Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day, dates back to the 15th century. It was traditionally a feast to celebrate the beginning of Lent, the forty days prior to the Christian festival of Easter. Lent was a time of fasting and confession, during which Christians would shrive, or seek to be forgiven of their sins (hence the name: shrove Tuesday).
Because it was a period of fasting, Lent meant that tempting luxury foods like eggs, milk and butter were off the menu. In the time before modern refrigerators, Shrove Tuesday would have been the last day to use up these perishable ingredients before the forty-day fast began. So, people made pancakes!
If you’re used to American-style pancakes, British Pancake Day pancakes might seem a little different. They’re much more like a French crêpe: a thin pancake, often with slightly crispy edges.
Meat was also forbidden during Lent. In some parts of the UK, the day before Shrove Tuesday used to be known as Collopy Monday (aka Merry Monday), when leftover meat slices (or collops) were eaten. In some other countries, Shrove Tuesday is a carnival day. Even the word carnival derives from the Latin carne levare, meaning remove meat. You may, for instance, be familiar with the world-famous carnival of Mardi Gras, which literally means fat Tuesday because of the rich foods people were giving up for Lent.
As well as giving up rich foods, people were also expected to give up entertaining activities like dancing and sport. This is the origin of Shrovetide football games that take place in villages around the country. In Ashbourne in Derbyshire, for instance, a medieval football game is played on Shrove Tuesday. The game differs quite considerably from standard soccer. The goals are three miles apart and the ball, which is larger than a football, can be carried or thrown as well as kicked.
If Shrove Tuesday is new to you, why not try making pancakes yourself? Mix together 220g of plain flour with 680ml of milk (or vegan milk substitute) and 5 tablespoons of vegetable oil and whisk them until you have a smooth batter. Then, ladle a fine coating of the batter into a hot, non-stick pan and tilt it to spread the batter evenly into a circular shape. When the batter has firmed, use a spatula to flip the pancake over and cook until both sides are golden. Serve with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkling of sugar, or add the topping of your choice.
If you’re not quite ready to tackle pancakes in the kitchen, there are various ways to celebrate Pancake Day on campus.
The Keynes Resident Life Assistants are hosting a Pancake Party in Keynes Dolche Vita restaurant on Tues 21st Feb from 10am until 2pm. It’s open to all students, but you’ll need to book a place. Vegan options will be available.
Can’t decide what you want? Head to Woody’s where you can choose between a range of crêpes or American-style pancake stacks (vegan options available).
Whether you’re brave enough to make your own, or you head to one of the campus eateries, we hope you have an excellent Shrove Tuesday!