Pancake day: exploring the celebrations

Traditionally a Christian holiday, Pancake day is also known as Shrove Tuesday. It is the final day before commencing a forty day period of fasting before Easter Sunday. This forty day period is known as the ‘Lenten Fast’, but is colloquially known as ‘Lent’. Pancakes became the popular choice of meal on Shrove Tuesday because they are an excellent way of using up eggs and fats which were commonly given up during the fasting period. Furthermore, pancakes are comprised of four key ingredients. Each of these ingredients symbolises a significant quality that is reflected upon during Easter time. The eggs represent creation. The milk represents purity. Salt is the symbol for wholesomeness and the flour symbolises the ‘staff of life’, which translates roughly to bread. 

I remember my parents asking me to choose one food substance I really enjoy to give up for these forty days. In my younger years, I was happy to give up chocolate or sweets for a month. As I got older, I confess that I attempted to take a more tactical approach. In the weeks leading up to Lent, I would try to convince my mother that I had developed a sudden taste for a particular vegetable, so that I could give it up without much loss. Despite these tendencies of my youth, I have always believed that a day of feasting on sugary, delicious pancakes was worth giving up another sweet treat for a little while. 

Whilst throughout history, pancakes may have been considered a simply economical choice, the preference for them today is multifaceted. Pancakes are a fun thing to cook, as a family or as a community. The tradition of flipping them halfway through the cooking process adds an element of jeopardy and anticipation to the proceedings. Once such way this is incorporated into the celebrations is through pancake races, which are held by large groups of people across the UK. 

The most famous of these races takes place at Olney, in Buckinghamshire. The story goes that, in 1445, a woman was making pancakes when she heard the ‘shriving bell’. The shriving bell was rung to call people to confession, where they were absolved from their sins. This bell is still rung today. Tradition tells us that the woman of Olney ran to the church frying pan in hand, still wearing her apron. Those partaking in the pancake race at Olney honour this tale by requiring competitors to dress up as local housewives, but the presence of a fancy dress requirement is present at most pancake races. The participants must flip their pancake three times during the race, and then secure their victory by serving their pancake to the bell-ringer who will wait outside the church.

Thankfully, none of us will have to wait much longer for Pancake day to come around. This Tuesday, the 1st March, is the day of celebrations. Alongside an easy pancake recipe taken from BBC Good Food, I will share some traditional and some not-so-traditional topping suggestions to get your teeth stuck into this holiday. 

Recipe by Cassie Best: 


  • 100g plain flour 
  • 2 large eggs 
  • 300ml milk
  • 1 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
  • a pinch of salt


  1. Put all the ingredients into a large bowl or jug, then whisk into a smooth batter. 
  2. If you have time, set aside for 30 minutes to rest. If not, start cooking right away. 
  3. Set a frying pan over a medium heat and give it a gentle wipe with some oiled kitchen paper. 
  4. When the pan is hot, take a ladle scoop of your pancake batter and pour onto the pan, tipping it gently to reach the edges. 
  5. Allow the pancake to cook for approximately one minute, or until golden brown, then attempt a quick flip of the pancake. 
  6. Leave the other side to cook until golden brown and then remove from the pan. 
  7. Keep the pancakes warm in the oven until you have cooked as many as you like. 
  8. Add whatever toppings you would like!

Tip: the pancake batter will last in the fridge for a few hours if you would like to make some for breakfast, and then enjoy some more a little later on in the day.

Some traditional pancake toppings I would recommend are: 

  • Lemon and sugar
  • Any kind of fruit jam
  • Chocolate spread or nutella
  • Maple syrup and fresh berries

And here are some non-traditional alternatives to try this Pancake day: 

  • Smoked salmon and creme fraiche 
  • Spinach and ricotta 
  • Rhubarb and custard
  • Apple and cinnamon sugar


Featured Image: Sean MacEntee on Flickr with license 




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