The Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday are known as “Shrovetide,” from an old English word “shrive,” meaning “to confess,” a name gotten from the tradition of going to Confession in the days before Lent started. Shrovetide is traditionally the time for “spring cleaning,” and just as we clean our houses in these days in preparation for Lent, we also “clean our souls” through confession so we can enter the penitential season fresh. Shrovetide is the last two days of “Carnival,” an unofficial period that began after the Epiphany and which takes its name from the Latin carnelevare, referring to the “taking away of flesh” (meat) during Lent which begins on Ash Wednesday, the day following Shrove Tuesday. During the Middle Ages, it was common practice to prepare for the austerity of Lent by purging the pantry of luxurious foods such as eggs, butter and milk. Catholics want to eat while they can and get the frivolity out of their systems in preparation for the sombre Lenten spirit to come.
The Tuesday of Shrovetide is a particularly big party day known as “Mardi Gras” (French for “Fat Tuesday”) — The origin of “Fat Tuesday” is believed to have come from the ancient Pagan custom of parading a fat ox through the town streets. Such Pagan holidays were filled with excessive eating, drinking and general bawdiness prior to a period of fasting. “Pancake Tuesday” was when fats, eggs, and butter in the house had to be used up before Lent began, and making pancakes or waffles was a good way to do it. In many places, especially in England, pancake races became popular and remain popular today. In these races, women must run while flipping a pancake so many times, and whoever crosses the finish line first wins. The largest pancake race in England is in Olney, in Buckinghamshire. There, the women must wear a dress, apron, and bonnet, and flip the pancake three times — while ensuring it is intact after they cross the finish The Tuesday of Shrovetide is a particularly big party day known as “Mardi Gras” (French for “Fat Tuesday”) — The origin of “Fat Tuesday” is believed to have come from the ancient Pagan custom of parading a fat ox through the town streets. Such Pagan holidays were filled with excessive eating, drinking and general bawdiness prior to a period of fasting. “Pancake Tuesday” was when fats, eggs, and butter in the house had to be used up before Lent began, and making pancakes or waffles was a good way to do it. In many places, especially in England, pancake races became popular and remain popular today. In these races, women must run while flipping a pancake so many times, and whoever crosses the finish line first wins. The largest pancake race in England is in Olney, in Buckinghamshire. There, the women must wear a dress, apron, and bonnet, and flip the pancake three times — while ensuring it is intact after they cross the finish line, of course. The story told to explain the origins of this race is that in 1445, a housewife heard the shriving bell (the church bell rung to summon people to confession) as she was busy working in her kitchen. Not wanting to be late, she rushed about and ran off with her skillet still in hand.
At Westminster School in London, the “Pancake Grease” is held, an event during which the schoolmaster tosses a very large pancake over a bar that’s set to about 15 feet high. The children make a mad scramble for it, and whoever emerges with the largest piece is the winner.
Knock, knock, the pan’s hot
and we are coming a-shriving
for a piece of pancake
or a piece of bacon
Or a piece of cheese
Of your own making.
Pancakes around the world
Canada: Canadian pancakes are moister than American ones but still served with maple syrup.
USA: Are particularly thick or fluffy, and best served with Vermont maple syrup and butter. Some cooks add vanilla, while others add blueberries.
Mexico: The renowned Mexican pancake equivalent is the wheat tortilla; Will has also eaten them made from maize [cornmeal].
China: Chinese pancakes are fried in sesame oil and are apparently superb with duck.
India: Indian pancakes sound scrummy; savoury pancakes are prepared with ginger, garlic and cayenne. Mung beans may also be part of the recipe.
Nigeria: Nigerian pancakes are often served with beans, tomatoes and shrimp, making a complete meal.
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Finland: Finnish pancakes are ideal for people with a sweet tooth; these should be served with jam, whipped cream, berries, cinnamon and sugar, honey or maple syrup.
France: Will can support the fact that the French excel at ‘crepes’ [sweet] and ‘galettes’ [savoury] and often served with a bowl of local cider.
Germany: The Germans tend to make apple pancakes which are baked in the oven. They also have ‘Puff’ pancakes, which look like English ‘Yorkshire Puddings’.
Italy: ‘Calzonia’ are common in Italy, they are more like an enclosed pizza than an English pancake.
Netherlands: ‘Flensjes’ are crepe cakes, usually made with apples and occasionally rhubarb.
Norway: ‘Krumkakes’ are thin, crisp, cone-shaped cookie-like crepes, often served at Christmas. They are sometimes made with a special flat iron which leaves a decorative pattern.
Poland: ‘Nalesniki’, are thin crepes which are usually served with a special cottage cheese filling. Lovely.
Russia: ‘Blini’,is small and thick, ideal with sour cream or caviar.
English Shrove Tuesday Traditions
The world record for cooking the biggest pancake was set in Rochdale, Lancashire, in 1994. The super-pancake measured 15 metres in diameter and weighed 3 tons. Ralf Laue from Leipzig, broke the world record in 1997 by tossing a pancake 416 times in two minutes.
