What is the meaning of Pancake Day and why do we eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday?

The tradition is even older than we thought!
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  • We look forward to whipping up our favourite pancake recipes every year, but what is the true meaning of Pancake Day? 

    With Pancake Day in 2021 coming up soon and this Shrove Tuesday likely being another day spent homeschooling, many people are wondering about the story behind the tradition.

    So whether you like classic pancake recipes, wonderful and weird pancakes or even boozy pancakes (for grown ups only!), it’s important to know where Pancake comes from and why we eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.

    What is the meaning of Pancake Day and why is it also called Shrove Tuesday?

    The origins of Pancake Day, or as it is traditionally known, Shrove Tuesday, are rooted in Christian religion.

    Shrove Tuesday is a day of feasting before the 40-day fast of Lent, which kicks off on Ash Wednesday. Like Easter, the date can change year to year. This is because it’s calculated by the lunar calendar. However, it always falls between 3 Feb and 9 March and will be 47 days before Easter Sunday.

    This year, Pancake Day falls on Tuesday 16 February. This is due to the fact that Easter Sunday falls on Sunday 4 April 2021.

    Man and child flipping pancakes together on Pancake Day, after learning what the meaning of Pancake Day is

    Credit: Getty

    The meaning behind Pancake Day’s original name, Shrove Tuesday, comes from the religious tradition of going to confession to be absolved from sin ahead of the 40-day fast of Lent.

    ‘Shrove’ in Shrove Tuesday, comes from the word ‘shrive’ – defined in Collins English dictionary as: ‘to hear the confession of (a penitent)’ or ‘to confess one’s sins to a priest in order to obtain sacramental forgiveness.’

    So, Shrove Tuesday became the name for the traditional day of confession before Lent.

    Why are pancakes eaten on Shrove Tuesday?

    Although these days people give up all kinds of things for Lent, traditionally it was meat and dairy that were forbidden for 40 days.

    This meant that Shrove Tuesday was traditionally the last opportunity to use up eggs and fats. Hello pancakes! The perfect way of using up these ingredients.

    Eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday was a practical choice before it became an annual tradition and tasty treat.

    Small girl making pancakes, after learning what the meaning of Pancake Day is

    Credit: Getty

    We’ve actually been eating pancakes for thousands of years – they’re made all over the world using different local ingredients. These days pancakes can be topped with anything from savoury pancakes with meat to indulgent double chocolate chip pancakes.

    Far from the comfort food recipes we like to try today, the ancient Greeks and Romans liked a simple version of pancakes for breakfast.

    They made pancakes using just wheat flour mixed with water and a pinch of salt, then fried in olive oil. Typically they would be topped with honey, and sesame seeds or dates.

    Why do we have Pancake Day races?

    1920: Women of Olney in Buckinghamshire running in the local Shrove Tuesday pancake race

    Credit: Getty

    While the reason we eat pancakes on Pancake Day has a fairly clear historical roots, the origin of pancake races is less clear.

    However, one of the best-known Pancake Day races in the country, in Olney, Buckinghamshire, is said to have been inspired by something that happened in 1445, when a woman of Olney heard the shriving bell while she was making pancakes and ran to the church in her apron, still clutching her frying pan.

    In honour of this tale, women compete in aprons and scarves in the Olney pancake race to this day.

    Shrove Tuesday being a day of general merriment, other traditions have sprung up. In Scarborough, Yorkshire, people take to skipping on the promenade. Long ropes are stretched across the road with ten or more people skipping on one rope. The origins of this custom is not known but skipping was once a magical game, associated with the sowing and spouting of seeds.

    And Shrove Tuesday football matches, that date back as far as the 12th century, still take place in Ashbourne in Derbyshire, Alnwick in Northumberland, Atherstone in Warwickshire, Sedgefield in County Durham and St Columb Major in Cornwall.

    Competitors take part in the Alnwick Shrove Tuesday Pancake race 16 February 1988.

    Credit: Getty

    What do you need to make pancakes?

    A simple pancake recipe contains:

    • 60g plain flour
    • Pinch of salt
    • 1 medium egg
    • 175ml of milk
    • Oil or butter for frying

    These are just the basic ingredients, however. It’s not how everyone likes their pancakes, as scotch pancakes and American pancakes are just two of the other types that are popular in the UK. These are a little thicker, often come covered in pancake toppings and create that classic pancake stack look when you pile them up.

    Gluten free pancakes are also another great choice for anyone with food intolerances as they use specialist ingredients, like coconut flour. While vegan options, such as the Hairy Bikers’ vegan pancakes, are becoming more popular every year. These don’t use any eggs or milk but that doesn’t mean you have to compromise on toppings, as you can make a whole number of exciting pancake recipes vegan. Our favourites are the cinnamon swirl vegan pancakes and vegan salted caramel pancakes.

    There are also options for those looking to make healthy pancakes, with vegan protein pancakes another popular option. 2-ingredient banana pancakes are ideal for anyone watching their weight and you can even make pancakes with avocado, for a special brunch treat.

    So whatever you fancy this Shrove Tuesday, there really are recipes for everyone to celebrate the meaning of Pancake Day.

    Breakfast pancakes with blueberries, butter and honey

    Credit: Getty

    Did you know these pancake facts?

    Check out these cool Pancake Day facts…

    • The world’s largest pancake weighed three tonnes – as much as a hippo! It was made in 1994 in Rochdale, Greater Manchester and took hours to cook. It measured 49 ft and 3 in long. That’s the same size as a double decker bus, the residents of Rochdale must have been hungry! It was eventually cut into 15,000 pieces, which were sold to raise money for local charities (though apparently it wasn’t very tasty).
    • The tallest stack of pancakes recorded is 101.8 cm (3 ft 4 in). It was made by Center Parcs Sherwood Forest, in Rufford last year. James Haywood and Dave Nicholls made and stacked a total of 213 pancakes!
    • Smaller is certainly better for flipping, though you’d be hard pushed to bean Dean Gould from Suffolk whose official record is 399 flips in 2 minutes (off the record, he says he’s managed 424!).
    • The highest pancake flip ever recorded was 9.47 metres in 2010 – well done to American Dominic Cuzzacrea.
    • The record for the most people tossing pancakes at the same time is 890. It was achieved at an event organised by the University of Sheffield (UK) in 2012. Over 1,500 people signed up for the event.

    Happy Pancake Day!