Twinkie Tuesday

pancake race

It’s Shrove Tuesday, which I didn’t even think about until someone at work said something yesterday. That’s kind of sad, because this is a day I used to plan for. This might strike you as a bit odd, assuming you know me, because you know I am not particularly religious about anything except my aliens.

Today’s less-than-five-minute research project directs us to whyeaster.com. I did not bother to verify the site’s bonafides, but it offers this quick and realistic-sounding description of the day:

“Shrove Tuesday is the day before Lent starts on Ash Wednesday. The name Shrove comes from the old middle English word ‘Shriven’ meaning to go to confession to say sorry for the wrong things you’ve done. Lent always starts on a Wednesday, so people went to confessions on the day before. This became known as Shriven Tuesday and then Shrove Tuesday.

“The other name for this day, Pancake Day, comes from the old English custom of using up all the fattening ingredients in the house before Lent, so that people were ready to fast during Lent. The fattening ingredients that most people had in their houses in those days were eggs and milk. A very simple recipe to use up these ingredients was to combine them with some flour and make pancakes!”

So now it might more sense: it’s about Fun With Food, which has been a guiding principle of my life, going back to my newspaper days. At one point Kerry and Evan, both recent journalism grads from the University of Northern Colorado, were hoping to persuade the Times to let them share the one reporting job we had available, and I thoughtfully dislocated my shoulder, which allowed Kerry to get signed on to help out while my mobility (particularly picture-taking ability) was limited.

All it took was Kerry telling me about UNC’s Twinkie Kick event, and suddenly the Times staff found itself participating in quite the string of Twinkie festivals. My favorite (perhaps because I was a dismal failure at the inaugural kick) was the one I won: participants had to look under 20 Solo cups scattered around the lawn to locate a wrapped Twinkie, unwrap and consume it and then recite the Pledge of Allegiance to prove the Twinkie had been consumed. That was my secret edge: because I attended many, many (many) sporting events each week, all of which started with the Pledge, I had it readily to mind, while some of my co-workers struggled. That, and the Twinkie was under the third cup I lifted up.

Fine, but how does this tie to Shrove Tuesday, you are wondering? I’m getting there. Sort of.

Very early in my newspaper career, I met a new teacher named Craig Cooper. Our paths crossed frequently over the years. He coached any and everything; one of his jobs was to patrol the parking lot during the time when I came down to the high school to collect information, and he would turn on the radio and windshield wipers in my truck while I was in the building; and we spent several years as an officiating team for middle school volleyball.

Somewhere along the way I read a very small news article (a news paragraph) about the town of Liberal, Kansas, staging a Shrove Tuesday pancake race in tandem with Olney, England, where the event originated. Craig Cooper originated in Liberal — what more did I need? Pancakes, Twinkies, Race . . . Fun with Food!

Since the article I read was so short, Coop had to fill in details for me. The story goes that a young woman in Olney was so focused on her pancake-making that she forgot it was time to go to church. When she realized she was late, she raced out of her house, apron and all, carrying her frying pan with a pancake still in it. Obviously the people of Olney are fun-loving, and they turned this into an annual event, open to unmarried women, who wear an apron and run with a flapjack-filled frying pan over a 400-yard course.

Somehow, Liberal heard about this and decided they needed to try it as well. So the two towns, oceans and land masses away from each other, stage their races each year on this day, and then call with the results, to see which town holds bragging rights for the next year.

My event was never this structured, and it mutated over the years. I did get Coop’s wife Kim, also a Liberal product, to fire my starting squirt gun one year in a celebrity appearance. And I used the Western Then State track as my venue, but one year it was completely socked in with snow, except for part of one lane that was shoveled, with everyone shoving to get into the fast lane.

After I left the newspaper, I continued my Shrove Tuesday Twinkie Race at Pat’s, using the alley behind the shop, even if it was slathered in rutted ice. At one point I did limit the field to unmarried contestants, although I’m pretty sure I let men participate, but I don’t think I was ever very rigid about who could participate. You want to run with a Twinkie? Fine by me.

But somewhere along the way all the fun started leaking out of Pat’s Screen Printing, mostly because we keep getting busier, and I grow ever more tired. The chamber director, remembering me from my fun days, has lobbied strenuously these last two years to get us to participate in the new Mardi Gras parade, and this year, while looking at my collection of inflatable aliens, I thought about it — but here we are, Fat Tuesday, and me woefully unprepared for anything, aliens, Twinkies or otherwise.

So as I’m typing this, I’m thinking, well, I could go buy a box of Twinkies. I don’t know what condition the alley is in, but I’m sure we can find someplace to race. But then I think: where do I find frying pans? I can haul a bunch from home, but that sounds like work, especially since my car is seven blocks away. And when do I do this? I am likely spending most of my afternoon in a half-built house with a contractor and electrician, discussing, possibly arguing, with Lynn about where we want to put light switches and outlets.

I didn’t take anything to our storage shed yesterday, and won’t today; I didn’t get but three pages of my book read (although I made some headway this morning); there are people I needed to e-mail weeks ago; theoretically, I should try to get some work done . . . who has time for Twinkie races in all this?

And yet, here I am, wondering if the oversize spoons at work could function in place of frying pans. (Contestants have to flip their Twinkies, just as pancake racers flip their fare, three times over the race course.) I should do this. Just to show that I have not, completely, abandoned Fun with Food.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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