We are familiar with pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, which has now very much become pancake day, certainly there are probably not a huge number of people who think they should confess and be shriven of their sins on this day. In some places the day before Shrove Tuesday was Collop Monday, when the meat that wouldn’t keep would be eaten up, perhaps in the popular dish of Scotch Collops. This one is from the Gell family.
Take ye best part of a Leg of Veal & slice it very thin then hack it & fry it with very sweet butter & when it is fryed take Time, Winter Savory, sweet marjoram, & strip them very small, take 5 or 6 anchovies, 3 or 4 yolks of eggs beat up with a little nutmeg sliced & a whole onion, a little Broth or Gravy, put ye Liquer into ye pan & all things into ye pan together, then shake them well together & when you see them begin to thicken then take them from ye fire & all your meat together in your pan & put some juice of Lemmon & garnish your dish with Lemmon & Lemmon peel.
In Olney, in Buckinghamshire, the pancake race, a tradition taking place since 1445, still takes place. Housewives in aprons would run to the church, tossing their pancakes as they go, once the pancake bell is rung at the church. The winner would receive a kiss from the verger. Perhaps how fast the housewives ran depended on who was Verger that year. Only residents can enter, although there are now races for the schoolchildren.
Having eaten up your milk and eggs in the form of pancakes you would then be on to your days of fasting. If anyone has ever taken the trouble to count the days between Shrove Tuesday and Easter Sunday, they will have noticed that they number more than 40. This is because, even in lent, Sundays are not fasting days. It may be best, perhaps, not to mention that to those who have been denying themselves the luxury of such things as sweets and chocolate for Lent. Pepys records in his diary having wiggs and ale in lent.
Certainly the idea of fasting should not be taken too literally, William Rabisha, in his 1661 cookery book, has a Bill of fare for on a fish day, in the summer season, with 20 dishes in each of the two courses. Perhaps it is fasting by comparison with the Bills of Fare for Flesh days, which has 30 dishes in the first course and 31 in the second. Do bear in mind that neither of these meals has the dessert course given, which would definitely be there if there were guests for dinner. I think that it is probably safe to assume that meals such as these when served would be at times of celebration, rather than in the normal order of things. You also were not expected to eat from every dish, thankfully.