Food History

Why We Eat Pancakes on Shrove Tuesday

February  8, 2016

Is there any breakfast more perfect than a pancake? I contend that there is not. Completely customizable from the inside-out, easy enough for dads to make well, and probably the only food I can think of that I’d prefer to be the size of a 10-inch dinner plate, pancakes offer a sweet (or savory) alternative to your weekday cereal and are a worthy rival of your favorite fancy toast, avocado, squash, or otherwise.

Growing up in my house, pancakes were reserved for Christmas morning and loungy-weekend meals. A platter of pancakes symbolized a momentary pause from the hectic routines of “real life,” and encapsulated all that was comfortable about spending a day at home. They were one of the first things I learned to cook for myself (along with French toast), and were no doubt the maple-syrup covered catalyst that launched my lifelong love affair with all things breakfast.

I’m pretty excited that February 9th is Shrove Tuesday—otherwise known as “Pancake Day”— a day marked by consumption of pancakes in mass quantities.

"Pancake Day" always falls 47 days before Easter and marks the beginning of Lent, a period of fasting observed by some Christian sects. The consumption of fats like eggs, butter, and milk (so, all the good stuff) was traditionally forbidden during Lent, leaving many religious observers scrambling to rid their households of these ingredients. Pancakes became a natural fit as the meal of choice for the day before the beginning of Lent—Shrove Tuesday—as their most popular recipes incorporated large quantities of these items.

These days, most observers give up an item or habit of personal choice for Lent, but the practice of devouring pancakes in commemoration of this time is still celebrated by people the world over, regardless of religious affiliation. It is especially popular in the U.K., where whimsical, pancake-themed competitions are held throughout the country. Pancake races are an especially popular event: Supposedly symbolizing a religious observer late for confession who ran to church mid-pancake making, race participants run toward a finish line carrying frying pans and hurriedly flipping pancakes along the way. Points are given for the height of flips as well as best time, and the record for pancake tossing is 416 in two minutes, set by Ralph Laue in 1997.

Judging by the fact that Americans spend more than $250 million a year on pancake mixes, it seems safe to say that we enjoy pancakes just as much (though with notably less flair than our racing British counterparts). But with all the pancake possibilities out there, can you blame us? I encourage you to make pancakes at least once this Tuesday, if only to pay tribute to this worthy brunch-time hero.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I grew up in Newfoundland, where for Shrove Tuesday small (sterilized) items are cooked into the pancakes. Finding a coin meant you would be rich, a nail meant you would be/marry a carpenter, etc. Thrilling!”
— Pamela

Flip through these flapjacks for a glimpse at recipes from around the world and other ideas to get your griddle on:

Do you have a personal history with pancakes, or a Shrove Tuesday pancake celebration? Dish it in the comments!

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Pamela February 8, 2016
I grew up in Newfoundland, where for Shrove Tuesday small (sterilized) items are cooked into the pancakes. Finding a coin meant you would be rich, a nail meant you would be/marry a carpenter, etc. Thrilling!
Anne M. February 6, 2018
I grew up in the Bronx, but my Nova Scotia- born grandmother passed down the same tradition . We used Monopoly play pieces - always fun playing Monopoly with a batter-filled too hat 😂😂
Caroline L. February 8, 2016
this really does make me crave pancakes so much!
Sarah E. February 8, 2016
I can't tell you how badly I wanted pancakes through writing this.