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Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day as it has come to be known, is the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. The reason pancakes are associated with this day is that the forty days of Lent were traditionally a period of fasting, during which only the plainest of foods could be eaten, in remembrance of the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness without food. Rich ingredients such as eggs, sugar and cream had to be used up before the fast began, and pancakes were a good way of using these up. In many countries the day is called Mardi Gras or ‘Fat Tuesday’. Shrove Tuesday normally falls in February, but may be in March, depending on the date of Easter.

Nowadays some people give up something they like, such as chocolate for Lent, in place of the traditional fast, and many see it as a time of reflection and preparation before the celebrations of Easter.

The word shrove is the past tense of the old English verb “shrive”, which means to obtain absolution for one’s sins by confessing and doing penance. Shrove Tuesday gets its name from the shriving (confession) that Anglo-Saxon Christians were expected to undergo immediately before Lent.


Pancake races are thought to have begun in 1445. A woman had lost track of the time on Shrove Tuesday, and was busy cooking pancakes in her kitchen. Suddenly she heard the church bell ringing to call people to church for confession. The woman raced out of her house and ran all the way to church, still holding her frying pan and wearing her apron!

The tradition continues in many parts of Britain. Contestants run a course while flipping a pancake in a frying pan. Sometimes points are awarded for speed, for number and height of flips, and number of times the pancake turns over. There may be penalties for dropping the pancake. Mostly it is just done for fun. One of the most famous pancake races is held at Olney in Buckinghamshire over a 415-yard course. The rules are very strict; contestants have to toss their pancake at the start and the finish, as well as wearing an apron and a scarf. The race is followed by a church service.


Have you ever made pancakes? Try our recipe below, but remember to ask permission from an adult before attempting any cooking. The pans do become very hot and you can burn yourself if you are not careful.


115 g plain flour
¼ tsp salt
1 large egg
300 ml milk

Vegetable oil for cooking
Caster sugar & lemon juice or other topping of your choice


First sieve the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl.

Next make a well in the flour, break the egg into it and add a little of the milk.

Whisk gradually, drawing in the flour, to make a thick batter.

Slowly add the remaining milk, beating until smooth.

Leave to stand for 10 mins.

Now get the pan really hot, then turn the heat to medium and add just enough oil to coat the bottom.

Pour about 3 tablespoons of mixture into the hot pan, and swirl it around from side to side to get the base evenly coated with batter.

Cook for 1 – 2 minutes, until small bubbles start to appear.

Flip the pancake over, but be careful as the other side will need less cooking time – then simply slide it out of the pan on to a plate.

To serve, sprinkle each pancake with freshly squeezed lemon juice and caster sugar, and either roll up or fold into triangles. Serve sprinkled with a sprinkle more sugar and another squeeze of lemon juice. Jam, honey, golden or maple syrup could be used instead if you prefer.

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