While the start of the Christian period of Lent is celebrated around the world with elaborate carnivals and Mardi Gras celebrations, the British are more prosaic, with ‘pancake day’ or ‘Shrove Tuesday’.
The origins of pancake day are the same as Mardi Gras (or ‘Fat Tuesday’) in using up extravagant ingredients such as eggs prior to the Lenten period of denial. The British cook pancakes, which is basically a batter mix cooked in a frying pan and tossed (flipped in the air to cook the previously uncooked side). Pancakes are usually about twelve inches in diameter and wafer thin, served with sugar and lemon juice.
Of course, there are some British eccentricities – pancake races.
The most famous of these takes place in the village of Olney, about fifty miles northwest of London.
The Olney Pancake Race, was first ran in 1445, supposedly to commemorate that the year before a housewife, while cooking pancakes, had heard the church bells calling the residents to the ‘Shriving Service’ and hurried to the church still holding her pan.
Today the race is more formal, and takes place just before mid-day, ladies of the town (wearing a skirt, apron and headscarf) are required to run a 415 yard course carrying a frying pan and pancake. After crossing the finishing line the winner is required to toss the before being greeted by the verger of the church with a kiss of peace.
Other towns and villages hold pancake races, including one held at the old Trueman Brewery in Spitalfields, London. Teams race to win an engraved frying pan.