All’s Well that Ends Well
As fit as…as a pancake for Shrove-Tuesday,*
PANCAKE DAY is another name for Shrove Tuesday, from the custom of eating pancakes on this day, still generally observed. A writer in the “Gentleman’s Magazine, 1790,” says, that “Shrive is an old Saxon word, of which shrove is a corruption, and signifies confession. Hence Shrove Tuesday means Confession Tuesday, on which day all the people in every parish throughout the kingdom, during the Romish times, were obliged to confess their sins, one by one, to their own parish priests, in their own parish churches; and that this might be done the more regularly, the great bell in every parish was rung at ten o’clock, or perhaps sooner, that it might be heard by all. And as the Romish religion has given way to a much better, I mean the protestant religion, yet the custom of ringing the great bell in our ancient parish churches, at least in some of them, still remains, and obtains in and about London the name of Pancake-bell: the usage of dining on pancakes or fritters, and such like provision, still continues.” In “Pasquil’s Palinodia, 1634,” 4to. it is merrily observed that on this day every stomach
till it can hold no more,
Is fritter-filled, as well as heart can wish;
And every man and maide doe take their turne,
And tosse their pancakes up for feare they burne;
And all the kitchen doth with laughter sound,
To see the pancakes fall upon the ground.
Threshing the Hen.
This singular custom is almost obsolete, yet it certainly is practised, even now, in at least one obscure part of the kingdom. A reasonable conjecture concerning its origin is, that the fowl was a delicacy to the labourer, and therefore given to him on this festive day, for sport and food.
At Shrovetide to shroving, go thresh the fat hen,
If blindfold can kill her, then give it thy men.
Maids, fritters and pancakes inough [sic] see you make,
Let slut have one pancake, for company sake.
So directs Tusser in his “Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry, 1620,” 4to. On this his annotator, “Tusser Redivivus, 1710,” (8vo. June, p. 15,) annexes an account of the custom. “The hen is hung at a fellow’s back, who has also some horse bells about him the rest of the fellows are blinded, and have boughs in their hands, with which they chase this fellow and his hen about some large court or small enclosure. The fellow with his hen and bells shifting as well as he can, they follow the sound, and sometimes hit him and his hen, other times, if he can get behind one of them, they thresh one another well favour’dly; but the jest is, the maids are to blind the fellows, which they do with their aprons, and the cunning baggages will endear their sweethearts with a peeping-hole, whilst the others look out as sharp to hinder it. After this the hen is boil’d with bacon, and store of pancakes and fritters are made.”
A MS. in the British Museum quoted by Brand states, that in 1560, it was a custom at Eton school on Shrove Tuesday for the cook to fasten a pancake to a crow upon the school door; and as crows usually hatch at this season, the cawing of the young ones for their parent heightened this heartless sport. From a question by Antiquarius, in the “Gentleman’s Magazine,” 1790, it appears that it is a custom on Shrove Tuesday at Westminster school for the under clerk of the college, preceded by the beadle and the other officers, to throw a large pancake over the bar which divides the upper from the lower school. Brand mentions a similar custom at Eton school. Mr. Fosbroke is decisive in the opinion that pancakes on Shrove Tuesday were taken from the heathen Fornacalia, celebrated on the 18th of February, in memory of making bread, before ovens were invented, by the goddesss Fornax.
‘THE GOOD HUSWIFES HANDMAIDE FOR THE KITCHIN’ 1588
TO MAKE PANCAKES
Take new thicke Creame a pinte, foure or five yolks of Egs, a good handfull of flower, and two or three spoonfuls of ale, strain them altogether into a faire platter, and season it with a good handfull of Sugar, a spooneful of Synamon, and a litle Ginger: then take a frying pan, and put in a litle peece of Butter, as big as your thombe, and when it is molten browne, cast it out of your pan, and with a ladle put to the further side of your pan some of your stuffe, and hold your pan aslope, so that your stuffe may run abroad ouer all the pan, as thin as may be: then set it to the fyre, and let the fyre be verie soft, and when the one side is baked, then turne the other, and bake them as dry as ye can without burning.
* William Shakespeare Alls Well That Ends Well – Act II, Scene II