Pancake Party

Pancake Party! 


Marion Leighton and Quentin Abrahams’ Pancake Party has become something of a legend in Newtown …

but how did it all begin?

Marion says that back in the UK she had always celebrated Shrove Tuesday with close family and friends, but when she moved to New Zealand each Easter would arrive and she realised she was missing pancake day, which isn’t really celebrated out here. The tradition of Shrove Tuesday goes back millennia, with European cultures having a party six weeks before the lunar Easter festival and then an enforced fast, because of the scarcity of food. As Christianity spread through Europe, the church appropriated this holiday and the fasting period became known as Lent. For Christians, Lent symbolises the 40-day period that Jesus fasted in the desert and, accordingly, they try to give up something they like eating during this time. Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent, was the day to eat up all the luxury foods in the house, like eggs, flour and milk, before the fast began. Pancakes, therefore became an obvious party food and pancake competitions and races are still held all over the UK at this time.

To get the celebration on their calendar in New Zealand, well in advance, Marion and Quentin arranged to have a party with a small group of friends. ‘Everyone had such a good time and there was a great demand to do it again the next year, so we did and we invited some more people and … it seems to have grown and grown,’ says Marion. They have had about 12 parties now, and they always coincide with Shirley’s, (Marion’s mother) annual visits to New Zealand: Shirley being head-chef!

Although, they have always had help from friends, Shirley has been central to the party, so when she was unable to visit last year, Marion had the brainwave of asking Timebankers to step into the brink. She had Timebankers, including Viv Askey, preparing, cooking, greeting guests and washing up and it certainly helped the evening run smoothly and proved to be a lot of fun as well!

Marion says, ‘It worked brilliantly and so this year, even though Shirley was back at the helm, I asked for help again.’ It certainly must have been a success because, on average, for the last 5 years they have used about 45 eggs during the parties, but this year they cracked a record 72 … and that’s a lot of pancakes!  

Viv responded to Marion’s advertisement to lend a hand, offering to greet guests and do some washing up and ultimately ended up eating quite a few pancakes! She remembers being impressed with the organisation of the event and the way in which people from different walks of life, nurses, dancers, Timebankers all intertwine. She also feels that the children have a safe environment, with a toy room and loads of entertainment. Marion admits that some of her neighbour’s children have been known to turn down other parties in order to attend the pancake party, partly because the food is so good and there are lots of toys, games and other children.

The party usually starts at 4pm, so friends with small children and shift-workers finishing work can pop in around tea-time and then goes on with music, dancing and the party buzz until it finally quietens down to conversations. The cooking continues until everyone stops eating – usually about 9-10pm. By that time between 150-200 people have chomped their way through oh-so-many pancakes! The most popular fillings tend to be spinach and tofu, mushroom and feta and potato masala, although the children love cheesy mash. Berry coulis and lemons are always on hand for the more traditional toppings, and guests generally bring their own personal favourite.  This tends to lead to some interesting combinations and taste trialling – some impressive imaginations are also revealed!   

 Viv took a friend along to the party as she had just moved back to Wellington after 3 years away. She was hoping it would help her friend get to know a few people, but her hopes were far exceeded: during the evening her friend got a new job and a place to live! That’s what can happen when you involve yourself with Timebank!

Great fun, but a lot of organizing and hard work so how can we be sure that the pancake party will remain on the calendar? Well, Marion and Quentin love to be able to invite all their friends around and not worry about how many chairs they have and how much food to provide. Marion says the pancakes are made with cheaper ingredients and they only make as much as they need so it isn’t expensive. They have seen their friends become expert pancake-chefs and the newbies come up with some exceptional shapes and sizes with their first attempts. The best things about the pancake party are that there are always things for people to get involved in and everybody can make new friends and talk to interesting people.

With the hosts’ enthusiasm and the willingness of the Timebank volunteers, I think we can safely expect to see the Pancake Party put in an appearance on the calendar, for some considerable time to come. A moveable feast indeed!  

Story by Sue Jenkins