GREAT BRITISH TRADITIONS – Pancake Day
The British are known the world over for being eccentric. We breed eccentrics and are fascinated by them and our history has some of the best. Take the landowner John “Mad Jack” Mytton for example, who loved to arrive at a dinner party riding on his pet bear. His other adventures included trying to cure his hiccups by setting his shirt on fire, and dressing up as a highwayman to terrify people he had invited to dinner. Then there was the aristocrat Francis Egerton, the eighth Earl of Bridgewater, who was known for giving elaborate dinner parties …… for his dogs. The animals were dressed in the latest fashions, right down to their dainty shoes. Not to mention Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Ozzy Osbourne, Keith Moon……
On a more contemporary note, just think about our obsession with the weather or queuing and, of course, our tea, which we regard as the universal solver of all problems.
“I can’t do my maths homework, mum.” “Well, have a cup of tea and then try again.”
“I’ve got such a headache!” “Oh, have a cup of tea, then you’ll feel better.”
“Someone just ran over my cat!” “Oh, what a shame! Sit down, I’ll make you a cup of tea.”
So let me now introduce you to another British oddity: Pancake Day or Shrove Tuesday, as it is officially called.
Pancake Day always falls 47 days before Easter Sunday. Why 47? It’s something to do with the moon, which is lunatic in itself. In any case, it is always the Tuesday before the start of Lent (Ash Wednesday) when Christians traditionally went to confession and were “shriven” (absolved from their sins – irregular verb to shrive, shrove, shriven). Shrove Tuesday dates back to the Middle Ages and presented the last opportunity to use up all your eggs and fats and thoroughly make a pig of yourself before embarking on the Lenten fast running up to Easter. And pancakes were the perfect way of using up these ingredients.
Unlike the American ‘copycat’ pancake, the British version is thin, made of a simple batter of flour, eggs and milk and fried in a frying pan. It should be served immediately with sugar and lemon juice as the traditional topping and very few British households will be pancakeless this year on February 28th.
The pancake has a very long history and has been featured in cookery books since 1439. The tradition of tossing or flipping them is almost as old: “And every man and maide doe take their turne, And tosse their Pancakes up for feare they burne.” (Pasquil’s Palin, 1619).
As if making and consuming an indecent amount of pancakes on Shrove Tuesday were not enough, whatever the weather, we also love to organise and take part in Pancake Races. These involve large numbers of people, often in fancy dress, who shamelessly race down streets, armed with a frying pan and hot pancake, flipping it as they run. And why not? Isn’t it just everyone’s dream to do such a thing on a cold February day, just for the fun of it?
In my opinion being eccentric is a means of adding spice to life and the British do it exceedingly well. And in February or early March, with all the rain, grey skies and wind, what better way to do it, especially if you can then go home to a warm house and put your feet up with a nice cup of tea.