When I got married, more than 15 years ago now, my mother gave me some sage advice. “Sarah,” she said, “whatever he’s really good at, you let him do it, and you never ever learn how.” There’s a great deal of wisdom in those words. Of course she didn’t mean for me to be helpless and to rely on my man to take care of all the big stuff. What she meant was twofold:
1. It’s important to build your partner up and let him know his contribution to even the simple things in your relationship is valuable.
2. If you do that consistently, then you will never have to do the cooking on chili night.
My dad does make a mean pot of chili and he has a few other signature dishes, too. And somehow Mom can’t manage to master any of them. But I’ll let you (and my dad, since he reads this blog) in on a little secret. She’s a pretty competent cook, and probably could make chili if she had a mind to. (Sorry Mom, but after 50+ years, I suspect he already knows anyway).
I have a lot of respect for my mother, for both my parents, and for their long-lasting marriage, so I have done my best to follow this advice. But this week, my determination to do so has been tested. Because this past Tuesday was Pancake Day.
For many of my American readers, you may not realize that that’s how much of the world refers to what we tend to call Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, or Shrove Tuesday. It’s the day before Ash Wednesday, that marks the end of the upbeat season of Epiphany, and the eve of the somber season of Lent on the Christian calendar.
Because Lent is observed as a season of repentance and often of denial of the flesh, Shrove Tuesday developed, probably in the Middle Ages, as a day of feasting in order to use up rich perishable foods that would not be consumed during the next forty days leading up to Easter.
Flour, milk, and fats needed to be used up. To the English, that sounded like a good reason to whip up a batch of pancakes. According to legend, in 1445 in Olney in Buckinghamshire, one woman did just that. But she didn’t have very good timing, because when the bell rang out to announce the beginning of the church service of confession (or shriving service), she was right in the middle of cooking her pancakes. A devout woman, she dashed off to church anyway, arriving breathless in her apron, with her frying pan in hand.
In her honor, the Olney pancake race has become a famous annual Pancake Day tradition, featuring women (or men in drag), running a 415 yard course toward the church while carrying a hot pancake in a pan. In order to win, a contestant must flip her pancake during the race a minimum of three times, and arrive first to serve it, still hot, to the bell ringer.
There are a lot of Shrove Tuesday traditions observed the world over, but this is by far my favorite. Someday I hope to participate.
And now I can, because I very recently learned how to make pancakes. I realize they aren’t terribly difficult to make, and it might be a little sad that a woman in her late thirties may not have known precisely how to do it, but what can I say?
I listen to my mother. And my husband makes amazing pancakes.
It has long been our family tradition that on Shrove Tuesday we eat pancakes (made by my husband, of course, because I never have to do the cooking on pancake night). Unfortunately this year he had to be out of town. I assumed that my sons and I would just go out to eat our traditional meal that evening. Until my oldest spiked a several-day fever and wasn’t fit to go to school, or to eat at a crowded restaurant.
Still, tradition is tradition and so with trepidation I took down the old family recipe book and looked up pancakes, a recipe I might add, that is incomplete because my husband has tweaked it over the years.
All I can say is I did my best, but I think his title of official family pancake maker is safe. And really it’s one skill I don’t mind not perfecting. There are plenty of other things I’m good at. In fact, according to my mother, I make the best blueberry muffins on the planet, a skill she just can’t seem to master.