Off to the Fair!

Memories of Bonfire Night (1950s)

Memories of Midsummer Picnics

Memories of Pancake Day
(Shrove Tuesday) 1950-ish

Memories of Easter Time

Memories of Christmas Past

Memories of Pancake Day (Shrove Tuesday) 1950-ish

Mix a pancake, Stir a pancake, Pop it in the pan.
Fry a pancake, Toss a pancake, Catch it if you can.
Christina Rossetti

In England, Shrove Tuesday, (which falls 47 days before Easter Sunday), is known as Pancake Day. As a child, this was a day to look forward to in the dark and dreary days of late February or early March, (the date varies each year but falls between 3 February and 9 March). Pancake Day is the last day before Christian Fast called Lent, so it was the last chance to use up perishable foods like milk, eggs and fat, that aren't allowed in Lent. It also made a good excuse for us kids to indulge ourselves! There was sure to be a feast of delicious golden pancakes for everyone. The type of pancake I’m talking about is an English Pancake - a thin, flat cake, made of batter and fried in a pan. It’s thicker and heavier than a crepe, but not cakey like an American pancake. You can have them at any time of the day - not just breakfast - we nearly always had them at supper time.

I have very early memories of “helping” Mum make the batter - a simple mixture made with plain flour, eggs and milk. We always needed a lot of batter, because there’s something very addictive about these pancakes and none of us could ever stop at one ... or two ... ! Mum was always sure to “toss” her pancakes (flip them over in the pan with a quick flick of the wrist) - she wouldn’t dream of turning them with a spatula! We kids would watch spellbound, half- hoping that the pancake would get stuck to the ceiling! The dog of course would have been only too glad to “clean up” if Mum failed to catch it! But Mum was adept and there was very rarely such an occurrence.

It’s quite easy to toss a pancake, but usually takes a bit of practice. Wait until the batter on top is set and tiny bubbles are visible. Loosen the edges and tip the pancake to the edge of the pan. Flick the pan with an upwards twisting motion to flip the pancake. Be prepared to mess up the first one - and to lose a couple more along the way before you get the wrist action right. Mum would make stacks of pancakes, and we would eat them almost as quickly as she made them, but she still managed to have a few keeping warm in the oven. We had them the traditional way sprinkled with caster (superfine) sugar and fresh lemon juice, then rolled up. Some people liked them with golden syrup or jam.

The day following Pancake Day is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, a Christian festival leading up to Easter Sunday. Lent commemorates the time that Jesus spent in the desert before the crucifixion. It is a time of abstinence, of giving things up. As we ate our pancakes we would discuss what we were going to give up for lent. One year I remember choosing “School!” but was promptly told it wasn’t allowed!

Traditionally, there used to be celebrating, mumming and revelry on Shrove Tuesday. Two old traditions survived in our part of the world. The first was the Pancake Day Race, a tradition that goes back at least 550 years! I remember the race being held on a patch of waste ground (actually a bomb-site) opposite our house. The racers (housewives wearing dresses, pinafores headscarves and “sensible” shoes) would line up carry thin pancakes in frying pans. They had to race to the finish line flipping the pancake at least three times as they went. The first to cross the line with the pancake and the pan was the winner.

The other old tradition that we observed was that of football games being played in the street - or in our case, in the local pub car park. Everyone joined in the fun, which lasted a few hours until the pub opened - at which point they all disappeared inside!

My mother remembered the “Shrovers” who would go from door to door looking for food, in much the same way as children do at Halloween today. She even taught me their song:
A-shrovin, a-shrovin, I be come a-shrovin;
A piece of bread, a piece of cheese, a bit of fatty bacon,
Or a dish of doughnuts, All of your own makin!
A-shrovin, a-shrovin, I be come a-shrovin,

Pancake Day - long may it survive!

By Sylvia Richards January 2010