The long run up to Easter is called Lent. The day before Lent begins is called Shrove Tuesday. The word ‘Shrove’ means being forgiven for wrong-doings (sounds good). This year Shrove Tuesday is on 12 February.
Shrove Tuesday is also called Pancake Day. Long, long ago this was a day for feasting and having a good time. People would go to church to confess the bad things they had done and would be ‘shriven’ or forgiven before the start of Lent. Since rich foods such as eggs were forbidden during Lent, one way of using them up would be to make pancakes. When I was younger pancakes were used to as the bribe in order to get me to church. Confessing was optional for me as I would most likely be in there for some time and end up missing the pancakes altogether so I usually took the “shriven” bit for granted and moved straight on to absolution by pancake.
The legend of the pancake race dates from well over 500 years ago in 1445. On Shrove Tuesday one woman was still making her pancakes as the church bells rang out. Rather than be late she took her frying pan and pancake with her! One of the most famous pancake races is held in Olney, Buckinghamshire and the race has been held for hundreds of years. Competitors need to be women over 18 years of age who must wear a skirt, an apron and head covering. They have to toss their pancake on the start line and again at the finish to prove they haven’t lost it (or the pancake).
In France and the United States Pancake day is called Mardi Gras which means ‘Fat’ or ‘Grease Tuesday’ – doesn’t sound quite as appealing as pancake day though.
It is customary in France to touch the handle of the frying pan and make a wish while the pancake is turned, holding a coin in one hand.
Weird fact which I read somewhere is that the Irish call Shrove Tuesday “Maírt na Smut” – Sulky Tuesday – from the sulkiness of girls who have not found a husband before Lent! Presumably because they then have to buy their own Easter eggs?
Last year I attempted to make the South Indian version, Dosa. My sister-in-law very kindly brought me the mix which is notoriously difficult to prepare correctly. I have never been so completely stumped as to why I could not put batter into a pan and thin it out to form a pancake. I tried and made my husband eat scrap after scrap of Dosa, only some of which were edible and not raw or burnt. I should probably seek forgiveness for making such a hash of it and feeding it to someone else, so I will have double my normal helping of pancakes this year as penance. That should do it!