Flipping pancake tradition can’t be battered

Ahead of Shrove Tuesday, Charlotte Paton takes a look at the ancient celebration of Pancake Day... and some of its not-so-pleasant customs from earlier years.

Next Tuesday is Shrove Tuesday, although I guess most of you know the day as Pancake Day. Whether you will make pancakes and try to toss them depends on how you feel about the ensuing state of your kitchen – but are you aware of why on this day the ritual is carried out?

The making of pancakes was to use up the eggs and fat remaining in the home, which were forbidden during Lent, which begins the following day, Ash Wednesday – so called because ashes were placed on the heads of the those wishing to forgiven for their sins.

Shrove Tuesday was once a 'half-holiday' in England. It started at 11am with the ringing of the church bell calling the people to prayer.

It is believed that racing with pancakes began in 1445 when a housewife from Olney in Buckinghamshire was so busy making pancakes that she forgot the time until she heard the church bells. She raced out of the house to church while still carrying her frying pan and pancake. It remains to this day a relatively common festive tradition in England.

'Shrove' is a word derived from 'shrive' which means to confess, and in days gone by the pious were concerned that such merry-making led to a great deal of confession time being necessary. In former days, with this in mind, much more than pancakes were tossed – prostitutes were chucked out of town to stop any temptation during the Lenten period. And sticks were also tossed at cockerels tied to posts or wedged in jars where they remained helpless until killed.

For more pancake tales of old and pictures of local races see the EDP Sunday supplement in this Saturday's EDP.