Ireland’s poorer classes were predominately catholic and religion, along with economics was a divisive element of Irish society with its own customs and practices, some of which centered around food consumption.
Easter in the religious calendar is connected to lunar cycles and as such is a movable feast. The 46 days preceding Easter Sunday are still known as Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday and usually occurs between mid February and mid March. There were many religious customs associated with lent that mostly involved abstinence and prayer
Marriage During Lent
It was very uncommon to get married during lent; you will notice a spate of marriages in Jan / Feb in the Catholic Parish Registers and then 6 weeks of hardly any. Although the church could not control sexual activity during lent, priests would often refuse to marry a couple during this period.
Fasting During Lent
Catholics observed rules for fasting and abstinence and were restricted to ‘one meal and two collations’ during lent, with no meat consumption on Friday.
“For Roman Catholics, fasting is the reduction of one’s intake of food to one full meal (which may not contain meat during Fridays in Lent) and two small meals (known liturgically as collations, taken in the morning and the evening), both of which together should not equal the large meal. Eating solid food between meals is not permitted. Fasting is required of the faithful between the ages of 18 and 59 on specified days. Complete abstinence, required of those 14 and older, is the avoidance of meat for the entire day. Partial abstinence prescribes that meat be taken only once during the course of the day.”
Good Friday in Ireland
The Friday before Easter Sunday was known as ‘Good Friday’. In catholic doctrine, this was the day Christ was crucified on the cross. Often referred to as ‘Black Friday’ in Ireland. Unlike our modern day ‘Black Friday’, at that time everyone ceased work for that day, merchants and shops closed, farmers didn’t work in the fields, only essential work was done on this day.
Shrove Tuesday Customs in Ireland
Shrove Tuesday, being the day before Ash Wednesday is tied to Lent. It was usual to consume all food forbidden by church law, to avoid waste. This was more common for the mid 20th century, earlier catholics usually had very little to eat most for of the year due to poverty and church law relaxed somewhat towards the last quarter of the 1900’s. However; the custom of pancake making on Shrove Tuesday remains.
Nowadays; they are garnished with cream and fruit while others are served with savoury accompaniments. Traditional pancakes are still served with a light spreading of butter, a sprinkle of sugar and a splash of lemon – the lemon is a relatively new addition
Traditions and Customs of Tossing Pancakes on Shrove Tuesday
There are many traditions about making and especially tossing the pancakes and everyone who entered the house took a turn tossing the partially cooked, thinly spread batter and flipping it to cook the other side. If you were successful, luck would follow you throughout the year. Single girls of age where likely to get married within the year and woe betide those who failed to catch the flipping pancake or caught a wrinkled mess
Pancakes are a traditional Irish meal on Shrove Tuesday. A batter of seasoned milk, flour and egg is prepared and allowed to ‘stand’ while the flour absorbs some of the liquid. This ‘stand’ period assists in the binding of ingredients during cooking and minimises the risk of disaster where the partially cooked pancakes to break up in mid toss.
Allowing the batter to ‘stand’ for several hours is the secret of good pancakes!