Tuesday 16 February 2010

Collop Monday , Shrove Tuesday, Amazing Grace and Ash Crosses

Bacon and eggs, pancakes with lemon and sprinkled sugar, ash crosses and the hymn “Amazing Grace” are all connected to this time of year. Collop Monday, which I think is a lovely name, was yesterday – and is so called after the traditional dish of the day, consisting of slices of leftover meat along with eggs.

Collops (pieces of bacon) were traditionally eaten as part of the Lenten preparations, using up any meat left in the larder or cold store; another advantage of having collops was the source of fat produced for the pancakes made on Shrove Tuesday.

Pancake with lemon, ready to be sprinkled with sugar

A modern day full English breakfast with scrambled eggs, sausage, black pudding, bacon, mushrooms, baked beans, hash browns, and half a tomato

Fasting during Lent was more severe in ancient times than in the early Middle Ages when meat, eggs and dairy products were generally forbidden, as part of the religious influence, but probably also because life at that time of year would have been difficult – as the end of the winter stores were dwindling, while the spring crops had not really started.

Although originally of pagan content, the traditional carnival celebrations which precede Lent in many cultures have become associated with the season of fasting if only because they are the last opportunity for excess before Lent begins. Shrove Tuesday is now part of the diverse Carnival celebrations which take place in many parts of the Christian world, from Greece, to Germany, to the Mardi Gras and Carnival of the Americas.

Shrovetide is this three day period just before the opening of Lent, when people went to confession, called shriving, and afterwards indulged in all sorts of sports and merry-making. The community celebrations around England go back centuries – but the best known one is the pancake race.

Shrove Tuesday was once known as a ‘half-holiday’ in England. It started with the ringing in the villages and towns of the Pancake Bell, which was the signal for the villagers to cease work, go home to make pancakes or join in the fun and games.

Lent personified at a Carnival celebration. Detail of 1559 painting "The Battle between Carnival and Lent" by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

The tradition of the pancake race is said to have originated when a housewife from Olney, Buckinghamshire was so busy making pancakes that she forgot the time until she heard the shriving bells ring for the service. She raced out of the house to the church while still carrying her frying pan and pancake, probably tossing it as she went so as not to burn it!

The Olney Pancake Day Race has been held since 1445 and now competes each year with the town of Liberal, Kansas for the fastest international time, I can’t find a connection as to why – nor can I find a good picture of Liberal... it is flat though!

The ingredients for pancakes are symbolic: eggs for creation, flour for the staff of life, salt for wholesomeness and milk for purity. Remember to let the batter stand for an hour or two to let the starch swell and the bubbles to pop ensuring each pancake will hold together. A tiny drizzle of the collops’ fat went into the frying pan, heated through until the pan was almost smoking ready for a half ladleful of batter to just cover the base of the pan and give you a good fine thin pancake.

I remember the simple pancakes we always had at home .. cooked on the Aga, kept warm in the bottom oven, while another was cooked ... eventually the pancakes came out for dessert – to be drizzled with fresh lemon, sprinkled with sugar, rolled up and guzzled, before three childish requests ‘please can I have another’ rebounded round the kitchen – appetites need to be satiated! I prefer plain – I think! Though I know there are masses of alternatives.

Olney has another well known claim to fame – the hymn “Amazing Grace” was written by John Newton in the 1770s, who was curate in Olney at the time, and published in 1779, but the hymn settled into relative obscurity. In the States however, “Amazing Grace” was used extensively during the early 19th century, and when in 1835 the hymn was joined with the tune “New Britain”, it has over time become one of the most famous and universal of all folk hymns.

The vicarage in Olney where Newton wrote the hymn that would become "Amazing Grace".

Ash Wednesday gets its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of the faithful as a sign of repentance. The ashes used are gathered after the Palm Crosses from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are burned. The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer for the annual commemoration during Holy Week of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

During my foray (good historical reads) around Wikipedia on Amazing Grace, John Newton and the Olney Hymns I came across this epitaph, which Newton wrote himself – and perhaps it appropriately sums up this post .. Newton enjoyed life – and would have loved the revelries of Shrovetide – but turned to repent and pay penance when he was restored to mercy, before devoting himself to poems, hymns and the Church.

