Shrove Tuesday? Ask around in Ireland and many people will be puzzled. But mention "Pancake Tuesday" and a smile lights up most faces. Stacks of pancakes to look forward to. Because lent will begin in a few hours' time.
What is Shrove Tuesday?
Shrove Tuesday is the day preceding Ash Wednesday, also known as the first day of Lent. And, according to liturgy and tradition, lent is a time when Christians ought to refrain from rich foods, from meat, dairy products and eggs. A time of fasting. For forty days.
The Irish name for Shrove Tuesday is Mairt Inide.
Why Is Lent Celebrated?
Many cultures and religions know a period of self-mortification and fasting in remembrance or honour of certain events. In Christianity, lent reminds the faithful of Jesus' forty days of fasting just before beginning his ministry.
There might, however, be a purely practical reason beneath the religious concept. On the one hand you will purify the body when fasting, always a good thing. On the other hand February and March would be lean times anyway, with the larders emptying. And it is a good time not to eat eggs, but to let the chickens hatch them. To do a Colonel Sanders later on ...
When is Shrove Tuesday?
The actual date of Shrove Tuesday depends on that of Easter - and Easter is a moveable feast based on the moon cycles. The calendar date Shrove Tuesday falls on may vary from February 3rd to March 9th. The liturgical definition is "the Tuesday in the seventh week before Easter".
Why Has Shrove Tuesday Become Pancake Tuesday?
Pancakes are commonly associated with Shrove Tuesday because it simply is the last day before lent - and a convenient way to use up eggs, milk and sugar. Mix them all, bake them, eat your fill and you are set for fasting.
Today you will also see pancake races in many areas - carrying a skillet with a pancake at speed is an art in itself. As a special challenge the pancakes have to be tossed into the air as well. This has nothing to do with liturgy, but it also uses up eggs and can be a lot of fun. And lent notoriously is not about fun at all.
Only Pancakes on Pancake Tuesday?
Not really - if you had meat that would go off before Easter, you'd also finish if off in time for lent. So big meals all around. And: Another Irish tradition would be to head off for the pub later, to have a few pints before giving up "the gargle" during lent. This was more of a male thing, though.
Are There Special Pancake Rituals on Shrove Tuesday?
To say that there was a prescribed set of rituals for Shrove Tuesday in Ireland would be stretching it. But some traditions have been described:
First and foremost the last meal on Shrove Tuesday was a family occasion, with everyone gathered in the kitchen even during preparation of the pancakes. When cookers were still operated with solid fuel (or the pan or griddle was used on an open fire), it is said that the fire would be started with a sprig of holly left over from the Christmas decorations. This might well have been an originally pagan ritual - sacrificing the evergreen in the fire to ensure a fruitful spring.
A bit of soothsaying also went on - by letting the eldest unmarried daughter toss the first pancake, If the toss would be successful, she would be married within the year. Which might have been a bit of a problem if the daughter was only eight or nine years old.
Another way to tell the future also involved marriage: Apparently the first pancake contained a ring and would be parcelled out to all present. He (or she) who finds the ring would marry within the year and stay happy ever after. Careless eaters might also have to visit the dentist soon. Again this tradition seems to fall down on age reasons and the possibility of an already married person finding the ring ...
In some areas of Ireland the last scrap of meat from the meal on Shrove Tuesday was hung in the rafters or the chimney to ensure good luck and loads of meat after lent. Here we well may see another surviving pagan sacrificial offering becoming interwoven with Christian calendar customs.
How to Make Pancakes for Pancake Tuesday?
Take your favourite pancake recipe and off you go ... but here is my take on it (for two to four persons):
- 250 g white flour
- 4 medium eggs
- 300 ml milk
- 100 ml sparkling water
- pinch of salt
I always have the oven on a low heat (80 Celsius should do it) and stack finished pancakes on a plate in the oven. Keeps them warm to have the meal together ...
The traditional Irish way to enjoy pancakes seems to be sweet - pour granulated sugar on them, roll them up, dig in. For added zest some lemon juice might also be sprinkled on them.
Personally speaking, cheese and bacon are a better choice, or even a seafood pancake ... but Herself disagrees.