Posted By Claire on February 21, 2012
Today is Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day, as my children call it, so I thought it would be good to write a quick article about Lent in Tudor times.
Lent was, and is, the lead-up to Holy Week and it lasted six and a half weeks. In Tudor times, it was a period of fasting, a time when meat, eggs and cheese were forbidden. Prior to this fasting was a time of celebration, Shrovetide, which began on the seventh Sunday before Easter, a day known as Shrove Sunday.
The three days of Shrovetide – Shrove Sunday, Collop Monday (a ‘collop’ or ‘collup’ being a piece of fried or roasted meat) and Shrove Tuesday – were the last opportunity to use up those forbidden foods and to have some fun. Shrove Tuesday, the last day before Lent, was marked with court celebrations and entertainment such as jousting, plays, music and masques. Alison Sim, in “Pleasures and Pastimes in Tudor England” describes one Shrovetide entertainment, “threshing the cock”, which consisted of tethering a cock and then people trying to kill it by throwing things at it. A prize was given to the person who killed it. Sim also writes of how “sometimes the cock was buried with just its head sticking out of the ground and then blindfolded people would try to kill it with a flail.” Not nice!
Lent was not just a time of fasting, it was also a time of self-denial, and couples were forbidden to have sexual relations.
In churches during Lent, a Lent veil would hide the chancel from the nave and cloths would cover the lectern and altars. These cloths and veils symbolised the hiding of the way to salvation. The Lent veil would remain in place until the Wednesday of Holy Week when the priest would read out the passage from the Bible concerning the veil in the Temple in Jerusalem.
Pancakes were a way of using up eggs before Lent so eating pancakes became a custom in many countries. In the UK, pancake races became a way of using up the rich food forbidden during Lent and also having fun. According to Wikipedia, the traditional pancake race of Olney in Buckinghamshire dates back to 1445. The story behind the tradition is that a housewife was busy making pancakes when the churchbells rang for the service. The lady was in such a rush to get to the service that she allegedly ran to church with her frying pan and pancake, tossing the pancake as she went!
The Good Huswifes Jewell, a recipe book from 1585, gives a recipe for pancakes and this can be found on the British Library website – click here. You just need eggs, flour, ale (you could use water!), sugar, cinnamon and ginger.
We have always enjoyed pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and we love experimenting with different toppings: sugar and lemon (my favourite), jam, golden syrup, chocolate spread, chocolate sauce… What’s your favourite? What do you do for Shrove Tuesday?
Trivia: Shrovetide was an important time in the story of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. It is thought that it was at the Shrove Tuesday joust of 1526 that Henry VIII declared his love for Anne Boleyn – see The Shrovetide Joust of February 1526