The Tudor Society

Shrove Tuesday, Pancakes and Lent

pancakeraceIf you haven't had chance to read the Feast Days section of Tudor Life magazine then you won't have read my piece on Shrove Tuesday and Lent. Here is what you missed, plus some Tudor recipes for pancakes.

Lent was, and is, the lead-up to Holy Week and it lasted six and a half weeks. In Tudor times, it was a period of fasting, a time when meat, eggs and cheese were forbidden. Prior to this fasting was a time of celebration, Shrovetide, which began on the seventh Sunday before Easter, a day known as Shrove Sunday.

The three days of Shrovetide – Shrove Sunday, Collop Monday (a ‘collop’ being a piece of fried or roasted meat) and Shrove Tuesday – were the last opportunity to use up those forbidden foods and to have some fun. Shrove Tuesday, the last day before Lent, was marked with court celebrations and entertainment such as jousting, plays, music and masques. Alison Sim, in Pleasures and Pastimes in Tudor England describes one Shrovetide entertainment, “threshing the cock”, which consisted of tethering a cock and then people trying to kill it by throwing things at it. A prize was given to the person who killed it. Sim also writes of how “sometimes the cock was buried with just its head sticking out of the ground and then blindfolded people would try to kill it with a flail.” Not nice!

Ash Wednesday was the first day of Lent and was “a reminder that humans are made of dust and will return to dust.” (Tudor Monastery Farm)

Lent was not just a time of fasting, it was also a time of self-denial, and couples were forbidden to have sexual relations.

In churches during Lent, a Lent veil would hide the chancel from the nave and cloths would cover the lectern and altars. These cloths and veils symbolised the hiding of the way to salvation. The Lent veil would remain in place until the Wednesday of Holy Week when the priest would read out the passage from the Bible concerning the veil in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Pancakes were a way of using up eggs before Lent so eating pancakes became a custom in many countries. In the UK, pancake races became a way of using up the rich food forbidden during Lent and also having fun. The traditional pancake race of Olney in Buckinghamshire is said to date back to 1445. The story behind the tradition is that a housewife was busy making pancakes when the churchbells rang for the service. The lady was in such a rush to get to the service that she allegedly ran to church with her frying pan and pancake, tossing the pancake as she went!

Pancake Recipes

Here's a pancake recipe from Gervase Markham's 1615 The English Housewife:

To make the best pancake, take two or three eggs, and break them into a dish, and beat them well; then add unto them 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 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.

Hilary Spurling, editor of Elinor Fettiplace's Receipt Book, published in 1614, writes of how Shrove Tuesday was celebrated with "great mounds of pancakes and apple fritters - spiced, rose-flavoured, mixed with ale or sherry, enriched with butter, cream and a great many eggs", and goes on to say that each household had its own speciality. Here are some of Elinor's pancake and fritter recipes:

Apple Fritters:

Take the whites of eggs and beat them very well, then put to them some creame, and a little flower, and some cloves and mace beaten smale, and some sugar, and the pap of two or three boiled apples and stir it well alltogether, then fry it in a frying pan with some sweet butter, and when it is half fried, break it in pieces like fritters and so fry it.

Ale-based Fritters and Pancakes:

Take good ale, make yt bloud warme, put to yt some fine wheatne flower, the yelkes of 4 or 5 egges, some cloves, mace, and small quantity of ginger, with some salte, and a qter of a pounde of beefe suett shred very smale, temper yt all well together, then pare your apples, cut out the cores and slice them round into your batter, and bake them in beife lard as other fritures. Of the same bater make your pancakes leaving out your suett and apples, and let your ale bee halfe sacke, fry your pancakes either in butter or beefe lard.

Rosewater Pancakes:

Take the yelkes of eggs, and rose water, and some flower, and a little cloves, and mace, and some sugar, and beat it well together, make it somewhat thin, and so frie them.

Recipes take from:
The English Housewife, Gervase Markham, McGil Queen's University Press
Elinor Fettiplace's Receipt Book, ed. Hilary Spurling, Viking Salamander

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Shrove Tuesday, Pancakes and Lent