Shrove, Pancake, Fat or Gras

Today is a special day in Christendom with several names and traditions, which, out of curiosity, I once had cause to look into. Following is a reprint, slightly edited, of what I posted on Raindrops many years ago.

I was brought up Pentecostal and am, therefore, not steeped in liturgical traditions such as Lent … In my reading of fiction based on Old England, I recalled coming across shriven. The context seemed to have something to do with confession and forgiveness. I deduced that shrove must be the past tense of to shrive.

Well, oddly enough, Wikipedia confirmed my suspicions. (It is odd for me to be correct.) Shrove is the past tense of “to shrive,” and it does have to do with people confessing and being absolved of their sins. In the case of Shrove Tuesday, it was in preparation for Lent.

For some reason the appellation, Shrove Tuesday, sticks in my mind, but to Cuppa, Pancake Tuesday, is the more common name. To my French SIL, Mardi Gras is the term. I never realized before discussing it with the kids last night how appropriate Mardi Gras is, for it literally means Fat Tuesday in French.

Why Fat Tuesday, you ask? Because, according to Wikipedia, on the last day before Lent, people, in an attempt not to have food go bad during the restrictive Lenten period, would eat up all sorts of perishable food that could not be consumed during the Lenten season.

Why Pancake Tuesday, you ask? Because, according to Wikipedia, two such perishable food items were milk and eggs, two prime ingredients of pancakes. In fact, somewhere I think I read (but I can’t find it again) that recipes for pancakes appeared in as early as the fifteenth century.

Aside: Reading about pancakes reminded me of my mother because according to Wikipedia: “In the Canadian province of Newfoundland, household objects are baked into the pancakes and served to family members. Rings, thimbles, thread, coins, and other objects all have meanings associated with them. The lucky one to find coins in their pancake will be rich …”

Perhaps that is where my mother’s birthday cake tradition originated,  for she would wrap coins in tin foil and insert them into birthday cakes. I have never known anyone else in the world to do this, but I now surmise that someone in our line of forebears adapted the tradition from inserting coins and other items into the Shrove Tuesday pancakes.

I have to tell you that Shrove Tuesday is my favourite name, but I am an old fashioned kinda guy in some ways — even if I do write “kinda” from time to time. Whatever you call the day, if you call it anything at all, enjoy your pancakes if that’s what you do. We’ll get together with the kids and grandlets. It’s a great way to begin and end the Lenten season.

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10 Responses to Shrove, Pancake, Fat or Gras

  1. Ruth says:

    I am from the same non-liturgical background, but my mother always made pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. I think it was more to do with making an easy dinner for 5 children. No one complained about the menu and we each had an egg cup full of real maple syrup too. Mexicans like to bake trinkets into cake. At Epiphany they do that with their “Three Kings cake”. Pancakes are on our menu tonight too.

  2. Sue says:

    It’s always been Shrove Tuesday to me, but most people in the UK just call it Pancake Day. Traditional British pancakes are the large crepe-type, not the smaller, thicker US style pancakes. We eat them as a dessert, sprinkled with sugar and fresh lemon juice. Not entirely sure how two of us are going to manage eight pancakes (which is the quantity made with one egg, so I don’t think I can do any less) but I expect they’ll keep… although that kind of defeats the object of using up ingredients before Lent begins!

  3. Col says:

    Often wondered.. now I know. 🙂

    Nickles and dimes hidden in the birthday cake used to be a tradition from my youth as well. My grandma was of German descent but am not sure where it all started. We haven’t done it in years. I guess concerns of accidentally swallowing a coin probably put it too rest. Kind of sad in a way… I remember the fun in finding a dime. 🙂

  4. Diana says:

    Fat Tuesday here AC! I will be getting ashed tomorrow!!
    Love Di ♥

  5. QMM says:

    A great explanation of the day before the Lenten season begins. We call it Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras and the tradition is to put a little plastic baby figure in the King Cake for someone to find. A sign of blessings during the Lenten season. When I was young we always gave up something for Lent. As I became more mature in faith I choose to do something positive such as help deliver meals for the home bound. Be kinder gentler to the folks I live with, etc. On Ash Wednesday, as I am sure you know, Catholics receive a smudge of ashes in the form of a cross on the forehead. If you get them in the morning, they have a way of trickling down your nose all day long. One may blow them away put not permitted to remove them for the entire day. If you get the in the evening you may wash them off before you go to bed. Just saying.

  6. Mara says:

    Well, it was the last day of Carnaval in the Netherlands, where people get dressed up in silly costumes and drink too much. However it’s mainly celebrated in the Catholic southern part of the country, even if some people will take every excuse to get drunk!

    I am trying to think now about the Dutch name for today, but for the life of me I can’t think of it and I can’t be bothered to look it up… Sorry!

  7. KGmom says:

    One more name in the mix–in central PA, where PA Dutch prevail, it’s Fastnacht Day. Donuts (aka Fastnacht) but made with potato dough. Use up all the flour, sugar (and presumably potatoes), and fat in the house. Gorge yourself. Then spend Lent repenting the over-indulgence.

  8. Ruth says:

    Funny that you mentioned the NFLD tradition about the money in pancakes. My s-i-l is from NFLD and this was her FB status today…
    “will soon be whipping up a yummy batch of pancakes!! 😀 Half with chocolate chips and half with loonies and quarters, nickels and dimes please!!”

  9. Bernie says:

    My mum always put coins in our cakes as well… was always so much fun looking to see who got the quarter, no loonies back then.
    Happy Shrove Tuesday, a day late. Loved the pancakes though….:-)Hugs

  10. Regenia says:

    Wow! Did I enjoy reading this. I don’t think I ever learned about Pancake Tuesday or the traditions in Pennsylvania. Mardi Gras was all that I knew about.

    My son-in-law is from Mexico so this year we did the Rosca de Reyes (Three Kings Day) celebration. He was able to get the actual “cake”, which is more of a sweet bread. Everyone loved that bread! Each person cuts a piece from the large rectangle, whever he or she chooses. If you find a small “doll” you must bring some food item to the get-together on February 2nd.

    I took pictures and fully intended to write a blog post for it, but we’ve all been sick. I still intend to do so, because I think it is so much fun to learn about other cultures and traditions.

    Thanks for this post!

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