Once an infidel and libertine
A servant of slaves in Africa,
Was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour
restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach
the Gospel which he had long laboured to destroy.
He ministered,
Near sixteen years in Olney, in Bucks,
And twenty-eight years in this Church.

The bottom of page 53 of Olney Hymns shows the first stanza of what became "Amazing Grace".

Collop Monday, Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday all seem appropriate names in the circumstance. What do you think? and have you had pancakes today?

PS - question from Sara .. and here's the explanation from Olney Town Council site: The Olney Pancake Race, dating back more than five hundred years, is held on Shrove Tuesday. The course is 415 yards long and is run from the Market Place to the Church at 11.55 a.m. Participants, housewives or young ladies of the town, must have lived in Olney for at least 3 months and be at least 18 years old. Competitors must wear the traditional costume of a housewife, including a skirt, apron and head covering. They must of course carry a frying pan containing a pancake. The winner, on crossing the line, must toss her pancake and she is then greeted by the verger with the traditional kiss of peace. The race is immediately followed by a Shriving service in the Parish Church when the official Olney and Liberal prizes are presented.

Dear Mr Postman – have you had pancakes today to warm you up after the pouring rain we had this morning? They had pancake tossing up at the Nursing Home, but sadly we do not participate in mealtimes, the residents seemed to enjoy it – much hilarity all round. My mother is much the same, but she now has a nebuliser and perhaps that will alleviate her throat. She’s still incredibly aware and with it – asking me about the blog! Let’s hope her hearing returns, though obviously she’s very sleepy.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Sara said...

Hilary -- I must tell you that my stomach really appreciated this post. It's evening where I'm at and just looking at this post made my stomach speak up very loudly.

I have a question, however, about the pancake race. I don't know if I missed this, but do they race with the pancakes in a pan, like the woman many years ago?

Maybe it's appropriate that Liberal, Kansas is the other city given that it's flat!!

I'm off to have some real food for my tummy:~)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sara .. you're absolutely right - I didn't explain it properly. So an extra paragraph put in at the end .. to provide a little more enlightenment.

I saw Liberal was flat as a pancake! So is Olney - situated in the Ouse valley.

Did you have pancakes to fill your tummy? Or perhaps a supper of bacon and eggs?

Thanks for being first and letting me know I hadn't really finished the post - I think I got sidelined by Amazing Grace!

Enjoy the rest of the week and thanks for your help .. Hilary

Liara Covert said...

Funny, I make crepes on sundays and my parents told me they went out for shove Tueday pancakes with sausages and beans this week. Synchronicity brings things together. Many people love food and stories of tradition and culture around it.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Liara - isn't that so true .. synchronicity - it's all around if we let it be.

I know I'm sort of drawn to the food stories direction .. but I love the things I'm finding out in my rather eclectic way - so mix and match is me - -- whatever the brain throws out for the next post.

Hope you enjoyed your crepes .. I expect you had them with berries .. a la Canada/Estonia style .. love them too .. Good to see you here ..

Megan "JoyGirl!" Bord said...

Hilary, when I saw the picture of the traditional English breakfast and "half a tomatoe," the thought that went through my mind (my smart-aleck mind) was, "Sure, because a full tomatoe would be too much!" WOW!

And no, I did not have pancakes this morning. I usually only drink a chai latte or two before noon. However, I did just eat some ice cream, which is as close to a pancake as I usually get (meaning - decadent).

As always, you've enlightened me on traditions I never before questioned the orgins of. Thank you!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Megan .. actually I always love an extra tomato - I guess to balance the black pudding that I love (not many do!), sausages, bacon ..

I too didn't have pancakes .. but next year I'm sure I'll have my full dose - I've missed a couple of years - too delicious to miss out on. Ice-cream in winter .. people are mad??!! No doubt you're somewhere warm or warmish?!

Glad you've learnt something - I did too - always do .. I've always liked doing different things - eg recipes, but now it seems to have spread to my personal education! Oh well! it takes all sorts!! Excellent to see you here ..

Terro said...

I must admit I was totally taken back by the size of the traditional English breakfast on my first visit to London. But then, I did recall my Dad eating Boston baked beans that were left over from Saturday night with eggs on Sunday mornings. Conversely, he often added an egg to Saturday night's beans along with the German hotdogs we kids preferred.

