Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Of pancakes

(Okay, to explain, The Community Voice has risen Phoenix-like from the ashes and I back doing my Musings again, for the time being anyway)

Recent trips to our local supermarket in Ongar have served to remind me that the most important festival in the Christian calendar is fast approaching. I refer of course to the Feast of St. Pancake, a 32 stone Irish saint from the 5th Century, who lived most of his life just behind Ryan’s Garage in Blanchardstown.
The legend is of course well recorded in the annals that Pancake, when a young boy, had a visitation from God in the form of a frying pan. God told Pancake that he was omnipotent and Pancake figured that, if this were so, the fatter he got, the godlier he would become. He therefore gorged himself on mixed flour and eggs (adding lemon juice or maple syrup for taste) until he became Buddha-esque in appearance and incredibly holy.
His followers tried various initiatives to commemorate the great man – Easter pancakes, Trick or Pancake etc – but in the end they settled on the day before Ash Wednesday – usually a Tuesday – as it was found that pancakes were the perfect medical antidote to the ashes the priest insisted on smearing on your forehead the following day.
It has always been a source of fierce debate in our household – sometimes leading to wrestling matches that my wife always wins – as to how the ritual of pancakes should be enacted.
In our house, growing up, my mother would always make the pancakes instead of a normal dinner and I had always assumed that this was how everybody did it. Looking back, it is perhaps a salient fact that ours was a family of cheapskates and there was a definite financial element to this interpretation of the scriptures.
In my wife’s family, however, they ate their normal dinner and then after Coronation Street – Pope John Paul II was apparently very specific on the timing - the pancakes would be made. How they were hungry for pancakes after already eaten a big dinner was always a mystery to me (who rummages for biscuits at 8pm on a normal evening)
The supermarket in Ongar is now advertising pancake makers, which seem to be glorified frying pans, and frankly, if I was sitting on the jury panel of Dragon’s Den, my pockets bulging with wads of cash, I would soon spot the flaw in the budding entrepreneur who waxed enthusiastic about the pancake maker. I mean, to dedicate a factory to producing these items which are only retailable for one month of the year, for people who don’t want to use a frying pan? And where do you keep the damned thing for 364 days of the year, taking up space?
One concession that we have made to modern living though is that instead of going to the enormous trouble of mixing the raw ingredients of flour, baking powder, sugar and salt – a task that would doubtless have Jamie Oliver reaching for the blender – we now buy a packet of something called Pancake Mix. Traditionalists may scoff but it does the job and saves so much back-breaking work.
The problem is, that you don’t need to use the entire packet for the pancakes, meaning that the packet lives up in the press for years on end. Our current one, which is still perfectly all right, has a sell by date of 2003. The unopened packet that we bought in 2006, when we weren’t sure if we still had a packet in the press, was up last year but hey, we have a lifetime’s supply now. We have even gone to the bother of bequeathing it in our wills to future generations.
Of course, you still have to break eggs and then add the eggs to the mixture and beat the whole lot, so the culinary element is not lost altogether. Not that I have much to do with the technical stuff – my job is to hover and pass over implements like an assistant in an operating theatre, a task I perform admirably, even if I say so myself.
My father – who also used the cooker primarily for telling the time – always maintained, even on this death-bed (which we found rather odd) that the best pancakes were fried on the fat of a female goose that had been humanely killed at approximately 36 months of age and then hung upside down on the washing line for two days. We use Stork. Again, it does the job.
When the pancake is nearly done on one side (x-ray eyes are handy for this) the pancake should be tossed onto the other side, a phrase which always caused us to snigger as adolescents. For years, my wife, doubtless influenced by cartoons of pancakes sticking to ceilings or landing on people’s heads, refused to let me do this, preferring to simply turn it over with a spatula herself. After years of wheedling, I am now allowed to toss the last one and now insist on dragging in all the family to watch me.
As everybody knows, pancakes must not be eaten straight from the pan, no matter how hungry husbands and children crowd around you licking their lips and rubbing their bellies. First they must be placed on a plate sitting on a pot of boiling water on top of the cooker. In this way, the steam from the water seeps through the plate and infuses the pancake with enamel-flavoured moisture. Or maybe it’s just to keep them hot. Who knows?
Choice of filling is possibly a hereditary thing too. For myself, a line of sugar down the centre makes the perfect pancake, though I have been known to experiment with raspberry jam on occasions. Nobody in our house has ever been a maple syrup fan – my apologies to the maple growers of Canada – and I have never understood the concept of squirting a sour lemon into your pancake. Is this the healthy option? Adding citrus fruit to your amalgam of flour and eggs?
Besides, I suppose I’m a bit prejudiced against the followers of St. Jif, a seventh century, yellow, oval-shaped cleric, who lived and preached in the carpark of Power City. For years they have been trying to usurp the venerable St. Pancake with clever advertising campaigns but it won’t work, I tell you.
The common refrain after the last pancake has been scoffed is always – we should have them more often during the year. At least it would help to use up the packets in the press. In fact, last year, I marked down October 17th on the calendar as being the feast of St. Pancake the Lesser, but when it came round, there was something good on telly after Coronation Street.
This year, perhaps.

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