One of the first places any visitor to St Albans explores is the Cathedral and Abbey. At the heart of the city and surrounded by beautiful parkland and historical streets, visitors and locals return time and again. I am sure many of you have visited the pretty cafe in the refectory part of the Abbey. The first time I went in there, many years ago, a group of young choirboys were having jam sandwiches for tea, in a break between school and choir practice. It continues to have a strong community feel and is always busy. The cafe recently changed to offer table service, so there is no need to queue up and worry about your soup getting cold.
Seasonal food in the Abbey
The team at the cafe (officially The Abbot’s Kitchen) always try to offer delicious food that ties in with Church calendar, and for Shrove Tuesday they served a range of pancakes. You could have Alban Brunch pancakes, filled with sausages, bacon and onion in a tomato sauce, Pancakes filled with peppers and cheese, Orchard pancakes with pears, apples and cinnamon with Cornish clotted cream. Prices are very sensible for the town centre with two courses £10.95.
The cafe is famous for its Easter Alban Buns, and they are very modest about whether the buns are the original hot cross buns. They sell out very quickly each year, so do remember to go in and try one.
The Reverend Canon Richard Watson, Sub Dean, explained to me about why this week is important in the Cathedral. “In a similar way that many people know about Halloween but don’t really mark All Saints Day, so Shrove Tuesday is widely observed but not the major calendar event of the Church’s year that it leads into, Ash Wednesday”. There are special services in the Abbey each Ash Wednesday and everyone is welcome.
Preparing for Lent
Using up your remaining eggs and flour to make pancakes was a very practical way of clearing the cupboards and preparing for the Lenten fast which begins the morning after on Ash Wednesday.
On that day, many Christians the world over will have the sign of the cross marked on their foreheads in ash (traditionally made from the burned Palm crosses of the previous year) as an outward sign of penitence, and a reminder of their mortality.
Richard said. “Already, I know, it all sounds rather gloomy and depressing, but Lent can be an incredibly creative and refreshing time – ‘giving things up’ as a way of refocusing our priorities and renewing our faith as we prepare for the dramatic sweep of Holy Week and the celebratory joy of Easter.”
My family love the tradition of making and flipping pancakes, and squeezing over lemon juice. We also enjoy watching the annual pancake race in the city centre. It is, however, very interesting to remember why we make them, especially as we live in a Cathedral city, where people have been marking Shrove Tuesday and making pancakes for hundreds of years.
For information about services at the Cathedral and cafe opening times, visit http://www.stalbanscathedral.org.
RECIPE Savoury Vegetarian Pancakes
Here is the recipe as used by the chefs in the Abbot’s Kitchen: a delicious mix of mushrooms and peppers in a three cheese sauce.
Serves 4 – 6
For the filling and sauce
50 g butter
1 of each red, green & yellow peppers, chopped
50 g plain flour
50 g each of Cheddar, Gruyere and Mozzarella, grated
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
200g sliced mushrooms
pinch of salt & pepper
For the pancakes:
100 g plain flour
2 medium eggs
275 ml semi-skimmed milk and half water
1 tsp salt
1. Fry the peppers and mushrooms in a little of the butter.
2. Melt the rest of the butter in another pan over a gentle heat, then add the flour and cook for a minute while stirring all the time.
3. Add the milk gradually and stir over a gentle heat until smooth, for about 15 minutes. Set aside about 2 tablespoons.
4. Add the cheese, mustard, cooked peppers, mushrooms, salt and pepper to the pan and mix together. Set aside.
5. Mix the pancake ingredients together until smooth – add more milk for a thinner batter, or more flour for a thicker batter, as you prefer.
6. Heat a pan with a little oil. Add some of the batter mix and cook one side. Flip pancake over and cook until pale brown on both sides. Place on a plate. Repeat until all the mixture is used up.
7. Fill the pancakes with the mixture, then fold them over and pour over the reserved cheese sauce. Grill for a few minutes to colour.
PHOTO: Cheryl Turner, Cafe manager.