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Pancake Day in the UK is a playful mix of food and good cheer before the Christian fasting period of Lent. Writer Kate Hughes shows us the recipe for brightening a Tuesday before Easter.
Text: Kate Hughes
Country: UK

efore fasting, there’s the feast.

Exactly 47 days before Easter, people across the UK celebrate Pancake Day, when they chow down on the tasty breakfast treats.

Also known as Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day follows the centuries-old Christian tradition of giving up rich foods for Lent, the fasting period before Easter. In anticipation people would make pancakes to use up butter, eggs, milk and flour. After dining on pancakes on Tuesday, followers were ready for Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.

Nowadays people give up different luxuries for Lent. For example, Miranda of Devon stops eating her favourite snack or junk food.

‘I always give up chocolate for Lent’, she says. ‘It makes the chocolate I get on Easter Sunday taste even better.’

Others choose different challenges. ‘I give up alcohol usually, or one year I gave up using the car and walked to work every day’, says Nicola of Paisley, Scotland.

For some, the most important part of Shrove Tuesday is thinking about Lent and the fasting to come. ‘For me, Shrove Tuesday is a religious celebration. I will eat pancakes but will also go to church and prepare myself for Lent’, says Hilary of Glasgow.

Others see it more as a fun day. ‘I think it has lost some of its religious aspect, but I love pancakes so still celebrate every year with my mum’, says Vicki of Glasgow. But Louise of Glasgow thinks the day passé: ‘I think it is an odd thing to celebrate nowadays, but I don’t like pancakes!’

Flip or flop

Recipe books dating back to 1439 show how to make pancakes. To make a pancake, whisk milk, eggs, flour and butter together to form a batter and fry it in a pan. The most important part of cooking the pancake is flipping or tossing the pancake to cook it evenly on both sides. Get this right, and the pancake will be cooked perfectly. Flip it too soon or too late, and the pancake either falls apart or is burned and inedible.

Flipping a pancake takes some skill. ‘I remember one year I flipped the pancake completely out of the pan, and it landed on the open flame on the stove’, recalls Gail of Glasgow.

An English pancake is very thin and served immediately, usually with golden syrup or lemon and sugar.

Pancakes are very versatile and people get creative. ‘My family always makes a full dinner out of pancakes’, Rachel says. ‘We have savoury ones with cheese, fish and vegetables and then pancakes for dessert as well’. Traditional thin English pancakes are very similar to crepes from France and, like the French, English people often fill theirs with cream, nuts, chocolate and fruits for a sweeter treat.

American-style pancakes, which are thicker and smaller than English ones, are also popular in the UK. In fact this style of pancake is so popular in Scotland that in England they are often called ‘Scotch pancakes’. In Scotland these kind of pancakes are usually called ‘drop- scones‘ because to make them, the batter must be dropped into the pan. Unlike the thinner English pancakes which can be filled and rolled up, people usually put toppings on drop-scones instead.

‘It’s quite American, but I love my pancakes with bacon and maple syrup’, says Vicki..

Ancient Pancake Day

Another part of Pancake Day are ‘pancake races’. In towns and villages throughout England, pancake races are held in the town square or the high street. Racers must flip a pancake in a pan while running, and the fastest runner/flipper wins.

The origins of pancake races are not clear. One explanation says that in a small English town called Olney, Buckinghamshire, a woman was making pancakes for her whole family and realised she would be late for church. Not wanting to burn the pancake, she took the frying pan with her and ran to church, flipping the pancake as she went. Another story says that pancakes were brought to the church to bribe the bell ringer into ringing the bell sooner so the public holiday could begin earlier. There is evidence that pancake races were held in Olney as early as 1445. While the day is no longer a public holiday these races continue to this day.

For many towns, pancake races are an opportunity to get the community together. As most people have to work on Tuesdays, these events are held at the weekend so everyone can join in. ‘The pancake races where I grew up were a full day event’, Rachel says. ‘As well as the races there would be a fair with music, food and stalls full of games’. Traditionally women competed in the races, but most now include races for children as well.

