Penny in my Pancake: Shrove Tuesday in Newfoundland

Shrove Tuesday (aka Mardi Gras) is a custom honoured in a lot of places.  Around here, by which I mean the environment surrounding my kitchen table in Central/Northeastern Newfoundland, it gets honoured with pancakes.   Pancake Day is the Tuesday before the Christian period of lent -- a traditional time of fasting/restraint.    Pancake Day came to Newfoundland from the United Kingdom.  The idea of making pancakes likely came from a desire to use up the 'forbidden' ingredients (fat, eggs, etc) before the Lenten fast began.

While Pancake Day was never in the league of Christmas or Halloween, it was a day I definitely looked forward to when I was a kid.  I mean, not only was I going to get to eat pancakes, I was going to get to see the future! 

In Newfoundland, it was customary for the cook to hide small objects (coins, rings, even needles) in the pancakes.  The object, through some magic I never understood, was supposed to reveal something about your future. 

Pancake Day Fortune-Telling

In Newfoundland, traditionally objects were hidden in the Shrove Tuesday pancakes, the object hidden revealed something about your future.  As the object was hidden, and all pancakes looked about the same, nobody knew which object was in which pancake.  It was a bit of a fun game, to find out about your future...and to tease your siblings about theirs!

From my recollection, if you found a...
Button -You'd be a bachelor or you'd be poor
Coin - You'd be wealthy
Needle - You've be a tailor 
Nail - You'd be a carpenter
Ring - You'd marry
Key - ?
Straw - ?

Different families, communities likely had different objects/interpretations.

Admittedly, it was a bit of a dangerous custom.  Hiding coinage in food doesn't strike me as the most hygienic practice.  Hiding needles in food doesn't strike me as especially safe either!  In fairness, I'm sure the objects were well-cleaned and accounted for before anybody ate... generally.  My mother recently told me that her grandmother used to recount a Pancake Day story about a wedding ring that was swallowed and missing... for a while.

I suspect the Pancake Day tradition of  hidden objects has diminished (or maybe disappeared).  Even as a child, I seem to remember my family discontinuing it, and I understand why.  

Still, it makes for a pleasant memory.


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