When I was a little girl “pancake day” was a happy celebration for our family, although my mother probably didn’t enjoy it as much as the rest of us. Being a family of 6 she spent most of the dinner time standing at the stove flipping pancake after pancake for us to devour. We were very traditional and mostly ate the pancakes with sugar and lemon juice. If we were feeling daring we’d substitute the sugar with golden syrup. For me it’s still the best way to eat pancakes.
Pancake day, or Shrove Tuesday as it is more properly known, falls 47 days before Easter Sunday. It is the last day before Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent. Shrove Tuesday gets its name from the verb “shrive” and would have been the day people went to church to be "shriven" (absolved from their sins). Being the last day before Lent, it was the day on which everyone ate all their rich foods prior to the fasting of Lent. Pancakes were the perfect way to use up eggs, milk and flour.
The ingredients for pancakes symbolise four points of significance at this time of year:
Eggs ~ Creation
Flour ~ The staff of life
Salt ~ Wholesomeness
Of course there was always lots of fun around that this time of year. You could always enter a pancake race!
The pancake is featured in cookery books as far back as 1439, and the tradition of tossing or flipping it is almost as old: "And every man and maide doe take their turne, And tosse their pancakes up for feare they burne." (Pasquil's Palin, 1619).
The recipe for the pancake has not changed over the centuries and is essentially the same today as it was in ‘The English Husewife' by Gervase Markham, published in 1615.
''To make the best pancake, take two or three eggs, and break them into a dish, and beat them well; then add a pretty quantity of fair running water, and beat all well together; then put in cloves, mace, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and season it with salt; which done, make it as thick as you think good with fine wheat flour; then fry the cakes as thin as may be with sweet butter, or sweet seam, and make them brown, and so serve them up with sugar strewed upon them. There be some which mix pancakes with new milk or cream, but that makes them tough, cloying, and not crisp, pleasant and savoury as running water.''
Plain wheat flour - about 8oz
Water - about a pint (or replace some or all of it with milk and/or cream)
Ground spices: mace, cinnamon, cloves nutmeg
Mix the dry ingredients together, mix in the egg then gradually add the liquid. Beat well and let it stand for a while. Fry in a good heavy frying pan using a little butter or suet.
Serve with sugar or with fruits preserved in brandy.
Enjoy, because the Lentern fast begins tomorrow!
Interested in the culinary history of the UK? Let Tasteful Travel design an experiential tour for you to immerse you in all things food, drink and stories of the past.