Plumstone: Pancakes and King Cakes

There are so many gastronomically observable dates whizzing by on the calendar. There’s Valentine’s Day—a time for talking about boxed chocolate and chalky heart candies and mediocre Italian meals for two. There’s Lent—a time for talking about all that observers should not eat during the time period leading up to Easter (depending on how you measure it, 38-44 days). And there’s Mardi Gras, or Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday—a topic demanding that we talk about pancake suppers at the local Episcopal Church or the last day to have a King Cake party.

I’m writing this on Tuesday and hurrying, too, in order to get to Grace Episcopal in time for the annual pancake gorge. When I was younger, the pancake supper was my only experience with the Episcopal Church—memories of a huge man behind an even bigger griddle and a stack of way too many just-add-water-pancakes accidentally soaked and heavy with fat free syrup at the white church a few blocks from my house.

Just a few years ago, since I’ve been at John Brown University, I happened upon the long-forgotten holiday. It must have been that a friend was going and reminded me or I saw an ad on a bright piece of printer paper. Before this, I had all but forgotten it. Mardi Gras doesn’t seem to be celebrated very often in many Evangelical circles. Probably its association with drunken stupor and general immorality discourage many from openly celebrating the holiday. In any case, each year since, the varying date finds its way onto my calendar: “Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper! Grace Episcopal”

The pancake thing got started as a way to use up eggs and milk and other rich foods before Ash Wednesday and the fasting period that lasts until Easter. In other traditions it’s more than just the pancake supper that leads up to Lent, but take, for instance, the King Cake: a traditional, multi-colored, ring-shaped cake from New Orleans (truly it has a longer history than that, but this is where the King Cake we know comes from). The gold and purple and green ring gets served during the season of Epiphany at festive parties themed around the cake or not.

Each cake has in it a dried bean or a pecan half or a little baby figurine. The person who discovers in their piece, the baby or the hard obstacle, is responsible for hosting the next party. Apart from the ceremony and taking on the responsibility of the next party, however, who doesn’t want to get the baby? I know I did when my teacher cut slices (way too thin) with a plastic knife in my second grade classroom, the flaking icing colorfully died from the sparkling sprinkles. And I did! I carried that baby, strange and deformed from the knife blade, around all day in my pocket, thumbing the smooth plastic. I got it!

Attached is a great recipe for pancakes. My house-mate Joey knows this one, and the corresponding one for waffles by heart. At any given time, our fridge will have a glass bowl of the stuff covered with the red plastic lid. As for a king cake recipe, they’re very labor intensive. It is a yeast-driven, bready cake and takes hours and hours. If you are compelled to make one yourself, I’d refer you to Emeril Legasse’s (a New Orleans man) recipe here:

Morningstar Pancake Recipe:

3 T Oil
1 Egg
½ t Salt
1T Sugar
1T Baking Powder

Mix the above ingredients well for about a minute.

1 C Flour
¾-1 C Milk

Add the flour and the milk and mix until it comes together. There will be lumps and that is okay. The last thing you want to do is mix it too much. That will get you nothing but tough pancakes.

Pour the batter onto a hot, buttered griddle and cook until the bubbles around the edges of the cakes pop. Flip them and cook for a bit longer. Serve with a side of bacon or sausage, good coffee, real butter and practically anything else you like. I like the pure maple syrup my friend brought me from Canada or good jam on mine.