As I tucked into my paper thin and crispy pancakes, sprinkled with brown sugar and the tanginess squeezed from a sweet orange, (no stodgy doorsteps for me stuck together with tree sap aka maple syrup … sorry my lovely American friends!) I pondered on the history behind the tradition of Pancake Day.
Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday, is the traditional feast day before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday. Lent – the 40 days leading up to Easter – was traditionally a time of fasting and on Shrove Tuesday, Anglo-Saxon Christians went to confession and were “shriven” (absolved from their sins). A bell would be rung to call people to confession. This came to be called the “Pancake Bell” and is still rung today.
The pancake has a very long history and featured in cookery books as far back as 1439. The tradition of tossing or flipping them is almost as old. Almost every country has their own version of Pancake Day. From Iceland, where they call it the fabulously named, ‘Bursting Day’ and eat meat and peas, through Sweden, where (like a few other places) it is called ‘Fat Tuesday’ to Rio de Janeiro where ‘Carnival’ is the preferred name and has evolved into a completely different tradition altogether. In fact, carnivals have developed world wide, most notably in the French quarters of America and has replaced the name of Fat Tuesday with the much nicer sounding translation of Mardi Gras.
Shrove Tuesday always falls 47 days before Easter Sunday, so the date varies from year to year and falls between February 3 and March 9th and was the last opportunity to use up eggs and fats before embarking on the Lenten fast and pancakes are the perfect way of using up these ingredients.
The ingredients for pancakes can be seen to symbolise four points of significance at this time of year:
Eggs ~ Creation
Flour ~ The staff of life
Salt ~ Wholesomeness
Milk ~ Purity
In the UK, pancake races form an important part of the Shrove Tuesday celebrations – an opportunity for large numbers of people, often in fancy dress, to race down streets tossing pancakes. The object of the race is to get to the finishing line first, carrying a frying pan with a cooked pancake in it and flipping the pancake as you run.
The most famous pancake race takes place at Olney in Buckinghamshire. According to tradition, in 1445 a woman of Olney heard the shriving bell while she was making pancakes and ran to the church in her apron, still clutching her frying pan. The Olney pancake race is now world famous. Competitors have to be local housewives and they must wear an apron and a hat or scarf!
If I have whetted your appetite with all this talk of golden crispiness, perhaps you might like to try my easy recipe for a yummy supper.
To make 8 or so traditional English pancakes you will need 8 oz plain flour, 2 large eggs, 1 pint milk, salt.
Mix all together and whisk well. Leave to stand for 30 minutes. Heat a little oil in a frying pan, pour in enough batter to cover the base of the pan and let it cook until the base of the pancake has browned. Then shake the pan to loosen the pancake and flip the pancake over to brown the other side. Usually served with sugar and a squeeze of lemon (orange has always been my families tradition) but you can add ginger, cinnamon, fat sultanas or whatever else you fancy really. Complete heathens may add strawberries and chocolate spread, but who am I to judge? 😀
Happy Munching … x