Nicola here, blogging about food (which I seem to do quite often!) Tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday, otherwise known as Pancake Day, Mardi Gras and various other names around the world. Like many festivals that have become popular celebrations, Shrove Tuesday originated in the Church calendar and is still observed as a religious festival by many people.
The name Shrove Tuesday comes originally from the word “shrive” meaning to absolve, as it falls just before the beginning of Lent. The name Mardi Gras, “Fat Tuesday” is more descriptive, however, as it gives a clue to the theme of eating up all the rich food you might then forsake during the 40 days of Lent, when people would be expected to fast and pray. Meat, eggs and various milk products were forbidden.
I have a special place in my heart for Pancake Day as Mr Cornick and I had our first date over a pile of pancakes quite a number of years ago! Since then, we tend to mark the occasion with a plate of homemade pancakes served with lemon and sugar. It’s pretty low key, but in the past, more of a thing was made of eating up all those tempting foods before Lent started.
First there was “Collop Monday.” According to Daniel Defoe in his 'Tour of Great Britain' written in 1726, the day before Shrove Tuesday was the day when meat was cut into “collops”, slices, or into steaks for hanging and salting until Lent was over. It was the tradition to eat bacon and eggs on that day. I remember this from my childhood in Northern England when my grandparents always marked the day before Pancake Day with a dinner of fried bacon and fried egg.
By Shrove Tuesday it was time to use up your stocks of fats, eggs and butter. Fritters, pancakes and other combinations of eggs and fat were very popular! The laws of what was permitted to be eaten or not during Lent were pretty strict in the Middle Ages but there were some liberal definitions of different sorts of food in order for the diet not to become too dull. According to English Heritage, by the 12th century it was decided that the rules against eating meat didn’t apply to birds, so chicken could be eaten. Beaver tail was allowed because beavers lived near water and ducks were renamed barnacle geese because it was believed these birds hatched from barnacles and so were permissible to eat! (This sounds more like an April Fool’s joke.)
Lent was also a time when dancing and merrymaking was banned so as much fun and games as possible was squashed into the time ahead of when it started. It’s thought that this was the origin of the Pancake Race – a legend from the mid 15th century says that when a local woman heard the shriving bell ringing whilst she was making pancakes, she dashed to church still holding her pan.
This recipe for Banniet Tort from Charles Carter’s The Compleat Cook, written in 1730, certainly helped to use up a lot of dairy products! “Take a pint of cream, and make it into Pancake Stuff; season it as you do pancakes and fry off eight of them, fine, crisp and brown; sheet a little dish with Puff-paste and lay in the bottom some slices of citron; lay on those a pancake, have some sack and orange flower water and sugar mingled together and sprinkle over. Lay another, then more sweetmeats and sprinkle between every one still til you have laid them all. Lay sweetmeats on the uppermost and sprinkle what you have on top and close it with a thin lid and bake it off pretty quick. And when baked, cut it open, squeeze in an orange and shake it together, and cut the lid to garnish. Sugar it over and serve it.”
Throughout the centuries there have been many different ways to eat up your Shrovetide treats ahead of Lent. In Scotland, for example, there were “care-cakes.” These are described as “a kind of thin cake, made of milk, meal or flour, eggs beaten up and sugar, baked and eaten on Fastern’s E’n” This was the old Scots term for Shrove Tuesday. The Scots crumpet, a thinner version than the English one, was also a favourite as these could be rolled up and eaten with jam and butter. My husband still makes these to his family recipe.
These days I guess our sweetmeats could be blueberries or ice cream, or we could make savoury pancakes with all sorts of different fillings. What hasn’t changed though is our enjoyment of food as part of various different festivities and celebrations during the year!
Is there a traditional meal you eat at this time of year? Do you enjoy a pancake on Shrove Tuesday (or at any other time for that matter!) And will you be giving anything up for Lent?