The U.K. alternative to the Mardi Gras celebration


Pictured above are English-style pancakes with American maple syrup. (Katherine Larson photo)


At The Table by Katherine Larson
Mardi Gras gets all the publicity. There are the parades and the beads, the floats and the bands, the general jollification that in many places marks the Tuesday before the Christian liturgical calendar sends believers on to a 40-day journey of fasting through Lent.
But in Great Britain and the Commonwealth (countries that were formerly part of the Empire and retain ties to Britain), Mardi Gras—literally, “Fat Tuesday”—is known as Shrove Tuesday, referring to the Christian call for shriving as one approaches Lent. And the other name for Shrove Tuesday is Pancake Day.
Pancake Day! Now there’s a day that, whatever our religion and national origin, promises to engage the sympathies of us all. This year, it falls on March 5.
Like Mardi Gras, Pancake Day is a great equalizer. As an English poet named Pasquil wrote in 1634,

It [is] the daye whereon both rich and poore
Are chiefly feasted with the selfsame dish,
When every paunch, till it can hold no more,
Is fritter-filled, as well as heart can wish.

The basic idea of making a batter out of some sort of flour and frying it on a flat surface stretches way back into prehistory. Otzi the Iceman, an unlucky Neolithic individual whose frozen remains were found in the Italian Alps some 5,300 years after his last meal, enjoyed just such a dish as part of that meal. The ancient Greeks, ancient Romans, and ancient Paleo-Indians all ate a variety of pancake.
Today, pancakes can be found across the globe in a wide variety of food traditions. From the Ethiopian injera to the Japanese okonomiyaki, we humans like our food flat and fried…

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