Today is Shrove Tuesday — also known as “Mardi Gras” or “Fat Tuesday” — the day before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Traditionally viewed as a day of repentance, Shrove Tuesday has become a day of celebration and feasting before the period of fasting required during the Lenten season. The name Shrove is derived from the old Middle-English word shrive, which means to confess and receive absolution. The name denotes a period of cleansing, wherein a person brings their lusts and appetites under subjection through abstention and self-sacrifice.
In the UK, another name for Shrove Tuesday is Pancake Day. An old English custom was to use up all the fattening ingredients in the house before the Lent fast. The fattening ingredients that most people had in their houses were eggs and milk, easily mixed with flour to make pancakes. The custom of pancake making on Shrove Tuesday continues today in the UK, and many villages host “pancake races” where people race with a frying pan while tossing a pancake into the air!
This video is of the 2012 Olney Pancake Race, a tradition since 1445.
In honor of food being a major theme for Shrove Tuesday,
here are a few recipes and historical tidbits you may find interesting.
SHROVE TUESDAY PANCAKES as traditionally made in the UK are more like what we in the US think of as French crepes. They are thin, as a crepe, yet the batter is thicker. Recipes today are often more complex and include a diverse range of toppings, fillings, or additives to the batter. Traditionally, however, the ingredients are few and the only embellishments are sprinkling with sugar and drizzling with a splash of lemon or other citrus juice.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 large eggs
- 1 and 1/2 cups milk
- 1/4 stick butter (2 oz melted)
- 1/4 stick melted butter (for frying)
- freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar (for serving)
- Add the flour and salt to a batter or mixing bowl. Pour in the eggs. Add the milk. Whisk it all together with a hand beater for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Melt 2 oz of butter and pour into the batter. Whisk it once again. Let batter stand at least 10 minutes.
- Heat an 8-inch skillet (or size desired) over medium-high heat. The recipe yield will vary depending upon the size of your pan.
- Brush the inside of the pan with melted butter. Pour about 1/4 cup of batter into the pan, tilting it from side to side to spread the batter all around in a thin layer.
- Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. The pancake is ready to flip when the upper side is looking dry.
- Flip the pancake. Cook for about 30 seconds to 1 minute on this side. Turn onto a plate, covering to keep warm.
- To serve, spread 1 to 2 teaspoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice on the inside of each pancake. Sprinkle with about 1 teaspoon of fine white sugar. Roll the pancakes to form long thin cylinders. Serve immediately.
HOT CROSS BUNS were originally used in pagan ceremonies and rituals. The Christian Church attempted to ban the buns, although they proved too popular. Left with no alternative but defeat, the church did the next best thing and “Christianized” the bread by adding the icing-filled cross. Queen Elizabeth I passed a law which limited the bun’s consumption to proper religious ceremonies, such as Christmas, Easter or funerals.
EGG COMFITS were the precursor to our modern invention of colorful plastic eggs to hide tiny treats inside. Or perhaps most akin to our chocolate eggs with the variety of tasty middles as we have today since an original egg comfit had an edible shell. As noted by William Alexis Jarrin in The Italian Confectioner: Or, Complete Economy of Desserts, published in 1829–
Have the two halves of an egg made in box-wood; take some gum paste, roll it out, thin, and put into the casts, make it lay close, cut off with a knife the outside edges quite smooth, let them dry… They are usually filled with imitations of all sorts of fruits–In Paris they put in a number of nick-nacks, little almanacks, smelling bottles with essences, and even things of value, for presents. Join the two halves with some of the same paste, moistened with a little water and gum arabic.
Laura Mason, author of Sugar Plums and Sherbet: The Prehistory of Sweets (2004) quoted Jarrin’s instructions, and then added for clarification: “These eggs were covered with syrup in the comfit pan, which, considering the fragility of sugar paste, must have been a delicate operation. It is still perfectly feasible to make such eggs, although no one but the most dedicated of experimental confectioners would ever attempt to pan them. The underlying concept has survived, but removed to an entirely different branch of confectionery, to enjoy enormous success as the chocolate Easter egg.”
ROAST LAMB which many eat on Easter Sunday goes back earlier than Easter to the first Passover of the Jewish people. According to the Biblical Passover story in Exodus chapter 12, the sacrificial lamb was roasted and eaten, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, as ordered by God to ensure that the angel of Death would pass over their homes and bring no harm. As Hebrews converted to Christianity, and with Passover and Easter occurring roughly at the same time, the traditions naturally crossed over.
There are literally hundreds of recipes for roast lamb on the web. Easter Lamb Recipes on AllRecipes.com is an excellent place to start.
HARD BOILED EGGS are probably the first food that pops into everyone’s mind when thinking of Easter. Typically this is associated mostly with dying the shells and hiding for the kiddies to hunt. But what then? All those yummy eggs shouldn’t be thrown away!
There are probably a million recipes in which a hard-boiled egg may be used. The most common, the basic Deviled Egg, has a multitude of versions. Personally, I am content with classic deviled eggs, but why not have fun with it? Deviled Egg Recipes on AllRecipes.com should give you some ideas.
Of course, if you have lots and lots of hard-boiled eggs, or simply want to stretch your culinary skills or dazzle your taste buds, the possibilities are nearly endless! About Food has a page with 10 Ways to Use Hard Boiled Eggs, each with links to various recipes. Amongst the options are: Scotch Eggs, Hindoo Eggs, and Pickled Eggs.
So there are a few ideas.
I’d love to hear some of your favorite Easter food choices!