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Pancake Day history: The feast before fasting and a medieval trick-or-treat

By chrisdyer  |  Posted: March 04, 2014

  • Pancakes have been made for centuries as a celebration before a period of attonement

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THE history of pancake making in Britain and the joyful celebrations that surround it goes back many centuries.

The earliest records of pancakes, and tossing them, appears in the 15th century when the custom derived from a need to use up old eggs, milk and butter before the traditional period of Lent forbid the use of such foods.

The word "shrove", as in Shrove Tuesday, comes the old English word “shrive”, meaning to “confess all sins”, which is an intrinsic part of the Christian tradition of the following period of Lent.

In days gone by children would go “shroving”, singing songs and reciting poetry in exchange for food or money.

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This also included “lend crocking” which was a kind of medieval trick-or-treat, as children would travel from house to house asking for pancakes – if they were refused broken crockery would be thrown at the door.

Other customs and superstitions included the belief that the first three pancakes cooked were sacred.

Each would be marked with a cross, then sprinkled with salt to ward off evil spirits, then set aside.

In Ireland, girls were given an afternoon off to make their batter and the eldest, unmarried girl would toss the first pancake, if she was successful she would be married within the year.

The original pancakes were much thicker than they are today, made thinner by the influence of French crepes.

In other parts of the world the Tuesday before Lent is met with much wilder celebrations.

In New Orleans the Mardi Gras Carnival erupts into a barrage of music and colourful costumes, as does Rio de Janeiro.

Traditionally the festival is around excessively eating foods that will be forbidden the next day – Ash Wednesday.

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