As January slips away, in the midst of gloomy February Shrove Tuesday, Pancake day or Mardi Gras comes around to cheer people up with a sugar hit and marks the start of 40 days of lent and the run up to Easter.
Shrove Tuesday gets its name from the custom for Christians to be “shriven” before the start of Lent where traditionally people give something up for a length of time – usually sugar or chocolate these days. The word Shrove, is another word for shrive, which means “to obtain absolution for one’s sins by way of confession and penance” and people were called to church for confession by the ringing of a bell – often referred to as the “pancake bell” .
So why is this day fondly referred to as Pancake day? The pancake tradition is thought to originally be a pagan holiday where the first pancake was usually put on a window for the spirits of the ancestor and represented the sun. Those who ate subsequent pancakes were filled with the power, light and warmth of the sun and brought in the spring.
Pancakes were also traditionally eaten to use up rich, indulgent foods like eggs and milk before the 40-day fasting season of Lent began. The name Mardi Gras (French for “fat Tuesday”) was also given to this day and in some countries carnivals, events and festivals are held and the last day of “fat eating” or gorging is celebrated, most famously in Brazil and the Rio Carnival.
England’s tradition for this day is to make a thin pancake from a batter made from eggs – representing creation, flour – the staff of life, salt for wholesomeness and milk for purity which is mixed together, left to rest for 30 minutes and cooked in a shallow frying pan and of course tossed or flipped half way through cooking until golden brown on both sides.
The tradition of pancake tossing is much celebrated in the UK – with fancy dress races happening all over the country. Thought to originate from 1445 when a woman of Olney in Buckinghamshire heard the shriving bell while she was making pancakes and ran to the church in her apron, still clutching her frying pan. Shrove Tuesday football matches were also held in the streets as early as the 12th century however since the introduction of highway law these diminished, although some towns still do have a match in the humble pancake’s honour.
So what is the perfect pancake recipe? And most importantly what to have in it?
To keep with Britishness we must refer to the nations favourite and a recipe from the much loved Delia Smith for basic pancakes (found here) and serving suggestion which is simply to sprinkle each pancake with caster sugar and freshly squeezed lemon juice, fold in half, then in half again to form triangles, or else simply roll them up.