Ahh, Mardi Gras…a time of extravagance, gluttony, and pancakes? Yes, pancakes. You may think that pancakes seem a little bland for Mardi Gras, compared with the Polish Paczki or New Orleans King Cake, but for our British neighbors across the pond, pancakes and even pancake races are major elements of Mardi Gras.
The British don’t actually celebrate Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday by name. For them, the day is called Shrove Tuesday. The word Shrove is actually a variation on the Old English term shriving or absolving. Shrove Tuesday is similar to Mardi Gras and Carnaval in that the day marks the symbolic, yet temporary, end of indulgence and the beginning of the Christian time of Lent, a time of penitence and absolution. In other words, these celebrations represent the last day to “feast” before 40 days of abstinence and fasting. Unlike Mardi Gras and Carnaval, Shrove Tuesday has never really taken on the “party” image. Shrove is more of a time to focus on or even prepare you for the spiritual aspect of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday. Still, the Brits have their own, very unique traditions for celebrating this religious season.
My Pancake is Faster than Yours
The British may not consume cases of jelly-filled donuts or hide plastic babies inside sugary danishes, but they are not without their indulgences in the cake area. Shrove Tuesday has traditionally been associated with making and eating pancakes, of all sizes and varieties. Pancakes have been synonymous with Shrove for hundreds of years.
They are believed to represent one of the richest foods to eat before Lent, because they are made with many ingredients that were once avoided during Lent, like eggs and milk products. Pancakes have become so important to the Shrove celebration that many cities and even Parliament hold Pancake Races. These highly competitive contests involve running as fast as you can while holding a frying pan with a pancake in it. The catch is that you have to flip the pancake a predetermined amount of times while you’re running – a skill many in Britain have seriously perfected. Many believe that the tradition of Pancake Races began in the early 1400’s when a woman was making breakfast on Shrove Tuesday. She is said to have lost track of time and began running to the church for services, frying pan in hand, complete with a pancake still in it. Although the origin of the pancake race is still unclear, one thing is quite certain – Shrove Tuesday and its pancakes are an important part of British culture and tradition.
Have Your Pancake and Eat it Too
For Americans, celebrating Mardi Gras like the British can be a fun and more refined alternative to donuts, colored plastic beads, and raucous street parties. So, if you’re not up for a huge Mardi Gras party or can’t make it to Spain for Carnaval, celebrate Shrove Tuesday by making a batch or two of pancakes. And, although the idea of pancakes is traditional in and outside of Britain, your pancakes needn’t follow the traditional recipe. Check out some of the more unusual pancake recipes online, like chocolate pancakes with chestnut cream or hot whiskey pancakes with raspberries, they are sure to tempt even self-proclaimed pancake connoisseurs. And remember, whether savory or sweet, fluffy or thin, a pancake is more than a pancake when eaten on Shrove Tuesday.