Shrove Tuesday is so called in England because it used to be a day of confession and forgiveness, or shriving, prior to Lent, a forty-day period of fasting which began the following day on Ash Wednesday. Shrove Tuesday is also synonymous with pancakes. In earlier times eggs and dairy products were forbidden during the Lenten fast, and pancakes were the perfect way for housewives to use up these ingredients.
In England, many celebrations are held on this day, but perhaps the most famous is the Pancake Day Race held at Olney in Buckinghamshire, an annual tradition since 1445. Legend has it that a woman cooking pancakes heard the church bells summoning her to confession. She ran to the church still clad in her apron and carrying her frying pan, thus starting a custom which continues to this day.
The rules of the race require the contestants, all women, to wear traditional housewifely garb of dress or skirt, apron, and hat or scarf. They must also toss their pancakes at the start and finish of the 415-yard dash. The winner receives a kiss and a blessing, "The peace of the Lord be always with you," from the vicar of the parish.
In 1950, the race became a transatlantic affair when the townspeople of Liberal, Kansas, became involved. After seeing press photographs of the race, Liberal challenged Olney to a contest. Ever since the two towns have competed annually.
I remember cooking pancakes for Mick, in the first year of our marriage ― and it almost became our last. Far from being able to toss my pancakes, I struggled to turn them over at all, and they fell to pieces when I tried to remove them from the pan. Despite assurances from Mick that they tasted great, I became more and more frustrated with my efforts. To make matters worse, I had to watch hungrily while he ate one after another of my pathetic offerings. I was so angry I could have cheerfully whacked him with the frying pan.
In the end, Mick saved the day. He sat me down with a glass of wine, and cooked dinner for me ― not pancakes, I hasten to add. Things have move on a pace since those early days, I now wonder why I found it so difficult. Oh hum!
½ cup all-purpose flour, sifted
Pinch of salt
1 cup milk mixed with ¼ cup water
1/2 stick butter
Superfine or confectioner’s sugar
1 lemon, chopped into wedges
- Sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour break the eggs into it and whisk. Gradually add milk and water mixture, and whisk until the batter is smooth.
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add 2 tablespoons of melted butter to the batter and whisk it in. Use remaining butter to grease a 10-inch sauté pan before you make each pancake.
- Get pan really hot, reduce heat to medium. Using a pastry brush smear a little butter around base of pan. Add ¾ of a soup ladle (approx. 8 tablespoons) of batter to pan. Tilt pan around to get the base evenly coated with batter.
- After about 1 minute or so lift the edge of the pancake with a spatula, it should be a golden brown. Flip the pancake over with a spatula and cook the other side for about 20 seconds.
- Slide pancake out of the pan onto a plate. Sprinkle with freshly squeezed lemon juice and fine sugar, roll the pancake up and serve immediately.