I’m sure everyone knows what a pancake is? No? Well for the uninitiated it is a flat, thin “cake” made from eggs, flour and milk and quickly fried in a hot pan. Served with sugar and lemon juice it borders on the divine which is rather appropriate as pancakes have many connections with the all mighty!
Pancakes taste fabulous any time of the year, but tradition states they should really be eaten on Shrove Tuesday. Why? Shrove Tuesday marks the beginning of Lent which is a time of austerity and abstinence. This was introduced by stick wielding Christians to keep the masses in order through a system of deprivation and terror tactics relating to hell fire and eternal damnation.
The date of Shrove Tuesday varies each year as it falls 47 days before Easter which itself has an annual variance. In 2014 Shrove Tuesday falls on the 4th March.
Collop Monday is the day before Shrove Tuesday which is useful to know as Collops are lumps of meat or fat, often pork or bacon. The main dish served on Collop Monday should therefore be bacon and eggs and left to me, I would add mushrooms, tomatoes, a couple of rounds of toast and a big pot of tea, but I digress! The purpose of this meal was to provide a ready supply of fat for the following day’s pancakes.
The day before Collop Monday is known as Quinquagesima Sunday. John Keeble waxed lyrical about Quinquagesima Sunday in his poem of the same name.
Egg Saturday marks the first day of Shrove Tide and Pasch Eggs were given to mark the occasion. These were often coloured and a name written upon them in grease. Students at Oxford collages are still given Pasch eggs and during Easter, “Pace-eggers” perform plays and hold egg rolling races down suitably steep inclines.
Traditionally, the whole of the Shrove Tide period is a time of fun, feasting, general debauchery and hooliganism. Nothing new there then. Pancake tossing races are still a common practice all over the country and mass “football” or “bottle kicking” matches attract thousands of brave, but foolhardy young men looking for an excuse to indulge in a little unbridled excess of alcohol, practical jokes and the odd spot of fisticuffs!
Two places where you can see or join in if you dare are Ashbourne in Derbyshire and Atherstone in Warkwickshire.
The day after Shrove Tuesday, (Pancake Day), is Ash Wednesday or day of ashes. It is the first day of Lent and is supposed to be a day of repentance. After all the fun and frolics of Shrove Tide, I suspect there would be no shortage of penitents!
For those still hale and hearty, church services are held on Ash Wednesday and the palms from the preceding Palm Sunday are burnt and mixed with holy water and used to mark the forehead of the dutiful supplicant.
Should your religious persuasions lean another way, you might prefer an ash twig stuffed into a boot or sock secure in the knowledge that this will ward off all manner of evil spirits and make abstinence in any of its detestable forms unnecessary!