It’s Shrove Tuesday, so that means pancakes! Actually, I eat pancakes fairly frequently, not just on pancake day. I usually go for savoury ones with some kind of spinach based filling, but I’ve been known to make breakfast pancakes sometimes (usually the small puffy ones made with self-raising flour). When I was growing up we seemed to eat pancakes with sugar and lemon (or better yet, jam or golden syrup) almost every week. It was the most certainly popular standby pudding in our house, better even than freezer treats like Vienetta and Arctic roll. I used to particularly enjoy trying to flip them over by tossing the pan – although I’m sure quite a few ended up on the floor or stuck to the ceiling!
My mum showed me how to make pancakes when I was quite young and I’ve always done it by “feel” – not measuring or weighing anything, just mixing up eggs, milk and flour until it looks right, adding more of each ingredient as necessary. I’ve discovered on my food adventures so far that this seems to be how most Early Modern cooks worked as well, it’s fairly rare to find actual measurements. Most of the measurements that do exist seem to rely on prior cooking knowledge – a lump of butter should be “the size of a walnut”, artichokes should be pared “as you would an apple”. The pancake recipe I’ll be using specifies 20 eggs (I’ve scaled it down!) but gives no guidance for any of the other ingredients, only saying that the batter should not be too thin.
Shrove Tuesday, or course, marks the beginning of Lent, or rather the last day before Lent begins. I’m sure many people are familiar with the concept of eating up “luxury” foods before the fast began. Thinking about fasting reminded me of a tract by Henry Mason from 1626 called The epicures fast: or: A short discourse discouering the licenciousness of the Romane Church in her religious fasts. I think it is very interesting that fasting, as opposed to feasting, was considered licentious by some. Mason’s main bone of contention with fasting seems to be that it is an easy way out of major sins that should not be committed in the first place. There a shade of deviousness in the faster – he sins safe in the knowledge that a simple fast will cure him. A devout Christian would not try to achieve absolution in such an easy way: “those who heare Christ say, and consider what he meaneth, when he saith, Striue to enter in at the strait gate; cannot thinke to buy heauen at so easie a rate, nor to make satisfaction for their sins with so sleight a penance”. Despite Mason’s concerns, fasting was commonplace and in fact mandated during Lent, periodically proclamations entitled “By the King” (or “By the Queen” during Elizabeth’s reign, of course) would be issued explaining the restrictions, particularly targeting inn-keepers, butchers, and other proprietors. Once such proclamation from 1625 is entitled “A Proclamation for restraint of killing, dressing, and eating of Flesh in Lent, or on Fish daies, appointed by the Law, to be hereafter strictly obserued by all sorts of people”, and also warns fishmongers against profiting excessively by charging over the odds for their fish during fasting times.
I’ve noticed that quite a few of the plays I’ve been studying were first performed on Shrove Tuesday, such as Thomas Carew’s Coelum Britanicum, published in 1634, and subtitled “A masque at White-Hall in the Banquetting-House, on Shrove-Tuesday night, the 18. of February, 1633”. Maybe they had pancakes at the banquet? It seems that plays and masques were part of the Shrove-Tuesday celebrations, and were presumably avoided or maybe forbidden during Lent. An anonymous broadside ballad called Lent from 1661 presents Lent and Shrovetide as anthropomorphic figures, with Lent coming to conquer Shrovetide, who represents feasting and overindulgence:
Thou puff paunch’d Monster (Shrovetyde) thou art he
That wer’t ordain’d the latter end to be
Of forty five weekes gluttony, now past
Which I in seaven weekes come to cleanse at last:
Your feasting I will turn to fasting dyet
Your Cookes shall have some leasure to be quiet,
Your Masques, Pomps, Playes, and all your vaine expence
I’le change to sorrow, and to penitence,
I will reforme you, and I hither came
To keep flesh from you, your proud flesh to tame:
It’s interesting that “Masques, Pomps, Playes” are to be changed to sorrow by Lent, clearly they represent joyfulness, abandon, even carnivalesque.
So, let’s celebrate with Shrovetyde before Lent triumphs over him, and make pancakes! The recipe shall be following shortly.