Shrove Tuesday………. mmm………. takes me right back to the grotty old kitchen of the house we lived in when I was a kid – dingy, cold stone floor, peeling paint, an ancient gas stove, a clothes urn in the corner – a WHAT? – well, basically, a tub you plugged in which would boil your clothes for you! – obviously long before washing machines were common. You had to extract the steaming clothes with some huge wooden tongs – a risky business! We did acquire a twin tub washing machine later – the forerunner of today’s automatics. No mangle, though – that positively dangerous device with two big rubber rollers and an industrial handle – you fed the clothes through between the rollers to rid them of excess water before hanging them on the line; tumble dryers were still a twinkle in some future inventor’s eye. My grandmother had a mangle though, and I remember one of my brothers egging the other one on to put his fingers in between the rollers – which he did, of course! silly boy!
Anyway, back to that grotty old kitchen – mum could work miracles in there on baking day – she would produce Welsh cakes, apple pies, bread and butter pudding (not the upmarket croissant and white chocolate version of today – this was proper bread pudding made to use up old bread – its original raisin d’être – (raisin d’être! oh, stop it!) She could bake anything …..fruit cake, sponge cake, all manner of buns and biscuits – but one of my favourites was…..the humble pancake, which she only ever made on one day of the year – Shrove Tuesday – and with no fancy additions – just straightforward pancakes with sugar and lemon juice – huge platefuls of them, which our family of 5 didn’t take long to demolish.
After the age of 8 or 9 my little brother and I spent many a hilarious Shrove Tuesday trying to make and toss our own pancakes, which invariably ended up on the ceiling, or the floor, or sliding down the side of the tablecloth. Mum took two basic precautions before we started – (1) putting one of those plastic- coated cloths on the table and (2) not leaving the room, in case we started a fire, but other than that she just stood over by the sink and cringed – until she could bear it no longer and would wail ‘Oh, Doug……..!’ and dad would appear and restore order.
Of course, we tend to forget the original purpose of Shrove Tuesday – a way of using up all the rich food like fat and sugar in the pantry before Lent, a period of abstinence, which in the Christian faith serves to remind us of the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, renouncing temptation. Even if you aren’t particularly religious I don’t think it’s a bad thing now and again to make a few sacrifices and exercise a bit of self discipline – albeit on a more prosaic level – something along the lines of giving up wine or chocolate éclairs. It’s a good time, too, for a bit of reflection, evaluation, or maybe even a whole new beginning; I’ve noticed how being ever so slightly hungry sharpens the mind – gives you all sorts of ideas!
Of course, if you want to exercise the body as well, and you think you can wield a frying pan, toss a pancake and run at the same time, enter a Pancake Race – there’s bound to be a Charity Pancake Day Race near you – or get into training and do it next year if you’ve missed the boat – easily done this year because Easter is early.
Why does it move about you might ask – well, you can blame the moon – Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after March 21st, so in theory it could fall anywhere between March 22nd and April 25th. I’ll leave the explanations to the experts – different religions work from different calendars, lunar and solar, and then there’s which side of the International Date Line you’re on ……. mmmm……. I’m just thinking – I remember one New Year’s Eve hearing about someone who set himself the challenge of celebrating New Year in Sydney and then rushing across to ….was it Hawaii? to celebrate it again and then haring off somewhere else to celebrate it AGAIN! – maybe I could do the same on Shrove Tuesday! More pancakes in more places!
Anyway, one thing that doesn’t change is that Shrove Tuesday is 47 days before Easter, which is, of course, the original moveable feast, unless you’re Ernest Hemingway, in which case it’s Paris.
Pass the lemon juice.
I have recently acquired two new things – one – a ‘gluten free’ friend (a diagnosed coeliac) and two – a new electric oven – what better than to combine the two and try out a few new recipes!
My first ‘gluten free’ attempt was some chick pea flat bread which was actually quite tasty but the first time I made it I was still using my trusty old gas cooker with eye level grill – 100 years old at least! Now I had to make the flat bread in my new electric oven – the top oven is apparently a grill.
I decided to use the flat bread as the outer casing of my alternative ’empanadilla’ – those of you familiar with Spanish cuisine will know it as a typical Galician dish, traditionally made with a dough (or pastry) base and topped with peppers and tomato and fish, usually tuna, though the one made for us by my husband’s aunt many moons ago in Villagarcia de Arosa contained ‘anguila’ (eel) – and delicious it was too.
For my take on this traditional recipe (well, if Jamie Oliver can say that , so can I!) I used smoked trout, roasted peppers and tomato pesto.
Of course, the point was to road test my new oven:
Verdict on the oven ? Don’t think the grill was hot enough – the flat bread took ages and came out almost like biscuit.
Verdict on the empanadilla? – not bad! I would do it again.
To make it just whisk up some chick pea flour, water and salt, turn into a shallow, oiled pan and put under a hot grill – takes just a few minutes. Or cook on the hob as you would a crepe.
Use the flatbread as your base, spread some tomato pesto onto it, then your fish and top with roast peppers – the more colourful the better – and – voilà! Empanadilla de trucha ahumada – delicious washed down with some sauvignon blanc.
Just brought the garden brolly inside, stacked up the garden chairs and swept the patio clean of leaves.
The plum tree looks stark and bare, most of the flower pots are empty and the barbecue in the corner has become a storage unit again.
Looking on the bright side ……………..
I’ve just spotted the basket of jams and pickles I made ready for winter teatimes, so I’ll light the candles by the fire, make some crumpets and open one of those jars of plum jam I just came across. And while I have my tea I can look out at the last of the colour – the berries, the winter jasmine and the leaves on that nice pear tree.
I know its only just November but I can do it all again in December – and January – and February – I’ve got 18 jars of jam left – anyone for crumpets?