photo: Washington National Cathedral
I’ve heard of lots of names for this day of indulgence before lent: Mardis Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, Fastnacht, Paczki Day. But pancake day was a new one on me – and I’m on board. Any excuse for a nice tall stack of pancakes is ok by me. And since I can’t get a decent version of my beloved paczkis where I live, I will have to settle for pancakes.
The traditions are all the same with different ways to celebrate. The idea was to purge the house of all the thing you had to give up for Lent – so high-fat high sugar treats are the watchword for the day. Pancake day is the same idea – make pancakes to get rid of the butter, sugar and flour. But there’s an even more fun tradition for those flapjacks than enjoying their fluffy goodness on a plate.
Shrove Tuesday was once known as a ‘half-holiday’ in England. It started at 11:00am with the signalling of a church bell. On Pancake Day, pancake races are held in villages and towns across the United Kingdom. Legend has it that a housewife from Olney was so busy making pancakes that she forgot the time until she heard the church bells ringing for the service. She raced out of the house to church while still carrying her frying pan and pancake.
The pancake race remains a relatively common festive tradition in the UK, and England in particular, even today. Participants with frying pans race through the streets running and flipping their flapjacks. In Olney today, a pancake race still takes place every year on Shrove Tuesday.
The tradition of pancake racing had started long before that. The most famous pancake race, at Olney in Buckinghamshire, has been held since 1445. The contestants, traditionally women, carry a frying pan and race to the finishing line while tossing the pancakes as they go. The winner is the first to cross the line having tossed the pancake a certain number of times. Traditionally, when men want to participate, they must dress up as a housewife (usually an apron and a bandanna).
And in the US, the national cathedral celebrates this tradition with their annual pancake race. I can think of better ways to treat a stack of flapjacks, but it looks like fun to me. As long as I get to eat some of those pancakes I’m totally on board. Here’s my recipe for the best pancakes I’ve ever had. Much like pancake racing, making these perfect is all about the technique.
Click for my favorite pancake recipe