Pancakes and Moveable Feasts

One of my favourite reference books is ‘Days, Months and Years’ by the gloriously-named Magdalen Bear. It’s 46 pages long and I refer to it often, because it will tell me what day of the week any particular date was and, as someone who is obsessive about detail, I like to know that kind of thing.
I also like to know when Easter was. On my current revision I discovered that it was plumb in the middle of a budding romance and the friar and nun involved would both have been on the lenten fast. It didn’t make too much difference to the story – the cakes he seduces her with are now bought at the Jewish bakery – I just like to know that kind of thing.
According to Magdalen Bear, ‘In the Western Church, Easter Sunday is the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after March 21st, the spring equinox.’ So there you go, and if you want to know when Mardi Gras, or Shrove Tuesday, is , then you count back 40 days.
Or you look in your diary around now. In fact it’s today, and that it’s in my very secular diary is because people the world over appreciate any excuse for a knees up. We had an event at the village hall on Friday called ‘The Mardi Gras Barn Dance’ which is mixing your languages if not your metaphors.
Mardi Gras is French and means Fat Tuesday (Martedi Grosso in Italy). The period of Carnival runs from Epiphany until Lent, and on Fat Tuesday you eat up all the flour, eggs and dairy in your larder, mostly in the form of pancakes (although the list for Italian dolci is very much longer and more varied than that).
It’s knees-up day, especially in Venice, Rio, Sydney, Trinidad, Montreal and New Orleans.
So get out your Venetian mask or Brazilian feathered headdress, or make a King Cake (a purple, green and yellow brioche:
and celebrate a tradition that goes right back to Roman Lupercalia and probably beyond that.
In the agricultural cycle, we are now into the lean times. The winter veggies have finished and the summer salads have not yet begun. Here we are surviving on Claytonia, chervil, parsley and what’s left of the spuds and onions (OK, and a bit of shopping). But in the past, March through to May was really tough, so those who devised the Christian calendar were wise men to have Lent fall when there wasn’t much to eat anyway.

King Cake


This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Woke up this morning to 11-yr-old daughter cooking pancakes… sun clear and bright, ground frozen, like the bulbs it’s time to dig into deep hibernation before germinating in time for that great death-and-rebirth weekend. All these times of year come so naturally.
    And I’ve just finished reading Margery Kempe, so a 40-day bout of weeping for me then.

  2. You’ve finished Margery?? Good heavens – that deserves some kind of award.

  3. Oh, oh, oh – I need Magdalen Bear’s book! Just ordered it from Amazon. Thank you, Linda!
    Margery Kempe must have been a trial to spend any time with. Have you read Rebecca Barnhouse’s brilliant YA novel The Book of the Maidservant? It’s a quick, delightful read (see review).

  4. Margaret, thanks for this. The book isn’t out here until April but I’ve made a note. I deserve a quick, delightful read after what I’ve been hauling through recently!

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