Who doesn’t love a pancake…? Whether with simple lemon and sugar or filled with something more elaborate, like salmon and hollandaise sauce; they are a favourite….
Traditionally eaten on Shrove Tuesday, they are seen as an ideal way of using up perishable foods before the onset of the fasting period of Lent. Shrove Tuesday always falls 47 days before Easter Sunday and is the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent; a time in the Christian calendar for prayer and penance. It represents the 40 days that Jesus Christ spent in the wilderness before his crucifixion. Nowadays, for most of us, if we do give something up for Lent, it tends to be a ‘guilty pleasure’, such as chocolate or wine….
Shrove Tuesday originated in the Middle Ages. People would attend Church to be ‘shriven’; confess their sins and be absolved. A bell would call them to confession; the bell, known as the ‘Pancake Bell’, is still rung today….
We British have some pretty wacky customs, none more so than pancake racing…. A gathering of people, often in fancy dress, running a race whilst carrying a frying pan, tossing a pancake all the way to the finishing line…. How on Earth did all this come about….?
Well….tradition says it originated in the Buckinghamshire town of Olney. In 1445, a woman heard the Shriving bell while she was making pancakes. Still in her apron and clutching the pan she ran to the church….
The Olney Pancake Race is famous. In order to qualify the competitors have to dress as housewives, in an apron, hat or scarf. The pancake has to be tossed three times during the race, which ends at the church. The winner is the first one to arrive, receive a kiss from the bell-ringer and serve him the hot pancake….
Many towns hold their own pancake races on Shrove Tuesday but there are some that have other traditions to celebrate the day….
Westminster School has its ‘Pancake Greaze’. The Verger from Westminster Abbey leads a procession of school boys to a hall, where the school’s cook is waiting to toss a large pancake over a five metre bar. The boys run and scrabble to grab a piece of the pancake, the one who manages to get hold of the largest piece, (this is determined by weight), wins a prize of cash from the Dean….
In Scarborough, North Yorkshire, people meet on the Promenade, to skip. Nobody knows the true origins of this but it is thought that it could date back to the Middle Ages. Skipping was then associated with fertility, as in the sowing and sprouting of seeds. The skipping that takes place in Scarborough entails using very long ropes; very often, as many as a dozen people can be skipping to each at the same time….
In days gone by many towns throughout England would hold mob football matches, a Mediaeval form of football dating back to the 12th Century. In the Middle Ages, the match would have taken place between two neighbouring towns; the idea was to carry an inflated pigskin ball to a goal at the other side of the opponent’s town. As many men as possible would make up a team and any method of getting the ball to the goal was permissible, other than murder or manslaughter! Although this practice has all but died out now (due to the 1835 Highways Act, banning the playing of football on public highways) there are still a few towns that continue the tradition….
One very famous ‘football’ match, that is held annually, is the Royal Shrovetide Football Match in the Derbyshire town of Ashbourne. It is held every Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday over two eight-hour periods, starting at 2pm and ending at 10pm. The goals are three miles a part and if a goal is scored before 5pm, a new ball is issued and the game continues; if a goal is scored after 5pm play stops for the day. A special ball is used, bigger than a normal football and it is filled with cork, to help it float – as it usually ends up in the river at some point in the game…. The ball is hand-painted by local artists and when a goal is scored the scorer’s name is added and it is presented to him to keep….
The teams are made up with as many men as possible; those from the north side of ‘Henmore Brook’, who are known as ‘Up’ards’, oppose those from the south side, the ‘Down’ards’. The game resembles more of a rugby match than a football match, the ball is moved about in giant scrums (called ‘hugs’), sometimes involving hundreds of people. Shop windows are boarded up in advance to protect them….
The match takes place in the streets, surrounding fields, in the river, where ever it ends up! Although it is perfectly legal to kick or carry the ball it usually just gets bundled through the crowds….
To score a goal, the ball has to be knocked three times against the ‘Millstone’ by a player who has been pre-elected by the team. The rules are few; no car or other motorised vehicle can be used, the ball must not be hidden in a bag/up a jumper etc., churchyards are out-of-bounds and of course, murder is not allowed….
No one knows exactly how long the Royal Shrovetide Football Match has been played (due to the town’s records being destroyed in a fire in the 1890s) but it is known to go back to at least 1667.
It is called ‘Royal’ because the ball was ‘turned up’ (the term used for starting the game) by Edward III, when he was still the Prince of Wales in the 1920s. Once again, in 2003, Royalty was involved, when Prince Charles started the game.
Starting the game entails throwing the ball into the waiting crowd of ‘footballers’, from a specially erected plinth….
This is a massive event for the people of Ashbourne, they often refer to it as their ‘Christmas’, as families and friends who don’t see each other at any other time of the year come together to meet and socialise….
Pancakes have been featured in cookery books dating back to 1439. Four of the main ingredients are thought to have symbolic meanings: Eggs – for creation; Flour – the staff of life; Salt – wholesomeness; Milk – for purity…. Tossing the pancake seems to go back almost as far: Pasquil’s Palin 1619 ~ “And every man and maide doe take their turne. And tosse their pancakes up for feare they burne”….
In Britain, pancakes are a thin, flat ‘cake’, made from batter and fried in a pan.
The rest of the World has its own variations, following are but just a few examples:
Australia; ‘Pikelets’. Traditionally served with afternoon tea, with jam, butter and whipped cream.
Thailand; ‘Roti’. A sweet, rolled up pancake, served drizzled with sweetened condensed milk and sometimes caramelised bananas. Often sold by street vendors.
France; ‘Crepes’. A very thin pancake that can be sweet or savoury.
Germany; ‘Pfannkuchen’. Very much like the French crepe.
USA; ‘Buttermilk pancakes’. Fluffy and sweet, usually topped with syrup.
Mexico; ‘Hotcakes’. Similar to those of the USA but made using cornmeal.
Poland; ‘Nalesniki’. A version of the crepe, again sweet or savoury (for example, fried chicken).
Austria; ‘Kaiserschmarm’. The pancake is broken into pieces and caramelised. It is then topped with fruit and nuts.
Holland; ‘Pannenkoeken'(or ‘Dutch pancake’). Cooked with pieces in the mixture, such as bacon and cheese for savoury versions, or apple and raisins for sweet.
Finland; ‘Pannukakku’. Baked rather than fried, used as a dessert.
Russia; ‘Buckwheat Blini’. Served with butter, sour cream, caviar or fruit preserves.
India; ‘Malapua’. A dessert or snack food. There are many variations but may include mashed bananas and cardamom.
Malaysia; ‘Apam Balik’. Griddle cakes served with butter, ground roasted peanuts and sweetcorn. Nowadays, they are also often strawberry or chocolate flavoured.
Somalia; ‘Anjerno’. A chewy, spongy type of sour dough pancake, with a sweet and sour flavour. Ethiopia has a similar one which is slightly larger.
However you eat yours, enjoy…. I will leave you now, with a traditional English recipe:
200g plain flour
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon castor sugar
50g melted butter
In a large bowl, sift flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Make a well in the centre, pour in milk, egg and melted butter, mix until smooth.
Heat a lightly oiled frying pan over a medium to high heat. Pour in enough batter to thinly cover pan, (roughly 60ml – or 4 tablespoons per pancake). Brown on both sides…. Serve hot with topping or filling of choice….