As we turn to the penitential season of Lent, we enjoy one last day of feasting. On this day, medieval Christians used up their eggs, butter, and milk--all of which were forbidden during their Lenten abstinence--by making pancakes and pastries.
Learn more about Fat Tuesday traditions from around the world, and try some of these Fat Tuesday recipes and Mardi Gras recipes at home. All of them are relatively simple, and they are a great way to remind us that our own Lenten fasting is minor compared with that of Christians in ages past.
Barb Rolek, the About.com Guide to Eastern European Food, has the scoop on Poland's Fat Tuesday traditions. While the Poles and other Eastern Europeans made their own crepe-like pancakes, their preferred method of using up dairy products before Lent was the paczki, a rich donut usually (though not always) filled with jam (usually prune or raspberry). Similar to the German bismarck or berliner, these round rolls (pronounced "punch-key") are made with a yeast-raised egg batter.
But paczki aren't all that's cooking on Fat Tuesday in Poland. Check out the links below for other delicious treats!
Being half-Polish, I had to give Barb Rolek's Paczki Day recipes pride of place. But Barb has recipes and more on Shrove Tuesday traditions in every other Catholic Eastern European country as well—Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Ukraine—as well as the largely Orthodox countries of Bulgaria, Rumania, Russia, and Serbia (and you can include Ukraine again, since the country is split between Catholics and Orthodox), which don't celebrate Shrove Tuesday but do have their own celebrations before Orthodox Lent begins on Clean Monday. Even if you already have your recipes for Fat Tuesday picked out, you'll want to read Barb's account of how country celebrates Shrovetide—the variety of traditions is fascinating!
In England, the Pancake Day tradition continues, and both Laura Porter, the About.com Guide to London Travel, and Elaine Lemm, the Guide to British & Irish Food, have articles on Pancake Day in London and Britain at large.
In Italy, Fat Tuesday is known as carnevale-goodbye to meat-from which we get our English word carnival. But the Italians aren't satisfied with celebrating for just one day. Carnival, as Kyle Phillips, the About.com Guide to Italian Food, notes, runs for several weeks, and nowhere is it more elaborately celebrated than in Venice. Don't be fooled by all the remarkable pictures; Kyle has plenty of Carnival recipes in the text below them-everything from lasagna to rolled pizza to fritters to cannoli.
Of course, no celebration of Fat Tuesday in the United States would be complete without a nod to our own Mardi Gras Celebration in Louisiana. Diana Rattray, the About.com Guide to Southern Food, has a wonderful collection of Louisiana recipes that are perfect for Mardi Gras and reflect New Orleans' French heritage, from which the Mardi Gras celebration in the city is derived.
Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, the About.com Guide to Home Cooking, offers another collection of Mardi Gras Recipes and Food, along with some information about the difference between Cajun and Creole cooking and the "King Cake" tradition of Mardi Gras.
Kids love pancakes, and Pancake Day is a great way to help introduce your children to the season of Lent and to the idea of fasting. As you might expect, Stephanie Gallagher, the About.com Guide to Cooking for Kids, has many pancake recipes on her GuideSite, as well as tips for making perfect pancakes. She also has traditional New Orleans Mardi Gras favorites, such as King Cake, jambalaya and spiced pecans-all in versions that your children will love, and love to help make!
There are probably as many ways to make pancakes as there people in the world, and Carroll Pellegrinelli, the About.com Guide to Desserts and Baking, offers a wide variety of pancake recipes, as well as pancake tips and step-by-step photos, on her GuideSite.
One of the most inconvenient aspects of Fat Tuesday is that, well, it always falls on a Tuesday. For those of us with full-time jobs, that can make it hard to celebrate as we might like. But never fear-Linda Larsen, the About.com Guide to Busy Cooks, has us covered! Check out Linda's Fat Tuesday Celebration Menu, which includes crockpot crab spread, sausage and shrimp gumbo, baked rice pilaf, pecan mandarin orange salad, and a tunnel of fudge cake that sounds like it will tide you over through Lent all by itself! And if that's not enough, you'll find even more recipes in Linda's complete guide to Mardis Gras and Fat Tuesday Recipes.
As I mentioned in the introduction, the reason Fat Tuesday is celebrated with so many rich foods is because Christians had to use up their eggs, butter, and milk before Lent started. But what if you don't normally eat eggs and dairy products-are you out of luck on Mardi Gras? Not at all! Ashley Skabar, the About.com Guide to Dairy Free Cooking, has made sure that everyone can join in the fun, with her recipe for a vegan version of the traditional Mardi Gras King Cake.
Now that you have plenty of Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday recipes, it's time to turn to Donna Pilato, the About.com Guide to Entertaining, for ideas on how to make your Mardi Gras party a success. Donna has both general tips on throwing a Mardi Gras party (including her own selection of recipes) and a detailed plan for creating a Mardi Gras Jazz brunch (including a sample menu with links to recipes). Check it out, and let the good times roll!
Children love eating breakfast for supper, and Fat Tuesday/Pancake Day is a good way to prepare them for the fasting and abstinence of Ash Wednesday. And once the food has been eaten, Pancake Day Puzzles and activities to celebrate Mardi Gras can help them learn a little bit more about this last day of feasting before Lent.