Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Shrove Tuesday Pancake Festival, Hitchin 2008


Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, is the final day pre-Lent. It is the day for clearing your cupboards of eggs and butter (historically both forbidden, along with other foods such as meat, during Lent), and for shriving (confessing sins and asking forgiveness). Pancakes have for many centuries, and in many countries, been a popular way of achieving larder cleanliness on Shrove Tuesday. In centuries past, pancakes made for the wealthy may have contained spices, scented waters, sherry, sack or ale, and could be brought to the table with bowls of flavoured cream or sweet cooked fruits. Fruit fritters - fruit dipped in batter - particularly apple fritters, were also a popular food on this day, and the name fritter can also be applied to the pancake. In contrast to these indulgent pancakes of the past, most of us in Britain are accustomed to eating plain flour, egg and milk pancakes with a sprinkling of sugar and a squeeze of tart lemon juice, quite austere by old standards! A few miles north of Hitchin, the small town of Baldock had a different tradition for Shrove Tuesday. Here the day was known as Doughnut Day, and fried doughnuts were eaten in place of pancakes. Was there perhaps a link with the Dutch tradition of Faschtnachts?

On Shrove Tuesday morning the church bell would ring to call parishioners to church to be shriven. Post-Reformation the bell also signified the beginning of festivities, the last chance for a jolly and a feast before the dry days of Lent. Reputedly, the first pancake race was run in Olney, Buckinghamshire in 1455, albeit unintentionally. One housewife cooking her pre-Lent batch of pancakes, heard the church bell ringing for the Shriving service, and realising she was late for the service ran out of the house arriving in church with the frying pan still in her hand. Olney still stages a pancake race each year, open to women over the age of 18, and happy to dress in the stereotypical garb of the housewife.

The Pancake Festival in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, is in its 10th year, organised by the The Rotary Club, raising money for the The Garden House Hospice and other local charities. Three pancakes races are run:

The men's race.

The women's race.


Fancy-dress, with the 118 guys - obligatory at all good charity sporting events.

In the town square I joined the queue for a pancake hot from the pan, serving to help me limber up for a pancake eating marathon later in the day. For pancake recipes both traditional and new, try this link. I can't record my own efforts, as I am afraid they were consumed all too quickly, only to say they were very good!

14 comments:

Carolyn said...

I am not far from Hitchin - but alas work on Tuesdays, looks like great fun....

Katie said...

I known people living in Hitchen and yet I didn't know about this event. Its sounds a lot of fun. Do they do it every year? I will have to remember for time.

Pixie said...

What great photos!!!! Sadly, I missed out on making pancakes, but will be having loads of them this weekend to make up for it.

Jessica at Bwlchyrhyd said...

We made pancakes on Saturday but they were American ones (thicker!) and we had them with maple syrup...

I've tagged you for a meme, the details are on my blog.

K said...

We had pancakes on Tuesday, but we didn't race with them. Or toss them, which I always feel is wrong.

My home economics teacher at school took the line (Delia-approved) that a pancake thick enough to toss isn't worth eating, but I feel a pancake too thin to toss is essentially a crêpe. When it comes to it, though, we never like to risk dropping them on the floor.

We had our first ones with lemon and sugar in the spirit of tradition, and the later ones with ice cream, in the spirit of being disgustingly indulgent before Lent!

Rachael said...

That is such a cute story, and sounds like a fun event!

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

Glad to see that the silly Health & Safety bods haven't ruined all the fun...

Cakelaw said...

Love the race photographs. Thanks for always providing such interesting background information in your posts.

Maryann said...

My english bloke introduced me to pancake day and I'm very thankful. I even eat them with a squeeze of lemon juice and sugar instead of my northeastern maple syrup. Fun post :)

Michel said...

Muito interessante. deveria fazer um destes aqui em são Paulo.

anna said...

It is great that Hitchin keeps up the Pancake Racing tradition, and it hasn't fallen foul of the Health and Safety brigade (and make sure you DO try this at home). The most dangerous thing from a spectator's point of view was the risk of being hit by a runner's pancake, as when tossed they hit the pan with a clunk. It appeared that the runners made use of biscuit-like pancakes, perhaps to give them some chance of managing a successful 'toss' whilst moving at speed. Perhaps someone can fill me in on pancake race tactics?...

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Monique said...

What a good idea : pancake racing for fundraising! I wish we had something over here
But Fastnacht is a German word , not Dutch ! Here in Holland a lot of people used to eat pancakes as well on "Vastenavond" (in Dutch, Fastnacht in German, Shrove Tuesday) .

skillet said...

Those are some intense looking competitors in those pictures! :) Love the fancy dress photo.