Pancakes are political
Would you like to know your neighbours better? Do you like delicious food? Do you want to change the world, one small action of kindness at a time? Well, do I have the festival for you: Shrove Tuesday!
When I was a little girl, our elderly neighbours had spare keys to our house. We fed each other’s pets during holidays, and were in and out of each other’s homes. I used to go visiting sometimes, doing a tour of three sets of retirees, eating biscuits, watching the district nurse change dressings, and playing with Peppy the poodle. Am I right in feeling like this kind of neighbourliness is not so common these days?
Maybe it’s because more people are out all day, now. Most of us are busier outside the home, and more likely to be commuting, than I was a kid.
The world seems to be going through a wave of people wanting to be more insular and less welcoming of strangers at the moment. There are 60 million refugees living in makeshift camps, and while some countries are responding with enormous generosity, others are closing their borders and facing inwards.
One act of resistance to the rise of xenophobia and selfishness we are observing is to be more deliberate, ourselves, in opening our doors, and inviting people to eat with us.
In a few weeks’ time, the church calendar gives you an excuse to gather your neighbours together – or any other group of people you want to get to know better – and throw a pancake party.
What is Shrove Tuesday and why are there pancakes?
Shrove Tuesday is the last day before Lent. Traditionally, it’s the last day before a few weeks of fasting, to focus the mind on following Jesus in the lead-up to Easter. The fast used to be (and still is, for Eastern Orthodox Christians) serious business. For six weeks you ate no meat or other animal products, no wine and no oils.
So the day before Lent began (with the solemnities of Ash Wednesday), people would use up all those things so their pantries were clear of temptation. What uses lots of eggs, milk and oil? Pancakes!
Mardi Gras is the French version, and it’s also knows as Carneval/Carnival/Karneval in other parts of Europe and South America. The point in most places is to have a party before the serious reflection begins.
In 2020, Shrove Tuesday is 25 February
In 2020 Shrove Tuesday is 25 February, with Ash Wednesday the following day, 26 February.
It’s an ideal time to meet your neighbours, or maybe the families of your kids’ new school or kindy friends.
On Shrove Tuesday 2013, we were living in a downtown apartment attached to a hotel. We took a tray of pancakes, maple syrup and napkins to the staff downstairs and made lots of new friends. In 2014, in a new house, we invited our new neighbours on each side – and they came!
This year I’m plotting with my daughter’s brand-new school teacher to throw a pancake party during the last hour of school. We’ll invite all the kids’ families, so we’ll have a chance to get to know each other a bit. Our kids are at the very start of an eight-year relationship as classmates, so it’ll be great to have an extra chance to learn everyone’s names and swap phone numbers for play dates and checking what on earth we need to bring for book day or whatever.
Who are the people you want to get to know better?
Shrove Tuesday is an ideal time to meet your neighbours, or maybe the families of your kids’ new school or kindy friends.
People often feel like they need a reason to step out of their comfort zone and into a stranger’s house, so I reckon Shrove Tuesday provides a handy way to break the ice.
If you’re keen but not sure where to start, here are seven tips for throwing a low-key, no-fuss, meet-the-neighbours or hang-out-with-friends pancake party at your place.
Tip 1: Make some cute but easy invitations
If you have kids, chances are you have photos of them. Here’s the invitation we made the first year. It took a few minutes in Picasa to write some text over the photo, and I printed them out as photos for 29 cents each. Easy-peasy!
For a charming, non-techie option, you could just write or print a couple of sentences on some squares of coloured cardboard – just like a postcard – and drop them in letterboxes. It’ll probably take half an hour, max, and if you’ve got kids to help you decorate them, then that’s a great way to involve the whole household.
You don’t need to do anything elaborate or expensive, just make sure your guests know you’re serious about inviting them, and where to come!
Tip 2: Make or buy the pancakes ahead of time
You could buy the pancakes!
Unless you are giving up eggs, milk and oil for Lent anyway (no, I thought not), it’s pretty inexpensive to buy pancakes. They’re often sold frozen as ‘crepes’ or as smaller ‘hotcakes’. If you are keen to host your neighbours, but time-poor, feel free to go this route. We’ve done it a couple of times.
You can get gluten-free and dairy-free versions, too, to cater for different needs.
You could make your own pancakes!
If you’re making them from scratch, it’s good to know that pancake batter does well if stored in the fridge overnight, so you can definitely make the batter ahead of time. It often thickens up, so just a bit more milk or other liquid to the batter when you get it out.
You could even fry the pancakes the night before, keep them in the fridge and heat them in a warm oven in time for the party.
When I was a student, my flatmate Kent and I used to get up super early once a term to do pancake breakfasts for our youth group. The young ‘uns would roll in on their way to school, anytime between 7am and 8.30am, eat with their friends and head off to classes.
In our experience it always takes longer (and more pans!) than you think it will to cook pancakes for a crowd, so whatever you can do ahead of time will help your stress levels on the day, and give you maximum time with your guests and away from the kitchen.
Do you need pancake recipes? Here are three variations, depending on your situation.
Skip on past to Tip Number 3 if you aren’t cooking just now.
Recipe 1: Gareth and Nicola’s Perfected Pancakes: Super-Simple and Delicious
1 cup of milk
2 T oil
1 cup all purpose flour
1 T sugar
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
Beat egg lightly, add ingredients in order, mix till smooth.
