I loved Pancake Day as a kid. In fact it was the only day I ever had the joy of eating them so it’s no wonder it was so exciting for me! The Jif Lemon advert on TV would start to remind us a week in advance – ‘Don’t forget the pancakes on Jif Lemon Day’ – and Mum would duly buy a little plastic lemon – filled with artificially enhanced lemon juice! – and make sure we had the pancake ingredients in her larder. After school pancakes were the only thing on my mind……. when would I be allowed into the kitchen to have a go at flipping one?
The possibility of pancakes stuck to the ceiling or falling on our ever eager dog’s head made the activity fraught with danger and all the more thrilling. I had to wait till after dinner then pancakes would be made as a treat for pudding. Mum made good pancakes and we would coat them in crunchy granulated sugar finished off with a generous squeeze of Jif Lemon, and then I would carefully roll mine into a sausage and greedily eat it, probably with my hands if my parents weren’t looking. By the third pancake I was stuffed and that was it……..Pancake Day was over for another year! I was raised in a non-religious home though I have no doubt my Church of England schooling probably educated me on why we made pancakes on Shrove’s Tuesday……..I just don’t have any memory of this.
So a quick potted history:
Shrove Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday marking the start of Lent and forty days of fasting. Shrove is derived from the word ‘shrive’ which means confess all sins. The housewife would make pancakes to use up ingredients that were forbidden during the abstinence of lent and all the ingredients in the pancake batter were symbols of Christianity: eggs, flour, butter/fat, milk and salt.
A bell would toll out calling the parishioners to confess their sins:
But hark, I hear the pancake bell,
And fritters make a gallant bell,
The cooks are baking, frying, boyling,
Stewing, mincing, cutting, broyling,
Carving, gormandizing, roasting,
Carbonating, cracking, slashing, toasting.
(Poor Robin’s Almanack for 1684 )
There are thoughts that pancakes were slipped into pockets to sustain the parishioners in the long and cold queues while waiting their turn for confession – if it were me that would be highly likely!
This tradition was practised all over Europe – in France it is called Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday – and is thought to go back as far as the 14th century though it is also widely believed that the origins are actually Pagan and pancakes were made to celebrate spring and were symbolic of the sun!
For this child of the 70s and 80s the TV was the source of enlightenment and no spiritual awareness was attached to the tradition. We would be treated to interviews featuring the chef who had made the biggest pancake, the man who had eaten the most or the largest stampede of women tossing their pancakes in a frying pan while running for the finish line – incidentally this racing goes back as far at the 15th century! Even now Pancake Day has a gimmicky edge; Tesco is currently running a ‘Pancake Selfie’ competition which brings things right on-trend with our media savvy age!
To close my musings on Pancake Day, quite an extraordinary link to childhood memories has occurred. That little advert ‘Don’t forget the pancakes on Jif Lemon Day’……..it ran for 13 years from 1985 till 1998; well my husband composed the music and it’s him playing the piano!
Have a flipping great pancake day everyone.
Pancake Tuesday this year is 17th February 2015
For the perfect pancake recipe: https://www.rivercottage.net/recipes/perfect-pancakes
Events in London: http://www.timeout.com/london/things-to-do/pancake-day-in-london