Mardi Gras

Buttermilk Pancake Day

One of the first newspaper food articles I ever wrote had to do with Shrove Tuesday (tomorrow, February 28th), a holiday my family doesn't celebrate, so at the time I didn't know that it is also Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), and in food circles -- Pancake Day!

Live and learn. It seems that in days gone by, when the Catholic Church imposed stricter rules during Lent, fatty items such as eggs, butter, milk and so on, were forbidden from Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins, until Easter. So the day before Lent everyone tried to eat up all the fats in the house.

Hence, the eating of gras (fat) on that mardi (Tuesday).

What's a delicious, filling, welcome and wondrous way to include eggs, butter, milk and stuff?


I've made all sorts of pancakes: German Apple, Oatmeal, Lemon-Cottage Cheese and others. But plain old buttermilk pancakes are simple and always fluffy and full of down home pleasure.

Maple syrup goes on top, for sure. But homemade apple sauce is a bit different, less sweet and so easy to make. I like to mix apples and pears for sauce during the winter because there are so many pear varieties available. 

Happy Pancake Day. Mardi Gras. Btw, this also makes a nice dinner on a meatless Monday.

Buttermilk Pancakes with Apple-Pear Sauce

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 cups buttermilk
  • butter for frying the pancakes
  • Apple-Pear Sauce

Melt the 3 tablespoons butter and set aside to cool. Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a bowl. In a second bowl mix the egg, buttermilk and melted, cooled butter. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ones and mix to blend them but do not beat vigorously. Preheat a griddle or large saute pan over medium heat. Lightly butter the pan before cooking the pancakes. When the pan butter has melted and looks foamy, slowly pour about 2 tablespoons batter (for small pancakes) or more (for larger pancakes), leaving space between each pancake. Cook for about 2 minutes, or until bottom is lightly browned and bubbles form on the top. Flip the pancakes with a rigid spatula and cook for a minute or until the second side is lightly browned. Serve with Apple-Pear Sauce.

Apple-Pear Sauce

  • 4 apples
  • 3 pears
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

Peel, core and slice the apples and pears and place the pieces in a saucepan. Add the cinnamon, stir, cover the pan and cook over low heat for 25-30 minutes or until the fruit is soft. Stir occasionally during the cooking process. Puree the ingredients in a food processor with a hand blender. Serve hot, cold or at room temperature. Makes about 3-1/2 cups.

Makes 6-8 servings


German Apple Pancake


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The next few days are loaded with holidays, all delicious. I will acknowledge all of them and eat accordingly.

So, for Chinese New Year, maybe some Kung Pao Gai Ding and Chinese Cookies.

Valentine's Day? How about a Chocolate Cake? Or Chocolate Chip Cookies? Or maybe some homemade Buttercrunch?

I'm thinking, buttercrunch now that I actually wrote out that word.

But among my favorite holidays is one I don't even celebrate: Shrove Tuesday, otherwise known as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras (tomorrow). In days gone by when the Catholic Church was stricter about such things, those who were observant would refrain from eating fats during Lent, which starts this Wednesday, so they would make "fatty" foods the day before, to use up all the butter and eggs, cream and so on that they had in their homes.

Like pancakes. Pancakes are loaded with eggs and butter, which is why they are always so fabulous. 

I love pancakes and don't eat them that often, though I will indulge in a buttermilk pancake when the grandkids come. And occasionally, make pancakes with the leftover oatmeal.

But my very very very favorite is German Apple Pancake. For breakfast, lunch and even a meatless dinner. Great as is, or, for dessert with some whipped cream or ice cream.

German Apple Pancake

  • 2 large, tart apples, peeled, cored and sliced
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1-2 teaspoons sifted confectioner’s sugar, optional

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the apple slices in a bowl. Add the sugar and cinnamon, mix and set aside. Mix the flour and salt together in a bowl and set aside. Combine the milk, eggs and vanilla in another bowl, add the flour mixture and whisk the ingredients into a smooth batter and set aside. Heat the butter in a heavy skillet, preferably cast-iron, over medium heat. When the butter has melted and looks foamy, add the apples, including any juices, and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the apples are soft and caramelized. Pour the batter over the apples. Place the pan in the oven. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the pancake is puffed and golden brown. Invert onto a serving platter. Serve as is or sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.

Makes 4 servings


Liberal Buttermilk Pancakes with Citrus-Butter

Today is the day of the famous pancake race in Olney, England and also in Liberal, Kansas. It’s an old tradition, dating back more than 550 years (at least in England).

Well of course, who doesn’t like pancakes?

But a pancake race?

Apparently, the tradition got started back in 1445 when housewives would make food like pancakes on the day before Ash Wednesday, in order to use up all the butter and eggs and other foods that weren’t allowed during Lent.

Well, as it turns out, one woman was running a little late for services and when she heard the church bells she ran out of the house, skillet and all, flipping pancakes. The next year the other women in the town mocked her by running to church with their frying pans filled with pancakes.

But apparently the Vicar thought it was humorous and a good way to bring everyone together so he decided to make it a yearly event. With a winner — the one who runs with the pan, flipping pancakes, and gets to the church first.

Move along 500 years more or less and the mayor of Liberal Kansas visits Olney, sees the race and decides this is great fun. And decides to have one back home. (According to another version though the folks in Kansas read about the race in Time Magazine and decided to make it a competition.)

So now the two “sister” towns, at least on the (Fat) Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, run a similar race (about 415 yards) and people in each place call each other to compare times.

This morning’s race in Olney was won in record time by an 18-year old newcomer, Devon Byrne. In fact, she beat out the winner in Kansas by 10.1 seconds. 

