• Kate McGowan

Make Way for Pancake Day

Updated: Feb 12, 2021

The flat treat that makes Shrove Tuesday worth flipping over.

Many in America are familiar with Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, or Shrove Tuesday—but in the UK and Ireland, this holiday has a lesser-known nickname: Pancake Day. Whatever the name, around the world, this Tuesday (which marks the last day before the lent season) has long been celebrated with parties, feasting, and general merriment—and often an awful lot of pancakes, both for eating and in some cases, for racing with.

Pancake day has both practical and religious origins that date back to medieval Europe. While most don’t fast during Lent today, in centuries past Christians were required to periodically fast and abstain from rich and fatty foods, in preparation for Easter. Because of this, medieval Christians would make Shrove Tuesday a feast, as a “last hurrah” before the fast season, and as a way to use up their perishable eggs, dairy and fat in a time before refrigerators. Although pancakes were common fare for prince and peasant alike, the surviving early recipes we have – which were often written with wealthy manor homes in mind—show just how much of a “feast” pancakes could be: one recipe from a 1588 cookbook calls for crepe-like pancakes to be made such top-shelf ingredients as ale, cream, butter, sugar, cinnamon, and ginger. These traditions were brought to North America in the early colonial period by British colonists, and today in the US many churches host pancake suppers for Shrove Tuesday.

The Fight Between Carnival and Lent - Pieter Brugel the Elder
The Fight Between Carnival and Lent - Pieter Brugel the Elder

In other parts of Europe, similar traditions have formed around other pastrie