MY FAVORITE part of the Lenten experience was yesterday, Fat Tuesday, the day when some folks gorge themselves before beginning the 40 days of penitence that precede Easter.
While I have never been much on penitence, I have been a lifelong fan of Fat Tuesday. In the house where I grew up in St. Joseph, Mo., all the kids stopped eating candy during Lent. My brothers and I would ready ourselves for 40 days without Tootsie Rolls by engaging in a bout of what we regarded as libertine behavior. We would eat an entire pan of homemade fudge as we watched the Red Skelton show on television.
I know that when compared with pre-Lenten festivities in other parts of the world, our Fat Tuesday excess was tame. After all, in New Orleans, the natives get ready for Lent by having several weeks of Mardi Gras parades and parties. And in Brazil, I am told, the women who dance during the "carnival" celebration wear costumes that make the Sports Illustrated swimsuit models look like staid, overdressed piano teachers.
But there was a lot I didn't know about how the world works when I was a kid growing up in the Midwest. I also didn't know that not eating meat -- another Lenten practice -- was more of a penance for us living in the middle of the country than it was for residents of Baltimore and other East Coast cities.
In the Midwest, when meat wasn't on the menu, you usually ended up eating frozen fish. Lenten meals were known as the "many moods of fish sticks."
But in Baltimore and other Eastern seaports, fresh fish was plentiful. Easterners might have been giving up meat, but they were able to enjoy fresh striped bass, oysters or other seafood at their tables. They played by different rules than those of us back in the heart of the nation. It wasn't until I moved East and began eating seafood suppers that I learned what had been penance in Missouri was bliss in Maryland.
Now, taking my cue from fellow Midwesterners, I go crazy before Lent by making pancakes. A big Fat Tuesday celebration is the pancake race held in Liberal, Kan. As part of the pageantry, contestants race 415 yards flipping a pancake in a skillet as they run. Crowds gather to cheer the contestants and chow down during a three-day pancake feast. The Kansans match times with a cadre of pancake flippers in Olney, England.
Until recently, I did not understand the connection between eating pancakes and behaving badly. Then I read that in some places in the world, pancakes, which have eggs and a small amount of fat in them, are considered an indulgent dish.
So now, instead of fudge, I wolf down a stack of pancakes on Fat Tuesday. And if I am feeling especially sinful, I add an extra pat of butter to the stack.
1 cup flour, sifted
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg, beaten
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Put flour into sifter, but, before sifting, add baking powder, salt and baking soda on top. Sift all ingredients into mixing bowl. Stir in beaten egg, buttermilk and melted butter. Mix until ingredients are wet. Cook on hot skillet. Serve immediately.
Pub Date: 02/17/99