IF you are partial to pancakes, you probably won't wait for Shrove Tuesday to eat your fill. However, it is traditional on this day - variously called ''Pancake Tuesday'' by the English since 1634, ''Fat Tuesday,'' and ''Shrove Tuesday'' - to usher in the solemn season of Lent by feasting on Shrovetide pancakes.
The pancake as we know it is about 500 years old, and its popularity has never waned, nor has the imagination of cooks preparing it.
The custom of eating pancakes on Mardi Gras derived from the old Greek church. Athenians made ''griddle cakes'' or ''noble cakes'' from barley and water.
Americans have many different and colorful names for these flat, round cakes: flapjacks, fritters, griddlecakes, buckwheats, hot cakes, stacks, flannel cakes, and pancakes. It is possible to create special pancakes by adding such ingredients as chopped nuts, grated cheese, bacon bits, chopped ham, coconut, peeled chopped apples, bananas, drained canned fruit, chocolate chips, and berries.
It is a fortunate coincidence that Shrove Tuesday and maple syrup often arrive about the same time. There are also many less traditional syrups and sauces to give pancakes variety: honey, preserves, fruit butters, fruit syrups and sauces, warm molasses, whipped butter, sour cream, and yogurt.
Most pancakes can be prepared ahead for later use, although most people prefer them piping hot from griddle to table. If they are not to be eaten immediately, they can be folded, rolled, or stacked.
Cover and refrigerate or freeze them to be reheated in a toaster, oven, or microwave, or heated in sauce or butter in a skillet or chafing dish over medium heat. Basic Pancakes 1 cup flour, sifted 1 tablespoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons sugar 2 eggs 1 cup milk 2 1/2 tablespoons melted butter Sift flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. In a separate bowl lightly beat the eggs. Add the milk and melted butter.
Quickly combine the dry ingredients with the liquid, using as few strokes as possible. The batter will be lumpy.
Using a greased grill, over medium heat, cook pancakes on one side until air bubbles appear, then flip. Makes 24 four-inch pancakes. Blueberry Syrup 2 sticks cinnamon 1 10-ounce package frozen blueberries 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
Break up cinnamon. Place in a saucepan with blueberries and butter. Cook over low heat and break up frozen blocks as soon as possible. Continue to cook until steamy hot. Remove cinnamon. Spoon over hot pancakes. Pineapple Sauce 1 8 1/2-ounce can crushed pineapple, plus juice 1/2 cup pancake syrup Pinch of salt
Combine ingredients and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Serve warm over pancakes. Makes 1 1/2 cups. Apricot-Almond Sauce 1 tablespoon chopped almonds 1 tablespoon butter or margarine 1/3 cup apricot preserves 1 tablespoon lemon juice Lightly brown almonds in the butter over low heat. Add apricot preserves and lemon juice. Heat until preserves are melted. Serve over pancakes. Makes 1/2 cup sauce. Dutch Apple Pancake 4 eggs 3/4 cup milk 3/4 cup flour 1 tablespoon sugar 1/4 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons butter 5 large cooking apples, pared, cored, and sliced 2/3 cup sugar 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg 1/3 cup butter or margarine 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1 teaspoon grated lemond rind
Mix eggs, milk, flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, and salt in medium bowl. (Batter will be thin and slightly lumpy.) Melt 2 tablespoons butter and pour into 10 -inch deep dish pie plate. Tilt plate to coat sides, then pour batter into plate.
Bake in a preheated 425 degree F. oven for 20 minutes or until set and crust is browned. (Do not open the oven door during baking.)
Mix apples, 2/3 cup sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Heat 1/3 cup butter, lemon juice, and rind in large skillet until bubbly. Saute apples until tender, 3 to 5 minutes.
Spoon apple mixture into pancake. Cut pancake in wedges to serve. Top with vanilla nut or maple syrup or whipped butter, if desired. Potato Pancakes 2 eggs 4 large potatoes, peeled, grated, and drained 1 teaspoon salt 1/8 teaspoon black pepper 1 tablespoon flour 2 tablespoons minced parsley 1/4 cup minced green onions Butter or bacon fat Sour cream, applesauce, preserves
Beat eggs until thick and combine with potatoes. Add salt and pepper, flour, parsley, and onions.
Drop by the tablespoon into hot butter or bacon fat. Saute until crisp around the edges and brown on both sides.
Drain on paper and serve very hot, with sour cream, applesauce, and preserves. Seafood Filling for Pancakes 2 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons flour 1 cup half-and-half 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/8 teaspoon pepper 1 cup diced cooked lobster or chopped cooked shrimp
Melt butter and blend in flour. Add cream gradually, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and cook three minutes longer. Add salt and pepper.
Add to this sauce the diced cooked lobster or chopped cooked shrimp.
Pour filling over folded or rolled pancakes that have been placed in a baking dish. Bake in a 350-degree F. oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until sauce is bubbly.