Some things are too good to eat just once a year and pancakes are one of them. Shrove Tuesday this year falls on 4 March. It's the one day of the year when I'm definitely not allowed to forget pancakes have to be on the menu. Shrove Tuesday was the day when the faithful were "shriven" - granted absolution after confession and penance. It's was also the last day on which foods proscribed by the Church, such as butter and eggs, could be consumed before the annual Lenten fast began. Perhaps it was the thought of the righteously austere 40 days to come that made the day a celebratory one. Whether you observe Lent or not, you'll probably be mixing up a pancake batter this week.
First, a word about buttermilk. It is not always what it seems. Buttermilk is a by-product of butter-making. It is the low-fat, white, milky liquid which separates off during the process. Traditionally this is allowed to ripen, thickening and developing in flavour over a day or two. What you'll find on most supermarket shelves is "cultured buttermilk" which is made by adding lactic bacterial cultures to milk. This unfermented version has none of the 'ripe" flavours that are present in 'true buttermilk' which produces lactic acid naturally. It's possible to make your own version of buttermilk, though, as I've not yet tried any of the methods I've read about, I'm not going to be the one to tell you how.
So, where does the buttermilk leftover from butter-making go? Mostly into butter substitute "spreads", although buttermilk is a small proportion of their content along with a lot of other, for me, less desirable ingredients. I count myself lucky that I can buy delicious Ivy House Farm real buttermilk from Neal's Yard Dairy (see the Ivy House Farm website for other stockists).
This recipe works whether you use true buttermilk or cultured buttermilk. If you use true buttermilk you'll get a better colour and flavour but a looser batter and therefore the pancakes will spread more. It's adapted from 'Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes' in Chez Panisse Fruit by Alice Waters which I wrote about in Favourite Books. I don't add fruit to the batter as I find the pancakes cook better without. I prefer to let people help themselves to fruit and maple syrup . As you can probably tell from the photograph, these pancakes soak up syrup like a sponge so you could use something less pricey than maple syrup. I prefer to follow Alice Waters' advice and pour a little melted butter over the pancakes before adding the syrup. This stops the pancakes sucking up quite so much of the syrup - you may or may not think that's a good thing. At this time of year I serve bananas. In summer I'll briefly warm some blueberries or blackberries with a pinch of sugar to serve with the pancakes.
500ml (18 fl oz) buttermilk
2 medium eggs
80g (3oz) unsalted butter, melted
200g (7oz) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon caster sugar
2 teaspoons Bicarbonate of Soda
Good pinch of salt
Mix together the buttermilk and the eggs with a fork.
Stir in the melted butter.
Sift together the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt.
Add to the liquid mixture, together with the sugar, mixing gently until just combined (the batter still a little lumpy).
Heat a pancake pan or griddle to medium-hot. Grease the pan lightly with sunflower oil or butter.
To make each pancake, add 3 tablespoons of batter to the pan and cook until bubbles burst all over the surface and the underside is golden brown. Turn and cook until the other side is golden brown.
Keep warm in a low oven if necessary.
Serve with sliced bananas (or warmed seasonal berries), melted butter and maple syrup.