PANCAKES AND PRAYERS: A HELLBOY TALE OF EASTER
Author’s notes: I’ve been attempting to post a Hellboy fic for all the major Catholic holidays and have been wracking my brain for something to post for Lent/Easter. I hope this works.
Disclaimer: Main characters are not mine. General Norton Ricker is from Mignola’s original comic. Paul Johanssen, Trevor Boom’s assistant, belongs to me.
Pancakes and Prayers: A Hellboy Tale of Easter
When Hellboy had first been discovered, the only food he would eat (outside of his favorite Baby Ruth candy bars) had been hot noodles. It certainly made him easy to cook for, but Trevor Broom was concerned that his quickly growing ‘son’ was not getting enough nutrition. He just barely managed to introduce Hellboy to some other foods, such as hotdogs and chili; but Hellboy still refused to eat anything more for breakfast than his favorite hot noodles.
Early in the year 1947, Trevor Broom had to travel in his capacity as director of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. He was not able to bring Hellboy with him and the young demon was left behind in New Mexico in the charge of General Norton Ricker, who finally managed to convince the child to eat something else for breakfast other than the ubiquitous noodles.
By the time Trevor Broom returned after a week’s absence, he found that Hellboy’s new favorite food was now pancakes. Broom usually preferred that he, Paul Johanssen, his assistant, and Hellboy breakfast together in his own kitchen. However, since neither he nor Paul had time to cook, he would have everyone’s favorite foods sent from the base mess hall. Every morning would find Hellboy sitting at their table wolfing down large amounts of syrupy buckwheat ‘flapjacks’ prepared by the base cook.
On February 18th of that same year, Hellboy awoke to the intriguing smell of fresh-cooked bacon coming from the kitchen and he could hear the clatter of pans. Even more fascinating, he could hear Trevor Broom singing some little ditty: “Pit, pat, pan’s hot, here we come a’ shroving, With the butcher up my back a ha’penny’s better than nothing!” Pulling off the large khaki tee shirt he had worn to bed, Hellboy dressed himself in dark denim pants and a gray pullover shirt.
As he walked out into the kitchen, to his amazement he found Trevor Broom dressed in his usual dress slacks and white shirt; but instead of the expected silk tie, wool vest, and jacket, he was wearing a linen bib-style apron and was stirring batter in a large bowl.
“Good morning, Son,” Broom said when he noticed that Hellboy had walked in, “Go ahead and sit down while I finish mixing this stuff up. I certainly hope I can remember the recipe my grandfather’s housekeeper used to use. Back then, they never wrote these things down.”
Sticking his finger in the batter to taste it, Broom then began to heat a large frying pan after he had coated it with cooking oil.
“Father, whatcha doin’?” asked Hellboy, who never recalled even just seeing Trevor Broom light the stove before, let alone cook anything. Filled with curiosity, he moved a little closer to the stove.
“Bet you thought the old duffer couldn’t cook,” laughed Broom, as he sprinkled a little water into the pan he was heating to check if the oil was hot enough. “Actually, I’m quite a good cook; just never have the time to be fussing in the kitchen. But today is a very special day. Even though I converted to Catholicism in my late adolescence, I still have very fond memories of the Anglican tradition of eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.”
After he spoke, another few drops of water sprinkled by Broom into the frying pan hissed and spit, showing that it was now hot enough. Pouring in enough of the batter to cover the bottom of the pan, he soon had a very large pancake in progress.
Moving even closer to the stove, Hellboy sniffed inquisitively; not certain if he would like this different type of pancake. He watched Trevor Broom fuss with a spatula, making sure the pancake wouldn’t stick to the pan. As soon as Broom deemed it ready, he shook the pan to loosen the half-cooked pancake and with an expert toss of the pan flipped the pancake over to the other side.
“Wow! How’dcha learn that?” Hellboy was impressed that his adoptive father had even further as of yet unrevealed culinary talents.
Smiling, Trevor Broom shook his head, “I haven’t done that in so long, I’m surprised I still remember.” He then checked the doneness of the pancake, transferring it to a pan in the oven to keep warm. After doing this, he began to prepare another of these large pancakes.
Hellboy seated himself at the table, watching Broom work on this second pancake, until his stomach started to growl. “Father, will this take long? I’m kinda hungry.”
With the same expert flip of the pan, Broom turned over this second pancake. He then got into the oven and retrieved an already prepared bowl of bacon and a platter of still warm buttered toast, placing these both on the table in front of Hellboy. “Why don’t you start to work on this until I get the rest of the Shrove cakes ready.”
Making a sandwich out of toast and bacon, Hellboy then ventured into another question; one that he thought Broom might be willing to answer. “What’s ‘shrove’ mean?”
“Several days ago, we started to discuss the meaning of Lent, the passion and death of Jesus, and his resurrection on Easter Sunday,” Broom said, as he placed the second pancake in the oven and started to work on a third one. “Well, in England and several other countries, eating pancakes on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday is a very ancient tradition. At some point during that same day, people went to attend confession with a priest to be ‘shriven’ of their sins before entering into the season of Lent. This is the origin of the word ‘shrove’. For obvious reasons, the day is also called ‘Pancake Day’.”
Swallowing a mouthful of his toast and bacon sandwich, Hellboy grinned, “Guess any reason’s a good reason for eating pancakes.”
