As far back as 1000 AD the word shrove is the past tense of the English verb shrives, which means to obtain absolution for one's sins by way of Confession and doing penance. Thus Shrove Tuesday gets its name from the custom for English Christians to be "shriven" before the start of Lent.. Shrove Tuesday is the last day of "Shrovetide", somewhat analogous to the Carnival tradition that developed separately in countries of Latin Europe.
Shrove Tuesday was once known as a "half-holiday" in England. It started at 11:00am with the ringing of the church bells. On Pancake Day, pancake races are held in villages and towns across the United Kingdom.
The tradition is said to have originated when a housewife from Olney was so busy making pancakes that she forgot the time until she heard the church ringing for the service.She raced out of the house to church while still carrying her frying pan and pancake. The pancake race remains a relatively common festive tradition in the UK, and England in particular, even today. Participants with frying pans race through the streets tossing pancakes into the air, catching them in the pan whilst running.
The most famous pancake race, at Olney in Buckinghamshire, has been held since 1445. The contestants, traditionally women, carry a frying pan and race to over a 415 yard course to the finishing line. The rules are strict: contestants have to toss their pancake at both the start and the finish, as well as wear an apron and a scarf. Traditionally, when men want to participate, they must dress up as a housewife (usually an apron and a bandanna). The race is followed by a church service.
In England, as part of community celebration, many towns held traditional Shrove Tuesday "mob football" games, dating as far back as the 11th Century. The practice mostly died out in the 19th century, after the passing of the Highway Act 1835, which banned playing football on public highways.
A number of towns have maintained the tradition, including Alnwick in Northumberland, Ashbourne in Derbyshire (called the Royal Shrovetide Football Match), Atherstone (called the Ball Game) in Warwickshire, Sedgefield (called the Ball Game) in County Durham, and St Columb Major (called Hurling the Silver Ball) in Cornwall.
Scarborough celebrates by closing the foreshore to all traffic, closing schools early, and inviting all to skip. Traditionally, long ropes were used from the nearby harbour. The town crier rings the pancake bell, situated on the corner of Westborough (Main Street) and Huntress Row.
Historically, Shrove Tuesday was associated with the day preceding Lent because they were a way to use up rich foods such as eggs, milk, and sugar, before the fasting season of the 40 days of Lent. The liturgical fasting emphasized eating plainer food and refraining from food that would give pleasure: In many cultures, this means no meat, dairy, or eggs.
However, if a family had a store of these foods they would certainly spoil by the time the fast ended on Easter Sunday. What to do? Solution: use up the milk, butter and eggs no later than Shrove Tuesday. And so, with the addition of a little flour, the solution quickly presented itself in... Pancakes. The recipe for English Pancakes is listed below:
1. Place the flour, salt, milk and egg in a large bowl and whisk until smooth and lump free.
2. Transfer the batter to a measuring jug.
3. Heat 1-2 teaspoons of oil in a frying pan until very hot, and then pour most of it into a heatproof container, leaving just enough oil to coat the pan.
4. Pour in a little of the batter, tilting the pan to evenly cover the base with a thin layer. Fry over a moderate heat, shaking the pan gently so it doesn't stick, until the underside is golden. This will only take 1-2 minutes.
5. Using a palette knife, turn the pancake over and cook the other side until golden. This will only take 30 - 60 seconds.
6. Remove to a plate, cover with foil and place in the warmed oven whilst you cook the remaining pancakes in the same way.