To make this or any of the other pancake recipes gluten-free, you can just swap in a gluten-free flour mix of your choice.
Recipe 2: (My Mum’s) Ruth Pretty‘s Lemon Soufflé Pancakes
My Mum has been making these at Christmas for years, and they are exceptional.
They take a bit of attention, and can be tricky to keep intact, so are best for a smaller group, but if you feel like a new treat, give them a go.
Ingredients (serves 6-8)
70g (1/2 cup) flour, sifted
355g (1 ½ cups) ricotta
115g unsalted butter, melted
50g (1/4 cup) sugar
4 T lemon zest
vegetable oil for cooking pancakes
fresh raspberries to serve (or whatever you like)
Separate eggs and lightly whisk yolks.
Add flour, ricotta, melted butter, sugar, lemon zest to yolks. Whisk to combine (using a hand whisk only) and allow batter to remain lumpy.
Beat egg whites with salt till stiff.
Gently fold egg whites into ricotta mixture so streaks of egg white remain.
Heat flat plate of a BBQ or frypan to medium heat and brush with oil.
Pour about ¼ cup of batter in to make a pancake.
Cook 1 ½ minutes, or until golden brown and mixture bubbles, and then turn and cook till
Reserve pancakes in 100 degree C oven till all the pancakes are cooked.
Recipe 3: Jody and Julian’s pecan and cider waffles or pancakes: Vegan deliciousness!
After eating these, your guests will make their pancakes with apple juice and pecans forever after. They’re so good!
They’re free from eggs, milk and any animal products, so they’re suitable for lots of folks. You can swap ingredients in and out according to your audience. If you need to cater for soy-free people, just use another kind of milk.
Ingredients (for 8 large pancakes)
1/3 C (or more) raw pecans, finely chopped
1 C whole wheat flour
1 C all-purpose white flour
2 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 t salt
2 t cinnamon
1/2 t xanthan gum powder [can replace with 1-2 eggs if not vegan]
1/4 t nutmeg
1/2 C + 2 T soy milk or other milk
1 1/2 C apple cider or apple juice
3/4 C sugar [reduce this to 1/3 C or less when using apple juice instead of cider]
1/2 C canola oil
2 t vanilla
Chop the pecans and set them aside.
In a large bowl, whisk or sift together the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, xanthan gum, and nutmeg.
In a small bowl, mix the wet ingredients: soy milk, apple cider, sugar, canola oil, and vanilla (and optional eggs).
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix just until the dry ingredients are saturated. Fold in the chopped pecans.
Either cook in a pan as normal, or if making waffles, spray the waffle iron generously with oil, and cook for about a minute longer than normal cooking time.
Tip 3: Invite people to drop in during a set period
This kind of community event lends itself to a drop-in approach, and everyone will know what to expect if your invitation includes a window with a start and a finish time.
For the party we had the most people show up to, we put 4pm-6pm on the invitations and we seemed to get guests in two waves. The little kids and parents came at after-school time, and just as they were all heading home, everyone who was coming home from work turned up. It was a great afternoon.
Tip 4: Keep it simple. Really simple.
You’re inviting people over for pancakes – when you don’t have to! Everyone will be super-impressed at your hospitality even if pancakes and lemon-and-sugar are the only things on offer.
One topping is plenty. Feel free to do a sweet and savoury option, or something more elaborate if you really enjoy cooking, but it’s not at all necessary. Cups of tea are also optional, especially if you provide some iced water with lemon or mint in it.
The more menu and drinks options, the more faffing around (often away from your guests), so don’t feel like you need to go the whole hog for this kind of event.
Meeting your neighbours, or catching up with friends, is the real point of the day. One pancake in a paper napkin is all your guests need.
Tip 5: Give your kids jobs
Kids of all ages can have Important Shrove Tuesday Jobs, so before you start, have a household meeting to decide who can contribute what.
Can your toddler toddle down the street with you to deliver the invitations? Your pre-schooler might be keen on answering the door or offering napkins to guests. Older children can take pancake or drink orders, deliver pancakes, make cups of tea, collect dirty dishes – and of course cook and clean!
Tip 6: Write down people’s names before the day finishes
If you’re inviting neighbours, you might meet a whole bunch of people for the first time. Take a moment once the house is empty, to note down who came, and where they live, so you can greet them by name when you’re next putting the recycling out at the same time.
You might even want to have name-tags. I know, I know, they might seem a bit naff, but if most people are strangers to each other, they’ll probably appreciate the name-remembering help.
Another thing to consider, if it’s a neighbourhood event – maybe everyone could choose to add their details to a list to be shared around? Then you’ll be able to drop off a copy to each of your neighbours, which is both a nice chance to say hello again, and a service
Tip 7: Don’t cook dinner!
Whether you do a breakfast, after-school or dinner-time slot, you definitely get a free pass on cooking for the rest of Shrove Tuesday! Everyone will be stuffed with pancakes, so do a few dishes and put your feet up once everyone’s gone.
Have you done this kind of thing before? How has it gone? What would you suggest to others?
I’m super keen to hear what you think about this. Please leave a comment with your tips and secrets, and any thoughts you have about doing something this year.
I’m looking forward to hearing your stories!
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