|Pancakes are lovely on their own, but there is also an entire festival dedicated to just this dish in Britain. (Photo: Creative Commons)
Every year around February, Google searches for the term “pancake” spike in the UK. There is a reason why the entire British population suddenly craves this treat: Pancake Day is coming. This flat and round shaped cake, made from a batter of sugar and flour, has long been a popular dish across the globe.
In the UK, the love for this dish is taken to another level. From schoolchildren to Members of Parliament, all participate in Pancake Day.
Shaun Mulholland, a British citizen currently working in Vietnam, shared his childhood memories on this delightful day: "I originally come from England, from the town of Leicester. This is a huge thing growing up in the UK, especially if you are a kid. It is something you look forward to every year because there are so many pancakes you get to eat. It is such a fun festival to take part in. Across the UK in general, it is pretty popular. Basically everyone, every kid looks forward to it.”
|A depiction of Shrove Tuesday's origin on paper by Pieter van der Heyden, estimated to have been made in the 1600s (Photo: Public Domain)
The origin of this tradition dates back to Shrove Tuesday which was celebrated in the 16th century. The name Shrove comes from the ancient word “shrive”, which means a priest listening to people’s sins, and offering forgiveness to clean their souls.
Apart from confession, Christians would eat pancakes to brace themselves for the upcoming fasting period of Lent. This year, Pancake Day will be held on February 13th.
Shaun explained: “It’s kind of a funny one. It’s about 500 years old now. It goes back to the Christian religious celebration called Lent, where traditionally, for the 40 days before Easter, people would give up the most pleasurable things, the luxurious things in life. And hundreds of years ago in England, the nicest things people had would be things like eggs or butter or sugar, which are basically the perfect ingredients to make pancakes."
"Before Easter, on the last day before the 40-day period starts, it would be called Shrove Tuesday and people would use up all the butter, all the eggs, all the sugar and just make tons of pancakes. So, you eat all that nice food, and you have 40 days where you just eat very basic foods. Even nowadays, most of us don’t do it for religious reasons. But still, because of that tradition, we just make lots of pancakes on Shrove Tuesday,” add Shaun.
|Half a hundred million eggs are consumed just for making pancakes during Shrove Tuesday. (Photo: Creative Commons)
There is not yet any exact data for how many pancakes the British consume on this day. However, it is estimated that 52 million eggs are used in the UK for this scrumptious tradition, 22 million more than the average number, according to National Geographic.
There is no doubt Britons take this Pancake Day seriously! Even when pancakes are being mixed with every imaginable flavor and side dish around the world, here in the UK, many still prefer the traditional recipe.
Shaun added: “I think if you go around the world today, there are a lot of pancake flavors. A lot of people think UK cooking is very basic. So, a lot of our pancakes are normally just sugar, lemon juice or maybe a little bit of syrup. Some people might do fancier things, but for most of the pancakes made in the UK, it’s really basic. I’m not a fan of fancy flavors so for me, just a bit of sugar and lemon juice is the best. It’s more common nowadays to eat different berries that grow in the UK like blueberries or blackberries and stuff like that.”
Eating pancakes is not the only thing people in the UK do on this day. They also take part in pancake races. The Buckinghamshire town of Olney is believed to have held the very first pancake race.
Centuries have passed from then, and pancake races are now an indispensable festivity in several British communities. As a child, Shaun also joined in this quirky tradition.
He said: “There are a few cities where it is a big tradition. Growing up, in every school I went to, we got these pancake races. I remember there are two kinds of competitions. There is a pancake race where it’s like a normal race back and forth, except you have to flip a pancake as you go. If you drop the pancake while you are racing, you are out. Then the other thing we would sometimes do is the pancake flipping contest. Your job is to flip the pancake as high in the air as you can and try to catch it. I remember doing this a lot of times as a kid and you often end up with a pancake stuck to the ceiling. My dad did that a couple of times and my mum was not happy about it!”
|Racing while holding up a pan and flipping pancakes adds to the long list of the strangest but must-see traditions in the UK. (Photo: Philip Pankhurst/Creative Commons)
Participants in the pancake races are not only doing it for sheer fun. Most of the time these races also support a worthy cause. In London, one of the biggest pancake races used to be the Rehab Pancake Race due to its special team of racers: members of Parliament and the House of Lords. The usually stoic politicians would take turns in a relay race, wearing aprons and chef hats, while trying to flip the pancakes to raise awareness of the work of Rehab Group, a disability charity.
Although the event is no longer held, other charity pancake races are still going strong. Last year, more than £7,900 were raised at the annual pancake race organized by Launchpad, a charity that works with the homeless.
In some places, football matches are also held, said Shaun: “There are a few charity football matches and traditional football matches that take place. I think nowadays a lot of people try to use Pancake Day to raise money for charity and things like this. I definitely remember my dad watching a lot of football and eating pancakes on Pancake Day.”
Shaun has been working in Vietnam for more than 6 years. Living over 10,000 kilometers away from his homeland, he still has fond memories of Pancake Day. While Pancake Day in Vietnam is mostly held in British schools and universities, you can celebrate it on your own. With some flour, eggs, butter, sugar and a squeeze of lemon, you can enjoy this Pancake Day with your loved ones.
|A Shrove Tuesday celebration held at King David Hotel on February 21st, 1939 (Photo: Creative Commons)