Shrovetide football in Ashbourne, Derbyshire is something different, a unique game. On Shrove Tuesday, and Ash Wednesday, the Up’ards play the Down’ards, it’s a no holds barred game of football with the goals three miles apart.
The only rules are:
Committing murder or manslaughter is prohibited. Unnecessary violence is frowned upon. The ball may not be hidden in a bag, coat or rucksack etc. Cemeteries, churchyards and the town memorial gardens are strictly out of bounds. The ball may not be carried in a motorised vehicle. Playing after 10 pm is forbidden.
There are many versions as to the true origins of the game, believed to date back over 1,000 years and linked to ancient pagan traditions. A popular theory is that the ‘ball’ was originally a head tossed into the waiting crowd following an execution. There have been several attempts to ban the game – the most famous being in 1349 when Edward III tried to outlaw it as he claimed it interfered with his archery practice! The earliest surviving reference to the game is from 1683 when Charles Cotton (who penned the fly-fishing supplement for Izaac Walton’s ‘The Compleat Angler’) wrote about it.
Cornish Hurling, St Columb, Cornwall.
The “pitch” is 31 square miles, while the game is thought to be another echo of the pagan ritual celebrating the lengthening of the days as spring approached. The ball is the size of a cricket ball, made from apple wood and covered with silver. Two sides take part: those living in the town (the townsmen) and those outside (the countrymen), with up to 50 on each side.
This caused so much devastation when it took place in the streets of Alnwick that the Duke of Northumberland offered a meadow called the Pasture as a replacement. More than 100 players take part, representing local parishes St Paul’s and St Michael’s. The game starts with the match ball being thrown from the Barbican of Alnwick Castle to the chairman of the Shrovetide Football Committee. Everyone then marches over the River Aln to the field of play. The game is decided by scoring goals or hales. When a hale is scored the teams change ends; the first to score two hales wins. Kick-off: 2pm
Ripon Pancake Day Race Scrapped
In 2008 the Ripon traditional pancake race was scrapped because of fears over health and safety. Schoolchildren run down a cobbled street flipping pancakes after the start is signalled by the ringing of the cathedral’s ancient ‘pancake bell’ at 11 am. The police wanted more than £1,000, to control the event. In the past, local schools and businesses have entered teams to race while tossing pancakes. The main issue with health and safety is the cobbled street where people could slip over. This stupidity never happened previously. It’s a shame that these issues stop our children and the extended community from enjoying such a traditional event.
Basic Pancakes with Sugar and Lemon – A tried and trusted pancake recipe from Delia Smith, and once you get into the swing, you can make loads extra for the freezer.
4 oz (110 g) plain flour
Pinch of salt
2 large eggs
7 fl oz (200 ml) milk mixed with 3 fl oz (75 ml) water
2 oz (50 g) butter
To serve: Caster sugar, lemon juice and lemon wedges
You will also need a good solid 7 inch (18 cm) or 8 inch (20 cm) frying pan, some kitchen paper, greaseproof paper, a palette knife or flexible pan slice, and a ladle
First of all sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl with the sieve held high above the bowl so the flour gets an airing. Now make a well in the centre of the flour and break the eggs into it. Then begin whisking the eggs – any sort of whisk or even a fork will do – incorporating any bits of flour from around the edge of the bowl as you do so.
Next, gradually add small quantities of the milk and water mixture, still whisking (don’t worry about any lumps as they will eventually disappear as you whisk). When all the liquid has been added, use a rubber spatula to scrape any elusive bits of flour from around the edge into the centre, then whisk once more until the batter is smooth, with the consistency of thin cream. Now melt the butter in the pan. Spoon 2 tablespoons of it into the batter and whisk it in, then pour the rest into a bowl and use it when needed to lubricate the pan, using a wodge of kitchen paper to smear it round.
Now get the pan really hot, then turn the heat down to medium and, to start with, do a test pancake to see if you’re using the correct amount of batter. I find 2 tablespoons about right for a 7 inch (18 cm) pan and 3 tablespoons for an 8 inch (20 cm) pan. It’s also helpful if you spoon the batter into a ladle so it can be poured into the hot pan in one go. As soon as the batter hits the hot pan, tip it around from side to side to get the base evenly coated with batter. It should take only half a minute or so to cook; you can lift the edge with a palette knife to see if it’s tinged gold as it should be. Flip the pancake over with a pan slice or palette knife – the other side will need a few seconds only – then simply slide it out of the pan on to a plate.
Stack the pancakes as you make them between sheets of greaseproof paper on a plate fitted over simmering water, to keep them warm while you make the rest.
To serve, sprinkle each pancake with freshly squeezed lemon juice and caster sugar, fold in half, then in half again to form triangles, or else simply roll them up. Serve sprinkled with a little more sugar and lemon juice and extra sections of lemon.