“As this tradition grew over the centuries, many people thought exactly the same thing,” Broom said, as he continued cooking, “Shrove Tuesday originally started as a day to prepare for Lent by cooking pancakes as a way to dispose of perishable foods not permitted to be eaten during the strict fasting of that season. The day would usually begin at eleven o’clock in the morning with the ‘pancake bell’, which was rung as a signal to stop work and join in the festivities. Shrove Tuesday eventually turned into a reason to gormandize and for mischievous boys to wander the neighborhood terrorizing people for Shrove cakes, in a manner very similar to Halloween trick-or-treating. At least one area in England still has ‘pancake races’ where people run a course while flipping pancakes in a hot pan.”
As the pan became hotter, the pancakes started cooking faster. Hellboy still wasn’t sure if he was going to like these as well as the ‘flapjacks’ he usually had from the mess hall, but it was fun to watch Trevor Broom cook. While he was doing this he, to his adopted son’s amusement, sang another song: “I’m come a-shroving, For a piece of pancake, Or a piece of Bacon, Or a little truckle cheese, Of your own making. Give me some, or give me none, Or else your door shall have a stone.”
Around ten minutes later, Broom turned off the stove and retrieved the warm pan filled with pancakes from the oven. Just as he was doing that, Paul Johanssen walked into the kitchen, having returned from an errand that had sent him out very early in the morning. He was fascinated by the fantastic smells coming from the kitchen and was glad that he had managed to return in time for breakfast.
Hellboy hungrily started to grab some pancakes from the tray, but Broom stopped him.
“These pancakes aren’t eaten the way you’re used to, by just stacking them up on a plate and pouring syrup over them. Here, let me show you.”
Hellboy watched curiously as Broom took a pancake and spread strawberry preserves on it; he then rolled it up and sprinkled castor sugar and fresh lemon juice on it. He did this to several more pancakes and eventually handed a filled plate of rolled pancakes to Hellboy.
Getting up from the table, Broom retrieved milk and a pitcher of orange juice from his refrigerator and poured a glass of both for Hellboy and a glass of orange juice for himself. As he was doing this, Paul, his assistant, left the kitchen and returned a few moments later.
“I placed a call to the mess hall for some tea for you, Professor, and some coffee for me. It will be here in a few minutes.”
“Thank you, Paul; in the midst of preparing these, I forgot all about that,” Broom said, as he rolled up several of the pancakes for himself. “Have you ever eaten English-style pancakes before?”
Paul shook his head, as he watched Broom roll up another pancake and then took some pancakes and copied what he did. “Even though my late parents were Catholic, I did have some Lutheran relatives on my mother’s side. Their idea of Shrove Tuesday was to have an annual pancake supper on the evening before Ash Wednesday; but the pancakes served were just the usual American flapjacks.
While Broom and Paul were conversing, Hellboy drank some of his juice and stared at the plate in front of him. After poking dubiously at one of the rolled Shrove cakes with the gigantic forefinger of his right hand, Hellboy picked it up with his normal-sized left hand and warily took a bite.
“Hey, this stuff’s not bad,” he said, “Maybe not as good as my reg’lar pancakes, but not bad.”
Laughing, Broom shook his head, “High praise from someone who almost never tries new foods.”
As he was speaking, the tea and coffee were delivered from the mess hall.
After Broom ate a few more pancakes and drank a cup of tea, he turned to Paul. “Would you mind sitting with Hellboy while he finishes eating breakfast? A friend of mine who is a priest will be arriving in about an hour to ‘shrive’ me of my sins and I’d like to get cleaned up. I think I’m almost as sticky as I used to be after eating breakfast on Shrove Tuesday when I was very young.”
Just around a half hour later, Trevor Broom walked back into the kitchen to check on things.
Paul was sitting, quietly drinking a final cup of coffee. Hellboy was munching on bacon and toast, having finished the last of the pancakes. It was hard for Trevor Broom not to laugh when he saw him; he seemed almost entirely covered in the strawberry preserves that had been stuffed in the pancakes.
“Professor, I would like to thank you for going to all this work to treat us to these delicious pancakes,” Paul said, as he got up from the table. “Don’t worry about cleaning up the kitchen. That will be my contribution to the day. I’ll also get Hellboy into the bathtub and send his clothes to the base laundry. I’m afraid he got a little messy.”
Hellboy finished his glass of milk and got up from the table. “Father, thanks for the funny pancakes. I liked them better than I thought I did. When do we get to have them again?”
Broom stooped down and kissed Hellboy’s forehead, which seemed to be the only part of him not covered in strawberry jam. “Not until next Shrove Tuesday, I’m afraid. It should be something to look forward to. But I’ve got something really, really special planned for Easter morning.”
“Even more special than the stuff you made today?” Hellboy said as they walked out of the kitchen, he to go to take his bath and Broom to wait in his office for the arrival of the priest.
“For one thing,” said Broom, “The Easter Hare, as we used to call him in England, might be leaving you a basket of chocolate eggs. And if you are very well-behaved this Lent, I just might make you a Dutch-style Easter pancake covered in vanilla ice cream, hot fudge sauce, and whipped cream.”
Hellboy stopped and stared at him, “Wow! That sounds even better than my reg’lar pancakes. I can’t wait for Easter!”
Trevor Broom smiled down on his adopted son, “You know, neither can I.”
Hope every one has a great Holy Week/Passover (or whatever Spring holiday you celebrate).
Thanks for reading, Beth Palladino
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