When I first read about the Pancake Race it inspired me to cook pancakes, which are one of my very favorite things to eat. I don’t eat them too often either because they’re so high-carb and all. But every once in a while one needs an indulgence right?

If you love pancakes as much as I do, make this recipe (on Pancake Day or not). I have worked on this recipe for ages, tweaking it here and there and think it is about perfect now. Yes, it calls for buttermilk, which makes the pancakes really really fluffy and tender. It’s worth buying buttermilk just for this recipe (or you can buy dry buttermilk that keeps in your cabinet for about a year). You can also use the buttermilk for lots of other delicious things like muffins and quick breads or blend it with fruit to make a terrific smoothie.

Liberal Buttermilk Pancakes with Citrus-Butter

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 cups buttermilk
  • butter for frying
  • Citrus Butter

Melt the 3 tablespoons butter and set aside. Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugar into a bowl. In another bowl, mix the egg and buttermilk until well blended and uniform in color. Add the egg mixture and melted butter to the flour mixture. Stir until well blended. Melt butter in a saute pan over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted and look foamy, drop the batter by the 1/4-cupful (or make larger or smaller pancakes) into the pan. Cook for about 2 minutes or until the bottoms are lightly browned and the pancakes start to bubble on top. Flip the pancakes and cook for another minute or so until the second side is lightly browned. Serve with butter and syrup or with Citrus Butter.

Makes 4-6 servings

To make the Citrus Butter:

  • 1/4 pound butter, slightly softened
  • 1 teaspoon confectioner’s sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons grated fresh orange peel

Mix ingredients until well blended.

Makes 1/2 cup

Chicken Jambalaya

When I first heard about Mardi Gras — I was a little kid — I absolutely wanted to go down to New Orleans and go to what I thought of as this endless, huge street party where people dress in crazy costumes and eat a lot of good things. The pictures looked so tantalizing.

Well, I never did, and it was years before I understood the religious significance of the day. I was raised Jewish, not Catholic, so the traditions of the holiday were unknown to me. But once I learned about them I found them fascinating, particularly when it came to the food traditions. What I learned was that Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday food goes back to another era, when the rules regarding the Christian Lenten fast were stricter. At one time meat, eggs and all cooking fats were prohibited during the season preceding Easter.

That meant, the day before the fast (which begins on Ash Wednesday) became a day of indulgence. To get rid of all the prohibited foods. Like fat. Using up all the kitchen fat was what people did on Fat Tuesday. People cooked things like pancakes, doughnuts and bread pudding. (OH YUM!) And dishes with lots of meat.

In New Orleans, which I eventually visited, though never for Mardi Gras, Jambalaya is one of the premier choices for a Mardi Gras dinner. So, if you’re home and just dreaming about the possibility of going to Mardi Gras one day or even if you’re not, here’s a good recipe for Chicken Jambalaya. It’s good anytime, but maybe Fat Tuesday you’ll be in more of the mood for it.

Chicken Jambalaya

8 pieces of chicken (breasts, thighs, drumsticks)

2 tablespoons olive oil

Jack’s Gourmet Mexican Style Chorizo sausage, cut into 1/4-inch slices

2 medium onions, chopped

2 stalks celey, chopped

1 red bell pepper, deseeded and chopped

4 large cloves garlic, chopped

4 tomatoes, chopped

1-1/2 cups white rice

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1-1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves (or 2 whole cloves)

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2-3/4 cups chicken or vegetable stock

2 tablespoons tomato paste

Rinse and dry the chicken pieces. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Cook the chicken in batches for about 8-10 minutes, turning the pieces occasionally, or until lightly browned. Remove the chicken to a dish and set aside. Add the sausage to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes or until lightly crispy. Remove the sausage to a dish and set aside. Add the onions, celery and bell pepper to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, for 6-8 minutes or until the onions are soft and lightly browned. Add the garlic and tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes. Add the rice, parsley, thyme, cayenne, cloves, salt and pepper, stock and tomato paste. Stir to distribute and combine the ingredients. Return the chicken and sausage to the pan. Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat, cover the pan and cook for about 25 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Makes 6 servings

New Orleans French Toast

I’ve never been to Mardi Gras but have travelled to New Orleans, where I absolutely feasted, drank tons of coffee and ate more than my share of beignets. I don’t remember where it was that I sampled “New Orleans French Toast” but wherever it was the memory of the dish lingered long enough for me to develop a recipe of my own.

This dish is not exactly breakfast food. More for brunch or even dinner. Also, definitely for grown ups, not kids.

New Orleans French Toast

5 large eggs

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup milk

2 tablespoons orange flavored brandy

1 teaspoon finely grated fresh orange peel

12 slices French or Italian bread cut about 1/2-inch thick

1 tablespoon butter

Preheat the oven to 140 degrees. Beat the eggs and sugar together with a whisk or hand beater for 2-3 minutes or until the mixture is thick and pale. Add the milk, brandy and orange peel and stir to blend the ingredients thoroughly. Place the mixture into a pan large enough to hold all the bread slices. Add the bread and let them soak up all the liquid, turning the pieces occasionally to moisten both sides. Place half the butter in a large skillet or griddle over medium heat. When the butter has melted and looks foamy, add some of the soaked bread and cook for about 2 minutes per side or until lightly browned and crispy. Keep warm in the preheated oven. Add remaining butter when half the bread slices have been cooked and repeat. You can cook this longer if you prefer French Toast less custardy. Makes 12 slices, serving 4-6 people