The event is so popular in the UK even the government gets involved. Twenty years ago, a charity set up a pancake race for politicians in London. Since then, every Shrove Tuesday, members from the House of Commons, the House of Lords and political correspondents compete in a pancake race in Victoria Park, London.

Other celebrations for the day are even more energetic. Many towns in England used to have a football match which ran through the whole town. This kind of game, also called ‘mob‘ football has no pitch or offside and people simply follow the ball through the town with hundreds of people playing at once.

Ball games involving the whole town have been a way of celebrating Shrove Tuesday in the UK since the 1100s, long before football as we know it was invented. Many of these games had to stop when laws were passed banning football in the streets, but some towns have kept up the tradition.

The most famous game is arguably in Ashbourne in the Midlands. In this town the game lasts over two days. Due to the number of people, shops in the town centre are boarded up and cars are moved. There are two teams: one from the north part of the town, the other from the south. The ball is rarely kicked because so many people play the game at once. Mostly the ball moves by being carried along with the crowd until someone scores in the marked goals at either end of the town. Anyone, including tourists, can join in, but generally locals score.

Some places in the UK are still coming up with new ways to celebrate this old tradition. A school in Westminster, London, makes a giant pancake on Shrove Tuesday which is then thrown over a 5-metre-high bar in the schoolyard. The child who catches the most wins a prize and gets to eat the most pancakes. However it is celebrated, Pancake Day is a chance to eat delicious food and have fun with friends and family. It is certainly a good way to brighten up a Tuesday.

Information box

Pancake is the name given to a type of food made from starch (usually flour), eggs and fats such as butter and milk. They are cooked over a flame using a frying pan or similar. Pancakes are thought to be the oldest form of cereal-based food eaten in the prehistoric world. Ancient Greeks made a type of pancake using honey and oil.

There are many different types of pancakes eaten throughout the world today. The differences in pancakes come from the different types of flour used and other ingredients added.

Crepes: Traditional French very thin pancakes cooked on a griddle or special pan. They are eaten with savoury or sweet fillings. Stands selling only crepes can be found in France, Belgium and Italy. They have also become popular in East Asian countries such as South Korea and Japan. British pancakes are very similar to crepes in size and thickness.

Dutch pancakes: Also known as pannenkoeken, they are a big part of food culture in the Netherlands. Thicker than a crepe, they are eaten for lunch or dinner with sweet and savoury fillings. There are many pancake restaurants in the Netherlands.

American pancakes: These pancakes are much thicker and smaller. They often use buttermilk as well as baking powder to make the pancakes rise. They are most often eaten at breakfast. A ‘stack of pancakes’ is found in most American diners with toppings such as fruit or maple syrup. These thick pancakes are also known as Scotch Pancakes in some countries and are a popular breakfast item in Central America as well.




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A Bit of Fun Before Fasting


Exactly 47 days before Easter, people across the UK celebrate Pancake Day, also known as Shrove Tuesday. Traditionally, Christians give up rich foods for Lent, the fasting period before Easter. In the UK, people make pancakes to use up their butter, eggs, milk and flour.

Nowadays people give up different luxuries for Lent. For example, Miranda of Devon stops eating her favourite snack or junk food. But most people still celebrate Pancake Day.

To make a pancake, whisk milk, eggs, flour and butter together to form a batter and fry it in a pan. The most important part of cooking the pancake is flipping or tossing the pancake to cook it evenly on both sides. If you do it right, the pancake will be perfect. If you flip it too soon or too late, the pancake will either fall apart or be burned and inedible.

An English pancake is very thin and you serve it immediately, usually with golden syrup or lemon and sugar. They are similar to a French crepe. They can have savoury fillings, like cheese and vegetables, or sweet ones like cream, nuts, fruit and chocolates.

A fun part of Pancake Day are 'pancake races', held in small towns and villages throughout England. Racers must flip a pancake in a pan while running. The fastest racer/ flipper wins.

Another way to celebrate is a football match through the whole town. There are two teams: one from the north part of town and one from the south. The ball is mostly carried through the town by the crowd until someone scores in the marked goals at each end of town.

However you celebrate it, Pancake Day is a chance to eat delicious food and have fun with friends and family!

 

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A Bit of Fun Before Fasting

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Pancake Day in the UK

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