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Pancake Day (Shrove Tuesday) in the UK
British Embassy, Washington D.C., 27 February 2006

For many Christians Lent is traditionally a period of fasting before Easter. Shrove Tuesday is the last day before Ash Wednesday, the day Lent begins. This day is traditionally marked as the day to clean out the cabinets of all eggs, milk and fats before the fast. Most households in the UK use these ingredients to make pancakes, giving Shrove Tuesday the nickname of Pancake Day. Though fewer people in Britain strictly observe Lent today, everyone enjoys eating pancakes.

Where does the word Shrove come from?
During the Middle Ages, on Shrove Tuesday it was customary to make a confession and be absolved by the priest - “to shrive” means absolve in Old English. A bell would be rung to call people to confession. This came to be called the “Pancake Bell” and was the signal for housewives to prepare their pancake batter for lunch. The bell also released children from school and adults from work so that everyone could join in the festivities. The bell is still rung today in villages across England, although Shrove Tuesday is now not considered a half-holiday.

What happens on Pancake Day in England?
On Pancake Day, pancakes are eaten and pancake races are held in villages and towns. The most famous race is at Olney in Buckinghamshire, southern England. According to tradition, in 1445, 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. The race is open to all women over 18 who have lived in Olney for at least three months. All competitors must wear an apron and a hat or scarf. To win, each competitor must toss her pancake (flip it over in the frying pan) three times during the race, which is run over the 415 yards from the market square to the church, serve her pancake to the bellringer and be kissed by him.

What is a pancake?
A pancake is a thin, flat cake, made of batter and baked on a griddle or fried in a pan. A traditional pancake is very thin and is served immediately. Caster sugar (superfine sugar) is sprinkled over the top and a dash of fresh lemon juice added. The pancake is then rolled. Some people add golden syrup or jam.

Interesting Facts:

  • The world's biggest pancake was cooked in Rochdale in 1994, it was an amazing 15 meters in diameter weighed three tons and had an estimated 2 million calories.
  • The world record for tossing pancakes stands at 416 flips in two minutes.

Other Annual Shrove Tuesday Events:

Annual Pancake Grease

At the famous Westminster School in London, the annual Pancake Grease is held. A verger from Westminster Abbey leads a procession of eager boys into the playground where the school's cook tosses a huge pancake over a five-meter high bar. The boys then race to grab a portion of the pancake and the one who ends up with the largest piece receives a cash bonus from the Dean.

Skipping
In Scarborough, everyone assembles on the promenade to skip. Long ropes are stretched across the road and 10 or more people skip on one rope. The origins of this custom are not known but skipping was once a magical game, associated with the sowing and spouting of seeds, which may have been played on barrows (burial mounds) during the Middle Ages.

Football
Shrove Tuesday sees the start of the world's oldest, largest, longest and maddest football game in Ashbourne, Derbyshire. The game is played over two days and involves thousands of players. The goals are three miles apart and there are only a few rules. The ball is a hand-painted, cork-filled ball.

Pancake Recipes

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