08 March, 2011

Lent: Then and Now

Today is Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day, or Mardi Gras, depending on your religion, location, and frame of mind.  

 But any way you look at it, today is the last day before Ash Wednesday, when Lent officially begins.  It’s interesting that the Mardi Gras season, with its parties and gluttonous meals, begins with 12th Night (twelve days after Christmas) and runs through today, while Lent  -- and fasting -- only lasts 40 days. 

 Shrove derives from the verb to shrive -- to obtain absolution for one's sins, usually through confession and penance. Mardi Gras, translated to Fat Tuesday, so named because it marks your last chance for rich, calorie-ridden food before the fasting of Lent begins.

Things have changed a lot since the days when I attended a Catholic boarding school.  Back then, fasting (no meat) and abstinence (limiting your daily eating to only one full meal in a day) were observed on both Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent.  At school, that translated to sardines and beans in oil on Wednesdays, and coddled eggs and creamed spinach on Fridays.  Add that to the fact that the nuns expected you to give up something you loved for the full 40 days.  Sweets were strongly suggested (if you went to Catholic school, you understand), although I always rooted for vegetables.  

Today, Catholics, 14 and older, are expected to abstain from all meat on Ash Wednesday and on all Fridays of Lent, while fasting is required on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday for those aged 18 to 59.   Yeah! I no longer have to fast!  I knew old age had some perks!.

It has always fascinated me that a bishop can alter rules in his diocese.  For example, New Year's Day is a must-attend-mass day in some dioceses, but not in others.   For Lent, many bishops give dispensations from the normal Lenten regulations if St. Patrick's Day (March 17) falls on a Friday.  And most of us who are Irish believe the dispensation is lifted no matter what day of the week – just in case you gave up liquor for Lent.

Growing up in Belgium, the big Mardi Gras celebration took place in Binche, in the Wallon part of the country.  The main event is a parade of “Gilles” – men between the ages of 3 and 100 – dressed in clogs and a traditional costume, hung with bells and stuffed with straw, giving the Gille a hunched back. . During the parade, they throw blood oranges to (and sometimes at) the crowd .
In honour of this memory, rather than another recipe for King’s Cake (though it is delicious), here’s one for Orange Cake

Orange Bundt Cake
·        1 cup sugar
·        1 cup butter, at room temperature
·        3 eggs, separated
·        1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
·        1 3/4 cup sifted flour
·        1 tsp. baking powder
·        1 tsp. baking soda
·        grated zest of one orange, coloured part only.

Preheat oven to 325o.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks, sour cream, and orange rind; beat until light and fluffy. Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder together into the first mixture. Beat the egg whites until stiff, but not dry, and fold into the batter.

Turn the batter into a well-greased, floured Bundt pan. Place in preheated oven and bakes for one hour.
Remove from oven and let stand 15 minutes. Loosen carefully around edge and turn-out onto a rimmed plate (this is important when you glaze the cake.).

Deeply and repeatedly pierce the top of the cake with a very thin skewer (eg, a wooden skewer or cake tester) and then slowly spoon the hot orange sauce over the top of the cake.

Orange Glaze
·        Juice of 2 oranges (a little less than 1 cup)
·        Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 Tbsp);
·        3/4 cup of sugar
·        dash of salt
Combine ingredients; let sugar first dissolve over low heat, then bring to a rolling boil for 3 to 4 minutes.
Note: if necessary, substitute 6 oz of frozen orange juice concentrate, but then you miss the zest for the cake.

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