Shrove Tuesday February 16th 2021 – Pancake day
“Pancake Day” has been celebrated by Britons for centuries. Known also as Shrove Tuesday, its exact date – rather confusingly – changes every year, as it is determined by when Easter falls. However, it is always the day preceding Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent), and always falls in February or March.
The date of Shrove Tuesday is intrinsically linked to Easter, a moveable feast which falls between Mar 22 and Apr 25. This year, Easter Sunday falls on Apr 4.
The period in between Shrove Tuesday and Easter Sunday is known as Lent celebrated by Christians (including Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and Roman Catholics) who make a special point of self-examination, of considering what wrongs they need to repent and what amendments of life or areas of spiritual growth they need to ask God’s help in dealing with. It officially begins on Ash Wednesday, ending on Holy Saturday.
While it is commonly said that Lent lasts 40 days, there are actually 46 days from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday. However traditionally Lent was not followed on Sundays, giving followers a day of rest a week; if you exclude all of the Sundays in the period, then Lent lasts 40 days.
What does Shrove Tuesday mean?
The word shrove is a form of the English word shrive, which means to obtain absolution for one’s sins by way of confession and penance. The verb to shrive describes the act of hearing a confession, often by a priest.
Shrove Tuesday gets its name from the custom for Christians to be “shriven” before the start of Lent. Traditionally, Anglo-Saxon Christians would go to church to confession and be absolved from their sins on this day.
The day marks the end of Pre-Lenten Season, also known as Shrovetide. The period begins on Septuagesima, three Sundays before Ash Wednesday. The other two Sundays in this 17-day period are called Sexagesima and Quinquagesima.
Shrovetide was traditionally seen as a chance to indulge before the prohibitive period of Lent and is tied to Carnival seasons celebrated in other parts of the world.
Why do we celebrate Pancake Day?
Traditionally, Pancakes were eaten on this day to use up rich, indulgent foods like eggs and milk before the fasting season of Lent began.
But although it is enshrined in Christian tradition, it is believed that Pancake Day might originate in a pagan holiday, when eating warm, round pancakes – symbolising the sun – was a way of celebrating the arrival of spring.
As well as making and eating pancakes, we Brits love to hold pancake races, where people run while flipping their pancakes in a pan.
Legend has it that the tradition was born in the 15th century when a particularly disorganised woman in Buckinghamshire rushed to church to confess her sins while mid-way through making pancakes.
Pancake Day around the world
While we in Britain tend to keep our pancake ingredients simple, in Newfoundland, Canada, objects with symbolic value are added to the batter to be cooked. These items are then used to interpret different messages about the future – for example, a pancake served with a ring inside may signify marriage.
Pancake Day is much less indulgent in Iceland, where the day, known as Sprengidagur (Bursting Day), is marked by eating salted meat and peas.
In France, it is traditional while flipping a pancake to hold a coin in one hand and to make a wish.
The French call pancake day Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday. This originates from the ancient ritual of parading a large ox through Paris to remind people that meat was forbidden during the Lent period.
On Pancake Day in Scotland the locals like to eat “festy cock”. The word festy is linked to Festern’s E’en, the day before Shrove Tuesday, when cock fighting took place.
You make the dish by rolling out a ball of finely ground oatmeal and folding it into a rough bird shape before baking and eating as a substitute for a cockerel.
In the southern states of the US, ‘king cake’ is eaten to celebrate Mardi Gras. Traditionally a ring of twisted cinnamon dough and topped with icing or sugar, it often has a small plastic baby inside. The baby represents baby Jesus and finding it in your slice is an honour.
How to perfect your flipping skills!
In 2012, University College London came up with a formula for the perfect flipping technique and it seems size really does matter.
According to University Professor of Mathematics Frank Smith, the simple mathematical formula for the perfect flip is:
L = 4×H /π– D / 2
(L = hand distance from inner edge of the pancake / H = height of flip / D = diameter of pancake)
Professor Smith said:
“We all know that no-one enjoys wasting ingredients but there are many factors and risks involved in producing a perfect pancake, We’ve discovered that the wrong direction or speed, for instance, will mean that the average flipper may ruin two or even more pancakes trying to perfect their technique. We aim to reduce this waste by advising Brits how to achieve the perfect flip.”
And for those pancake aficiandos who want to take flipping to greater heights, here’s another, more complicated, mathematical formula.
[U, ω, V, L] = [(2gH)1/2, π(g/ 8H) 1/2, (g/ 32H) 1/2(8H – πD), V / ω]
(U = upward speed of centre of pancake / ω = rotation rate / V = upward speed of inner edge of pancake / g = 9.81 m/s2 (acceleration due to gravity)
What should you drink with your pancakes?
Chicken and mushroom pancakes would be delicious with a simple chardonnay, perhaps from Limoux or the Pays d’Oc in the south of France.
One other pancake that suits alcohol is the cheese and ham crêpe, a kind of pancake version of the croque-monsieur. Wine is not really the answer here – a light beer goes much better – but if drinking wine try a slightly scratchy red from some unknown place in France: the type of red that is served by the carafe in bistros and by the petrol pump directly into your own container in wine shops. And finally, sweet pancakes indulge with a dessert wine.
Seven things you didn’t know about pancakes
- The largest pancake in the world was cooked up in Rochdale in 1994, weighing in at 6,614 lbs (that’s three tonnes!) and measuring 49 ft and 3in long.
- If you feel guilty about using readymade pancake mix, don’t worry – people have been doing it forever. Aunt Jemimas was invented in St Joseph, Missouri in 1889 and is claimed to be the first ever readymade pancake mixture to be sold.
- The world’s largest pancake breakfast was held in Springfield, America, in 2012. The breakfast saw 15,000 people get together in Main Street to enjoy a huge number of pancakes and raised $10,000 for a local charity.
- Pancake races happen all over England throughout Shrove Tuesday. The tradition is thought to have originated in Olney in the 15th century, after a woman lost track of time while cooking pancakes. When the bells for mass rang, she ran out of her house with the pan and pancake still in hand. Olney still holds a pancake race every year.
- The largest number of pancake flips in the shortest amount of time is currently 349 flips in two minutes, a record achieved by Dean Gould in Felixstowe, Suffolk, in 1995.
- The largest stack of pancakes ever cooked was made up of 60 pancakes and was an impressive 76cm tall (but see below)
- It is estimated that an impressive 52 million eggs are used in Britain each year on pancake day – that’s 22 million more than every other day of the year.
The tallest pancake stack in the world
The Guinness World Record for the tallest stack of pancakes is held by Center Parcs in Sherwood Forest, Nottingham, where, in February 2016 the company’s Pancake House chefs piled 213 pancakes on top of each other.
Try the indulgent recipe from our National Treasure Mary Berry for Dropscones and Fruit!
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