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Pancake Day- Origins and Traditions

Updated on February 3, 2016
Pancake rolled up ready to eat
Pancake rolled up ready to eat | Source

Traditionally called Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day falls on the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Modern Pancake Day in the UK has become big business for manufacturers, TV commercials and stores are packed with adverts for pancake mix and toppings.But why do we eat pancakes to mark the beginning of Lent and where do the traditions and customs come from?

What is Shrove Tuesday?

Shrove Tuesday is a Christian festival linked to the practice of Lent. Celebrated on the day that comes before Ash Wednesday, the actual day that Shrove Tuesday falls on differs from year to year because of the movement of Easter.

Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts for 40 days is a time that the

'Christian Church devotes' to fasting, abstinence, and penitence in commemoration of Christ's fasting in the wilderness'. (Oxford Dictionary)

Shrove Tuesday is traditionally a day to eat up all the rich, fatty foods including milk and sugar you have at home in preparation for the fasting that will occur over Lent. It is thought that the word Shrove comes from the act of shriving - to absolve sins or free oneself from guilt.

Traditional Method for Making Pancakes

Why are Pancakes Eaten on Shrove Tuesday?

Traditionally pancakes are eaten on Shrove Tuesday because it is a good way to use up the milk, eggs and sugar that could not be consumed during the time of fasting as part of the observance of Lent. Foods that are abstained from during Lent usually include milk, eggs, sugar which are ingredients used for pancakes and chocolate, butter and cream that are used to top them.

Annual Pancake Race London
Annual Pancake Race London | Source

Origins of the Pancake Toss

One of the most well known traditions of Pancake Day is the annual pancake races that take place in villages and towns across the UK. The most famous being held at Olney in Buckinghamshire. It is thought to have originated in 1445 when a woman in Olney was busy making pancakes, she heard the church bells ringing and realized she was late. She raced out of the house still wearing her apron and holding her frying pan with a pancake in it.

The rules of the race today are simple - usually performed by women or men dressed as women, contestants carry a frying pan, tossing a pancake from start to finish along a 415 yard course. The rules of the race are basically that contestants have to toss their pancake at the beginning of the race and at the end while wearing an apron and a scarf.

Traditional UK Customs

What it Involves
Children sang or recited poetry in exchange for food or money.
Lent Crocking
Children called house to house asking for pancakes, if none were given broken crockery was thrown at the door
Pancake tossing
In Ireland girls were given an afternoon off work to make thier batter, the eldest girl would toss the first pancake, a successful toss would mean she would be married within the year.
Door to door begging
In Wales people would pass from door to door begging for lard, flour and butter.
In Scotland Banncocks were made using oatmeal, eggs and salt. A charm was added to the dough and if an unmarried person found the charm, they would be married within the year.
Pancake Marking
The first three pancakes were considered sacred. Marked with a cross and sprinkled with salt, they were not eaten
Mob Football
Dating from the 12th century mob football games were played in many towns.
Half Day
The practice of a half holiday wa siginified by the ringing of Church bells at 11am

Typical Pancake Recipe (BBC Food James Martin)

1 free-range egg
1.Wisk the flour, egg and milk in a bowl to make a batter
85g/3oz self-raising flour
2.Heat the oil in a pancake pan and ladle the mixture in. Allow the mixture to coat the pan and fry the pancake for 1-2 minutes on each side or until golden
300ml/½ pint milk (approx)

Pancake Batter

Pancake Batter should be runny
Pancake Batter should be runny | Source
Pancake Toppings
lemon juice
chocolate spread
whipped cream

How to Make British Pancakes


Submit a Comment
  • Ruthbro profile imageAUTHOR


    3 years ago from USA

    Thanks for reading!

  • Deborah Demander profile image

    Deborah Demander 

    3 years ago from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD

    Fascinating article about the Shrove Tuesday traditions.

    I had no idea, but I am definitely craving some pancakes now!

    Thanks for writing.



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