Last Wednesday (I think) kicked off what Old World cultures call “Pancake Week,” which got me to thinking about a whole mess of things related to tradition, cultures, practices and, of course, the rule/role of the Church.
Today is Ash Wednesday. It marks the beginning of Lent, which is about six weeks (40 days) of self-deprivation. And Pancake Week is the week prior to Lent which comes to its peak on Fat Tuesday (yesterday) which also happens to pre-mark the arrival of mid-Winter, also known in most climates as “the dead of Winter.”
It’s not called the “dead of Winter” without reason. Nothing grows this time of year on our side of the equator; it’s when our soil gets to rest and prepares itself for the coming growing seasons.
I think it’s not at all coincidental that Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent which the Church equates with a self-deprivation. I suppose that it’s necessary in our New World of extreme overabundance and a collective lack of self-control and/or gratitude for the gifts we not-so graciously receive. That’s not to say everyone is ungrateful. I use the term collectively and liberally.
If we think about the pre-Industrial Revolution world (that’s only 150 years ago), the dead of Winter meant something serious: it meant there was no food at all to harvest. It meant one would need to depend on the harvests of fall. It also meant there might be a shortage of fats and oils, milk or milk products like cheeses, butters and creams for approximately six weeks (or, big surprise: 40 days) because the earth is basically in rest. Of course, we’re talking about a time where overproduction was not an option. There weren’t companies like Monsanto around and no government subsidies to encourage farmers to overgrow (even though when possible they would have anyway as well as stored grains and long-keeping items in event of a famine onset, of course).
We have one thing in human existence (for all of time of which we know) that is relatively consistent: The Seasons. The sensible people of the Old World might use Pancake Week as a celebratory period to use up the fats and foods that would be on the verge of spoil and of course, being social creatures, we turn it into a festival. (yay!) A week-long celebration to end up on the day before Lent where a period of mindfulness and gratitude for the things we have for the rest of the year. What else would we do in such a desert of time?
Now, I’ve been doing a little bit of research, but I haven’t found anything that confirms nor denies my theory here, but honestly I’ve only done a little. Most of this stuff I was just thinking about in general. I did read somewhere that the use of the pancake (also blintz, bliny and crepe) was used in Pagan times at this time of year to represent the returning of the sun’s longer light because the breads look like the sun.
But overall, it just makes sense to me because the world in which I live is (only slightly enough for me to notice) similar to the pre-Industrial Revolution except we’re smack dab in the middle of a post-Industrial Revolution, 21st Century city. I know that I can’t get certain things locally in the Winter because little grows here in the Winter except in greenhouses and even that’s sort of hit & miss.
So in honor of Pancake week and for the fact that we were in possession of one browning banana, we chose to have a banana blintz for dessert on Ash Wednesday, today!
These were made with a filling of whipped cream cheese, a tiny bit of butter and confectioner’s sugar, sliced bananas, a drizzle of Vermont maple syrup and a sprinkle of unsweetened cocoa powder, then garnished with a pinch of powdered sugar.
Justin had the idea to make savory blintzes with cream cheese and wild salmon; I thought to fill them with fresh blueberries and ricotta. Or spinach and feta and garlic. Brie and Apples with cinnamon. Raspberries and brie, even. Strawberries & cream cheese. Egg, tofu & Mushroom with diced tomato. Thinly sliced, smoked, warmed (organic or locally raised) ham and gouda. Asparagus and hollandaise. Potatoes and fresh basil. Thinly sliced red onion, tomatoes and halved olives with bleu cheese. Hummus and artichoke hearts! The list just goes on and on.
Pretty much anything that is thinly sliced and/or spreadable makes the cut. The variations are endless.