But for Ash Wednesday, of course, nothing beats hot cross buns!

J.D. Meier said...

Nice dose of history and story.

I think we need more "half holidays" :)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Terro - good to see you again - actually I agree some breakfasts seem huge! On the other hand once in a while a good breakfast with the works is delicious. Glad you have good memories of your Dad and his breakfasts - even if they were mainly left-overs - often the best sort!

Hot Cross Buns, I'm afraid, should not be eaten until Good Friday .. so you're a little early! However no doubt you're seduced by that lovely wafting spicy smell around the supermarkets, or shops .. however enjoy them - they are delicious.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi JD ..thanks for coming over .. yes - I think I agree - half holidays all round ..!!

Glad you enjoyed the information .. all the best - Hilary

Barbara Swafford said...

Hi Hilary,

Mmmmm! I enjoy reading foodie posts. Your pancake reminds me of the German pancakes a local restaruant serves - with lemon and powdered sugar. They are soooo good. In fact, reading your article reminds me I need to find a recipe for one and make some this weekend. Got a good link? Or recipe?

As usual, I'm sending hugs to your and your mom and hope all is well in your world.


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Barbara .. thanks and so pleased you enjoy them. Your German pancakes are probably similar - the crunch of sugar is rather nice - we would call their powdered sugar "icing sugar".

Here's some info .. and the one I'd use .. I added in the bit about leaving the batter to rest - essential .. as I mention above.

Pancake Recipe from ... http://www.pancakes.org.uk/pancake_recipe.aspx

For a basic pancake recipe, you will need the following ingredients –

• 100g (4oz) plain flour
• 1 egg
• 300ml (1/2 pint) milk
• optional pinch salt
• sugar and lemon juice to serve
• oil for frying

To make the pancake batter, add the milk, egg and then the flour and blend using an electric blender or food processor. Or if a blender is not available, sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Add the egg and beat well. Then add the milk gradually and beat to make a smooth batter.

Let batter stand for 1 – 3 hours (not mentioned on the site!)

Heat a little oil (hard fat or lard) in a large frying pan until hot and then pour enough batter to THINLY coat the base of the pan. Cook for a couple of minutes each side.

Serve sprinkled with sugar and lemon juice.

Enjoy your weekend cooking - you might have an extra bod - popping through the door! (Our plain flour is not the strong bread flour, but cake flour I guess - it does not contain a raising agent - we call this self-raising flour)

We're fine .. Mum not too well .. so we're playing each day as it comes and goes .. she's as fine as can be expected. Thanks for the huge amount of hugs! The bear arms and hands are extended over the pond!

Devon Ellington said...

I never heard of Collop Monday before. Fascinating!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Devon - it's a good name isn't it! These left-overs from the good old days of 1,000 + years ago. I couldn't resist it. Thanks for being here ..

Patricia said...

What a great post and such fun information sharing. We always had pancakes when I was growing up, but we did eat meat (we were not Catholics!) And I learned to make hot cross buns for Easter morning.
My mum loved her giant English breakfasts...as did my father...oh good memories

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Patricia .. thank you so much and so glad you enjoyed it. Yes - I think pancakes must be a childhood thing - but I quite fancy them now!!

Making hot cross buns - well done .. but as I have no kids .. I never got there, but Mum must have made them I think - she made croissants in the late 50s early 60s .. - very unusual: she was a very good cook.

Giant breakfasts .. lovely getting everyone round the breakfast table for a fantastic weekend morning and setting the day up - perhaps walk with the dogs to follow ..

as you say - good memories .. thanks Hilary

Blue Bunny said...

deere hillree,

in our house we racing to eet pancakes too. my kelly usuilly gets to them ferst, she is fast on her feets.

in amerika we haz arnild schwenegger's wife, she is maria shriver, maybe she came from a shriving familly?

my jannie likes a dollop of scallop with she callop, and she say it paks a wallop.

haz a reel good day over akross the laek, okay hillree??

and plezze say hello to hardwik

oh, and my nayber grace is amazing wit she karrit pankakes ressipee. she amazing grace!


