We have for years celebrating the British holiday called Pancake Day, which was one of the big discoveries of my first spring in England. I’d gone to live there with my father and stepmother after he got a job with the then state-run computer company ICL. My intention was to explore Europe and study for the Oxbridge entrance exams. I was at a supermarket and saw a huge pile of lemons with a sign reading, “FOR PANCAKE DAY.” I came from California and this was completely baffling: lemons and pancakes?
We learned that Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday that is better known as Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday,” is celebrated in England with a supper consisting of eggy, buttery crepes sprinkled with caster (fine white) sugar made syrupy with squeezings of fresh lemon. This is a holiday that easily becomes a fixture on the calendar, and my kids, who were born in London, have always celebrated Pancake Day. And Berkshire Publishing has a significant British component. Not only are there Tom and Rachel Christensen, who are Londoners by birth, and who work from our Beijing and Great Barrington offices, but Molly McFall and I, who both lived in the UK from 1981 till the early 1990s. Molly still has her Texas accent but like me she has half-British children. Then there’s Trevor Young, our IT maven, who comes from Lincolnshire.
Here’s an office email exchange from this morning that highlights some other ways of celebrating the day. I wrote:
Happy Pancake Day! I didn’t realize till last night that this important holiday is already upon us, and I’ve already booked supper with Bill McNeill. But there will be a few pancakes at 5pm, anyhow. Pancakes, as Molly will know, are vegetarian but not vegan.
Molly, who is our Outreach Coordinator, responded:
Doesn’t this just tell you everything you need to know about the British-French: Mardi Gras (lots of booze, people getting nekkid, throwing beads; Brazilians: Carnival (even more people getting more nekkid, parades, samba); … British: pancakes.
Trevor jumped in:
Molly, I guess I must be British. Given the three choices of celebrating this day, pancakes wins hands down.
Note: Trevor is indeed British, born and brought up in Lincolnshire. In fact, he’s the only 100% Brit among us. He suggests squeezing fresh oranges over brown sugar as a variation. I keep meaning to try this but am so enamored of the lemon variety I always fill up before getting to the orange segments.
Finally, Bill Siever’s comment:
Subject: The British are indeed a strange folk
And then there’s the cheese rolling ….
I’ve walked under that hill and it is STEEP.