Pancake Tuesday pancakes, but somehow being in the U.S., having a stack of traditional pancakes with dinner felt a bit odd and too much like breakfast. However, had I found the following recipe before today, I may have made it instead – though vegetarian that I am, the bacon would have either been omitted or cooked separately on the side. Here is a recipe for Guinness Pancakes with Crispy Bacon and Cheese, courtesy of the Irish Culture and Customs website:

Ingredients:

5 oz. plain flour

1 tsp. baking powder

2 eggs

9 fl. oz. Guinness (approx.)

1/2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves

1 T. vegetable oil

For the topping:

4-6 rashers of dry-cured bacon

knob/pat of butter*

1 T. vegetable oil*

4 heaping T. grated sharp mature cheddar

2 T. chopped fresh herbs (i.e. chives, parsley, basil)

Method:

1. Mix the flour, baking powder, eggs and thyme with enough Guinness to create a thick-ish batter.

2. Heat a little oil in a large, flat non-stick frying pan. When the oil is almost smoking pour in 2-3 ladles full of the batter.

3. Cook over a medium heat until bubbles appear on the surface and the underside is brown (3-5 mins). Turn over and brown the other side. Continue until you have 8-10 pancakes. Keep warm.

4. Fry the bacon with a little butter and oil until crisp. (* My note: I don’t think American bacon needs the addition of oil and butter!) Mix together the cheese and chopped herbs.

5. Arrange the pancakes on a warm plate, scatter with the cheese mixture and top with the hot bacon. Serve at once.

Perhaps next year a few of us will observe Pancake Tuesday with Guinness Pancakes!

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