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Blue Bunny .. gud to zee you .. I betz yore Kelly eets dem first end den asks for mooooor ... yuz moooor .... she luvs ze gud things in life – like her muver.

The Shriving Maria – U cud be zo rite

Me 2 – tought of scallops – but not wallop .. the collop on a Monday was too gud to be true!

Tank U .. but its bedtime for uz now .. yes Hardwik is watching carefully over my not too well Ma – but she is a fighter and strong ..

Blue bunny’s nayber with karrit pancakes – zounds gud .. betr send ressipee for inclusion in nxt Martha Stewart cukbuk .. she not really amazing grace – BB’s nayber is!

Hugs from here .. xxooxxoo

Janice Lynne Lundy said...

Wonderful post! I am passing it on to a friend who loves to observe Lent very intentionally. Tell me, what is black pudding? All Love to you...

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jan .. thank you - black pudding is a blood sausage, made with fillers of meat, suet, oatmeal, barley - utilising all the parts of a carcass. Similar to German Blutwurts, French Boudin, Spanish Morcilla .. sounds awful - but I really like it occasionally!!

Thank you for passing on my post and I hope your friend enjoys it ..

Thank you - we need it at the moment .. hugs across the pond .. xx

Tess said...

I loved the pancake story and race! In fact you're making me hungry this minute. My family has always loved pancakes with fresh raspberries or blueberries. We always got the ashes on Ash Wednesday...I spent 11 years in a Catholic school. Now instead of fasting or taking away I like to add something during lent. So instead of doing with out certain unhealthy food I'm adding healthy foods. Just had an orange for breakfast! Hi to mom;)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Tess - good to see you ..and hear of your pancake days .. yes berries too - but not in our day! Did you have the ashes - I've never heard of it before!

I think that's an excellent idea of adding something during Lent - especially if it's a "Hi" to make someone happy .. or H for health .. mmm orange - too cold here!!

Thank you - from another H!

Wilma Ham said...

Hi Hilary.
I looooove pancakes but could never make them properly until one of my brothers finally told me the secret. You need indeed a very hot pan.
I stopped throwing them as too many ended up anywhere but into the pan.
My daughters loved them and we always had them as a treat when they brought friends home. In Holland we eat them for dinner, we never eat pancakes for breakfast. We also have delicious small ones from buckwheat called 'poffertjes'.
And black pudding, that is something I cannot get myself to try . . . unless I am not aware of what I am eating . . . I will not try it.
I know it is cowardish but eating blood, my imagination is too vivid for that.

Lots of love to you and your Ma, xox Wilma

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Wilma .. - good to know your brother helped you out with the cooking tip! I don't think I've tossed them - but I'm sure we must have done as kids. They are delicious ...

You're right we ate them for supper pudding I think .. I don't think we had them at lunchtime - too busy doing other things then. I see your poffertjes .. little ones with sugar and butter - delicious .. but I like the sharpness of the lemon.

Blackpudding puts people off .. but you eat red meat?! However .. I can understand - I feel like that about tripe.

Thanks for the support and love for us both - Hilary .. xxoo

Wilma Ham said...

Ha Hilary, you have a point, I do eat red meat, very seldom but you are right the idea of red meat does NOT make me shiver.
Hmmm, how good of you to notice, see you ARE observant.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Wilma .. it's interesting blackpudding is put with scallops very often here .. and that mix of for example bacon with a fish dish and sauce goes so well together. So we have it offered for breakfast, lunch and dinner (I haven't heard of it for tea with shortbread (yet)!!)

Think of the old days - what they ate .. and aren't we lucky we can choose ..

the other thing is .. like me with tripe .. I think of it as grey and slimy .. but lots of people love it - also snails .. I eat those - it's all in the mind I guess?!

Interesting thoughts ..

Liara Covert said...

You have a way of stimulating the intellectual mind and also the gastric juices with much of your writing. Many readers are inspired to cook up something wonderful. Thanks for the positive energy and soulful reflections.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Liara .. you are very kind .. that's a wonderful comment - if I can stimulate the mind while people stir the pot, with the end result being much enjoyed - that's great.

You're right I do have a lot of soulful relfections, but keep myself positive and keep my mother positive too fortunately ...