Regarding the pancakes I made this morning at 5 am.
The recipe comes on down the line from a diminutive woman in Northern Saskatchewan, my grandmother Irene, known to her friends as Renie.
The original mix, would have been made on a boiler-plate woodstove also used to heat the house. Part of the daily routine would be to split some kindling, and bring in a bucket or two of water from the well. The water had that woody taste that you cannot get in the city, and the process of getting everything started in the morning, began with getting the fire going and shaking the chill off the room. Water would be poured into the boiler on the stove so that hot water could be had at the ready, and some would be heated for washing up, which you did in a basin. The dirty water was thrown out the back door after you were finished.
An interesting side note that tells you a lot about Northern Saskatchewan communities. They are the original melting pot because people came from all over the world where there was unrest, there was sometimes language barriers, but the harshness of the conditions made everyone stick together. You depended on good neighbours. When Jesus said “who is my neighbour?” the answer was self evident.
Hence, my grandmother never had her own well. When her house was built, she took water from her neighbour’s well. It was “borrowed water”. Borrowed things that are never really expected to be returned, show a level of conviviality that is rare. My grandmother’s neighbour said, “when you come over for a bucket of water, drop in for a cup of tea at the same time,” and I believe it was a bargain she kept.
The pancakes were made with prairie wheat flour, whole milk, with a little bit of oil poured in to grease the works. If you did not have baking soda, a bit of white soda ash from hardwood would suffice. She always used an extra egg, because God loves a generous heart.
The stove was judged hot enough that when you dipped your hand into the water bucket and flicked some across the boiler plate, the water would dance in little balls on the surface. Then the cast iron pan, (the one that was never washed with soap) would be put on to heat.
The pancakes were turned once you could see the bubbles at the edge of the pancake pop and stay open. Served with North Saskatchewan birch syrup and a little bit of butter, because you know, if you are going to repent you had better sin a bit first (wink).
My grandmother was likely not five-foot-two in heels, but her long shadow has followed me my entire life, and it is a legacy of sweetness. She was from a family of girls, whose father was a failed farmer from Britain. He just didn’t have the stuff to survive the harsh conditions of the Canadian west and walked out one day, leaving his girls and the farm to tend for themselves.
My grandmother proved that we can make more of life than the cards we are dealt. I remember her primarily for her endless kindness, and for her pancakes. They are a specialty that that has passed on down from generation to generation and still makes me smile.
For those who don’t know, Shrove Tuesday comes from the medieval term “Shriving” which means to repent. People of that era would put on a “shriving gown”, a sack-cloth cowl similar to those worn by monks. Dressed in this manner they would make their way to the priest to confess their sins. The more popular term for Shrove Tuesday, is Fat Tuesday, “Mardi Gras” in French.
Fat Tuesday heralds the forty days of fasting for Lent that precedes Easter. Forty days mirrors the period Jesus spent fasting and praying in the wilderness, in preparation for his own ministry. It is the spiritual preparation that understands Jesus’ words “My food and drink is to do the will of Him who sent Me” (John 4:34). The term Fat Tuesday comes from the necessary preparation for fasting, when you would rid the household of flour, oil, and any sweets. Hence, pancakes.
Bonus tip: Two or three will fortify you against the late winter cold.