Kage Baker always celebrated Shrove Tuesday. That’s what it was called, in our Roman Catholic childhood: the day before the long Lenten fast begins, the day you go to confession, get shriven – and then swear off sensual pleasures until Easter, so your soul stays clean. And so, by natural progression, it’s also the the day you have a big party and eat goodies you won’t get to eat for another 6 weeks.
This is why they’re going nuts in New Orleans today and tonight (though the majority of the bare-breasted, beer-swilling, bead-lusting crowd don’t remember the cause). It’s why the vestment colours in traditional RC churches change to penitent purple. It’s why generations of Christians ate pancakes on this day – because those succulent cakes of white flour, sugar, milk and eggs are composed entire of mortal sins. Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras – it’s pancakes, all the way down.
Mamma always made pancakes for breakfast on this day. They tasted better, knowing that we wouldn’t see them again for at least 6 weeks. Sometimes she made them for dinner, too; with the addition of meat – which would also be in short supply through Lent – it was a feast. I guarantee we realized the difference between Lent and the rest of the year, though probably not with the pious enthusiasm the nuns hoped for …
When Kage and I were kids, Lent was a serious affair. We went to Mass before school started at least 3 days a week – having fasted since midnight the night before. Mamma met us outside the church in the precious 20 minutes between Mass ending and class starting, some brief breakfast – muffins (butter, but no jam), or plain doughnuts, or grits; hot cocoa or black coffee in a thermos. A few fast gulps and swallows and we were charged for the morning. It always reminded me of the scene in Nicholas Nickleby where the boys make a hasty breakfast before being shipped off to Dotheboys Hall.
Nowadays, no one fasts at all, I think. It’s none of my business anymore, of course – Christianity didn’t take with me, and I long ago ceased identifying myself as one. But I was raised that way, and I do remember clearly the sense of pageantry and importance the old rituals imparted. How special can pancakes taste now, when there is no Lenten fast lurking on the other side of that sweet horizon?
Anyway, Kage and I always ate pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. And then not again until after Easter, just … because. Because it was the way it was done. And Kimberly and I made ’em tonight, too, with the extra indulgence of bacon on the side.
It was fantastic.