Pancake Customs FEATURE

Pancakes have a long tradition in England with the celebration of Shrovetide. This particular fried cake was made in this country as early as the 13th century. We take a look at some of the rural traditions of Shrove Tuesday, also known famously as Pancake Day.

Pancake Customs

The pancake is, as the name suggests, a thin cake fried in a pan. It is especially associated with Great Britain and Shrove Tuesday, or "Pancake Day." Shrove Tuesday is a feast day before Lent and Christians were expected to go to church on this day and be absolved of their sins. Since the fasting days of Lent would soon be upon them, it was a good occasion to use up those eggs that could not be consumed during Lent.

The church bell, or "pancake bell," was rung to alert the farm wives, they could now begin frying pancakes. The custom of eating pancakes at Shrovetide began in rural parts of Britain. Children were given pancakes after a game of cock-threshing. Cock-threshing was a cruel sort of game where a live cock was tied to a stake and the children took turns pelting it with sticks. The child who killed the cock, won the cock. Cock-threshing fell by the wayside, as nasty games do, about 600 years ago. The pancake tradition did not.

Tossing the pancakes high was all part of the merrymaking and tossing them into the crowds was another favorite game. Whoever came up with the largest pancake would win a prize. The child among them who was considered a lie-abed or in the habit oversleeping in the morning was allowed the first pancake. Perhaps it was an annual reprieve for their laziness. Even children as young as three years old, were given some chores.

Country folk, believed that to eat pancakes at Shrovetide and peas on Ash Wednesday would keep them in money for a year.

A farmer would toss a pancake to the barnyard hens on this day. If she ate it all herself, it was an omen and bad luck is expected. If she shared with other hens and cocks, good luck is expected.

1445 AD saw the beginning of the first pancake race in Olney, Buckinghamshire. The tradition was briefly abandoned during the second world war but still exists today. With frying pan in hand, women race to the finish, tossing the pancakes three times along the way.

In Ireland, the children ate pancakes at night and the pancakes were made with small amounts of flour collected from from several neighbors.

Pancakes have a long history. A recipe was found in British Library Manuscripts, by Constance B. Hieatt and Robin F. Jones, that dates to the 13th century. It is called Blaunche escrepes, white crepes or pancakes. The ingredients are the basic pancake ingredients we use today, white flour, eggs, butter or oil, sugar. The manuscript does call for white wine, but it was the 13th century.

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