Is it Pancake Day or Carnevale …..?
Next Tuesday, the 17th, is Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day, as we know it in the UK, but here in Italy it is called Carnevale. The Italians really put heart and soul into all their festivals and with Valentine’s Day just three days earlier it is confusing to know which celebration some of the advertisements,decorations and biscotti are associated with. Shops are full of costumes and masks and special fish menus for Carnevale and boxes of Bacci chocolates for Valentines Day. Hearts are everywhere, even on sugar packets.
Yesterday one of our lovely neighbours brought in a plate of melt in the mouth, homemade Biscotti, lavishly dusted in vanilla flavoured icing sugar (Italians seem to use this on just about everything), they are simple but very addictive.
Carnevale began way back in Roman Times and, like our Shrove Tuesday, was a day of wining and dining in preparation for forty days of fasting. One source describes it as a day when the lower classes could let their hair down and enjoy themselves. Now it is a time of parties and masquerade balls. The ones in Venice being particularly extravagant.
In typical stiff upper lipped British style our ‘feast’ modestly consisted of Pancakes, thus using up eggs and milk whereas the Romans appear to have had these humongous feasts! Maybe they had to give up more than us as, from what I read, the celebrating was one of food, wine and sensuous pleasures!
However , looking at English medieval feasts I reckon our original Shrove Tuesday was probably very similar to that of the Italians! We just don’t like to admit it!
But, seriously, to look back at the origins of our ‘pancakes’.
The word ‘Shrove’ is a derivative of ‘shrive’ which means to be forgiven of your sins. To gain absolution. I was telling one of my Italian friends how it is common in the UK to ‘ give up’ something for Lent. He was really surprised when I said that lots of my friends seemed to favour giving up chocolate. But then Italians do love their chocolate!
Here in England, as everywhere in Europe, this day was originally a pagan holiday. The ‘Slavs’ believed that the change of seasons was due to a struggle between the evil spirits of cold and darkness and ‘Jarilo’ the god of springtime and fertility. The celebration lasted a week, the most important feature being the eating of pancakes ! The round, hot, golden pancake symbolised the sun and they believed that by eating pancakes they would get the warmth and energy of the sun. I do feel quite energised today and the sun has been very strong so maybe they were right!
I really miss my kids most of the time but not on Pancake Day! Why? Well now I can make pancakes and enjoy them whereas before the mass production, a burning face and repetitive strain injury through tossing the pancakes, took away my appetite!!
Did you know that a Dr. Mark Hadley, has researched exactly how to perfect tossing a pancake? Well, it appears that it requires an exact altitude. So, next time you attempt to toss a pancake aim for a height of 0.5 metres. Your natural swing will give the pancake a velocity of 3m/sec which in turn spins it at just the right angle/speed and lands it perfectly back into the pan and not on the carpet! There is a series of equations to support/explain this theory but, equations make my head feel really weird so we won’t go into that.
I always eat pancakes dusted with sugar and liberally sprinkled with lemon juice. I also dry fry them without butter or oil so,they are light and thin and crisp and healthy!
Way back when I was about nine years old the desert ‘crepes suzette’ was very fashionable. This is a dish of pancakes in a boozy orange sauce. My first experience of this was nearly my last!
The occasion was a meal out with my lovely Uncle Johnnie. Uncle Johnnie, my mum’s youngest brother was, in those days area sales manager in the foot ware industry. He would sometimes stay with us when visiting retailers in the North. I really looked forward to his visits because he was great company and had a big car! I would sit and wait for him while he had meetings with clients and then we would visit a little cafe for an afternoon tea of scones with jam and cream.
One day Uncle Johnnie took me out for dinner. It was at the Brocket Arms in Wigan. A very grand place! It was an amazing meal. In those days we never went out to eat. It was very expensive plus there just weren’t any restaurants. Just hotels. I think I had a Prawn Cocktail followed by steak and chips for my main course and then chose Crepes Suzette for desert probably because it sounded very fancy! It was quite an experience. I remember the waiter frying the pancakes in melted butter over a burner next to our table and massive flames as the brandy was poured over and set alight!
It tasted amazing but I felt so sick later!! Just far too rich for a nine year old’s stomach ! But I never said anything because Uncle Johnnie would have been really upset. He was always so very kind!