A bit of background:
I’m a day late with this post but couldn’t resist publishing these wonderful images of Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day races.
Shrove Tuesday is determined by Easter and precedes Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.
The word shrove is a form of the English word shrive meaning to confess’ and Shrove Tuesday gets its name from the custom for Christians to be shriven or ‘make a special point of self-examination, of considering what wrongs they need to repent, and what amendments of life or areas of spiritual growth they especially need to ask God’s help in dealing with’ before the start of Lent
Being the last day before the penitential season of Lent, related popular practices, such as indulging in food that will be forfeited for the upcoming forty days, are associated with Shrove Tuesday celebrations.
(By the way, Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday and refers to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lent.)
It’s generally assumed that the practice of pancake making came about as a practical means of using up rich foods such as eggs, milk, and sugar before the fasting began, as liturgical fasting emphasised eating plainer food and refraining from food that would give pleasure: in many cultures, this meant no meat, dairy products, or eggs.
The earliest records of pancakes and pancake tossing appeared in the fifteenth century when the pancakes were a little thicker than the modern pancake; they would also often have added spices for a little decadence. It wasn’t until the eighteenth century and the influence of French cooking and their thin crepes that pancakes became more as we know them today.
Whilst ‘Shroving’, also a custom associated with Shrove Tuesday (in which children sang or recited poetry in exchange for food or money) and ‘Lent Crocking’ (when children would pass from house to house asking for pancakes and throw broken crockery at any door that refused them) have faded away, pancake races remain popular across the country, with participants with frying pans racing through the streets tossing pancakes into the air and catching them in the pan whilst at full gallop.
The tradition is claimed (by the good residents of Olney at least…) to have begun when a housewife from Olney (Buckinghamshire) was so busy making pancakes that she forgot the time until she heard the church bells ringing for the service. She raced out of the house to church while still carrying her frying pan and pancake.
The Olney Pancake Race has been held since 1445. The contestants, traditionally women, carry a frying pan and race over a 415 yard course to the finishing line. The rules are strict: contestants have to toss their pancake at both the start and the finish, as well as wear an apron and a scarf. Traditionally, when men want to participate, they must dress up as a housewife (usually an apron and a bandanna). The race is followed by a church service.
Many of the images in this post are of the Olney Race.