By Sara Millbank


This year Pancake Day is on Tuesday 24th February which is called Shrove Tuesday. This date always falls 47 days before Easter Sunday so the date varies from year to year and can fall anywhere between 3rd February to the 9th March depending on when Easter is. Shrove Tuesday is, of course, the last day before the period known as Lent which is a Christian time of abstinence.

Shrove Tuesday

The name Shrove comes from the old word strive which means to confess. In the middle ages, people used to confess their sins on Shrove Tuesday. They also asked God for absolution so they were forgiven before the season of Lent began. Shrovetide is actually the last three days before Lent with Shrove Sunday, being named Quinquagesima Sunday or the fiftieth day before Easter. Shrove Monday is called Collop Monday and was named after the traditional dish of the day: Collops of bacon served with eggs. The Collops were also used as a source of fat for cooking the pancakes the next day. The period of Lent is a time of giving up things or going without something you like.

Why Pancakes?

The period of Lent is a time of giving up things or going without something you like.

Eggs and butter were among the foods that used to be forbidden during Lent as they were classed as luxury items. It was believed that pancakes were made to use up the eggs and butter before the start of Lent. Of course today people tend to give up less vital dietary ingredients and more luxury items such as chocolate.

Racing to Church

The tradition of pancake races is believed to have started by the woman rushing to the Church to confess their sins before the noon cut-off time, clutching their half finished pancakes. Pancake races were held as early as the Middle Ages with pictures of people successfully tossing and flipping their pancakes into the air before crossing the finish line. Points were awarded for the time of the race, but also the number and height of flips. Of course the pancake had to be whole at then end of the race.

Customs and Celebrations

In England, Gloucester pancakes were made with suet, which gives them a rich, grainy texture and were served with golden syrup. Elsewhere, Harvest Pancakes were served to the poor, made with mild ale, powered ginger and chopped apples, cooked in lard and given to the farm labourers. Rich pancakes were large and thin, made with cream, nutmeg, dark sherry and cooked in butter.

Wales has a very strong tradition of pancakes also known as Welsh Cakes or Light Cakes. In Swansea, these are rolled into cigar shapes, but elsewhere they are left flat. They are made with sour cream, buttermilk, and spread with butter and piled on top of one another. Sometimes, fish, cheese, sugar and jam are added to the layers and then the pile is cut into quarters

Scotland also enjoy pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and many houses also serve these on Easter Sunday to mark the end of Lent. Pancakes are made in the traditional way and served with lemon, sugar, jam, syrup and stewed apples.

Around the World

Apart from the United Kingdom, Shrove Tuesday is celebrated in Ireland, Canada and Australia. In the USA, mostly in Catholic and French-Speaking parts, this day is called Mardi Gras. Also in France they call it Mardi Gras which means Grease or Fat Tuesday while Brazil use the same name or Terca-feira Gorda and it is the final day of the three day Brazilian Carnival.

Sweden also have Fat Tuesday and Greece has Apocreas, which means from the meat, as this is their last chance to eat meat as during Lent it is forbidden. Germany has Fasnacht Day and Iceland has Sprengidagur (Bursting Day) while Poland called it Sledziowka (sledz is herring in Polish). Polish people organise parties with various herring dishes to eat before Lent begins the next day on Ash Wednesday. Doughnuts are also eaten on the last Thursday before Ash Wednesday with competitions to choose the most delicious one.