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This year the (literally) moveable feast of Shrove Tuesday lands on February 13th. Commonly referred to as Pancake Day, it is the day in the christian calendar immediately preceding the period of Lent – approximately six weeks of self-denial, penance, self examination and consideration of the amendments one could make to ones life. Shrove comes from the word shrive which means to absolve. It’s a bit like new year’s resolutions (the giving-up and cutting-out ones) but with a whole lot more guilt thrown in.
In other countries Shrove Tuesday is referred to as Mardi Gras – which translates as Fat Tuesday. In other countries it’s Terça-feira Gorda, Fettisdagen, Güdisdienstag, FastNacht, Fastelavn, names which speak either of denial or fasting, or of gorging oneself. For example in Iceland it’s Sprengidagur which translates as Bursting Day. It’s a final blow out on all the fatty, sweet foods, in order to use up everything up before the period of abstinence.
The pancakes that are cooked and flipped in the UK on this day have no significance (in terms of their form or ingredients) to any religion and probably just stem from traditional cheap and fatty food. Pancakes in some form have existed since prehistoric times. Purists would argue that the flat fried circle of eggs, milk and flour should only be enjoyed with lemon juice and sugar. However in the face of chocolate sauces or spreads, maple syrup, banana, cherries and cream coming from north America’s influence, the purist approach might die out along with traditions like pancake flipping races and traditional Shrove Tuesday mob football matches.
After the joy of Shrove/Fat Tuesday you’re traditionally in for 40 days (47 minus Sundays) of deliberately plain food often without meat or dairy or eggs, avoiding anything that might be seen as giving pleasure. It all kicks off with Ash Wednesday, where ashes (symboling those from blessed palm branches) were traditionally used to draw a cross on christian believers’ foreheads while they were either reminded to ‘repent’ or to remember their own mortality (you come from dust and that’s what you’ll end up.)
It all might sound a little macabre but having a period of doing-without can often be handy, particularly if you forgot your new year’s resolutions this year. You might benefit from laying off something (beer, pies), or you might like the challenge of a defined period of time where you can trial lifestyle changes. It doesn’t have to be as punishing or puritanical as a month and a half of pleasureless abstemiousness. Fancy giving up meat for a month for example? We have eleven vegetarian and vegan sandwiches and three vegan wraps to choose from and every single one is a joy. No need to start drawing on yourself with burned wood, just enjoy convenient tasty options. You’ll have your delicious lunches sorted – with a Billy No Meats, a Green Machine, or a Sweet Potato Pakora wrap – so you can focus on cooking all the casseroles, bakes, or non meat chillis to make sure every Tuesday (or Monday or Thursday or Saturday) is a pleasure-filled fat one.