Seven things you need to know about pancake day

Why do we eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday?

Seven things you need to know about pancake day © Getty Images

Pancake day is here, and with it the annual madness in which we flip out about how many pancakes we can manageably gorge, and the consternation about whether we ‘do it properly’ and make our own batter or cop out and pick up a ready mixed gloop from the shops.


But not have pancakes at all? Unthinkable.

Pancakes have been eaten on Shrove Tuesday (that’s today) for over 1,000 years. Whether you are continuing that tradition in the classical style of lemon and sugar, or opting for something a little more adventurous, here are seven facts about pancake day to whet your appetite.

Shrove Tuesday has nothing to do with pancakes

The official name ‘Shrove Tuesday’ refers to the day’s importance in the Christian calendar. It comes from the word ‘shrive’, the act of receiving absolution for sins. With Lent beginning on Ash Wednesday, the Tuesday is the last chance for Christians to get ready for a period of reflection (and dreaded self-denial) by confessing or repenting sins, and so being shriven.

In other parts of the world, the day is known by a far more recognisable term, thanks to huge, colourful carnivals in places like Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans. It is called Mardi Gras, or ‘Fat Tuesday’ in French. Why? Well, that’s to do with why we eat pancakes…

But, pancakes were an easy way to clear out the cupbaords

The day before Lent is not only about the repenting of sins – it is also a time for feasting. Traditionally, people would fast during the 40 days of Lent so they would have one last slap-up meal on the Tuesday, which would also clear out the cupboards of restricted foods. So, what was the best thing to make with all those eggs, milk and butter? Pancakes, of course.

Pancake racing has its origins in the 13th century

The origin of pancake races – where people run wielding a frying pan flipping a pancake – is allegedly from 1445 in Olney, Buckinghamshire. The story goes that a housewife was so busy preparing pancakes for Shrove Tuesday that she was almost late for church. When the church bells started, she ran out of the house still carrying her pan and wearing her apron. A race honouring this incident is ran every year.

Someone ran an entire marathon doing it

Mike Cuzzacrea holds the record for the quickest time running a marathon while continually flipping a pancake. At the 1999 Niagara Falls International Marathon, he finished with a time of 3hrs 2min 27 secs.

Maple syrup has Native American roots

It is not certain who first realised the sap of a maple tree would be good to eat, much less become a staple pancake topping, but a legend of the Algonquin Native Americans has survived for hundreds of years. On his way hunting, the Chief Woksis pulled his tomahawk from a tree he had thrown it into the day before. The tree started to leak sap and dripped into a bowl at the base of its trunk. The Chief’s wife tasted the sugary sap and decided to use it to cook dinner. Everyone agreed the meal was delicious and the word spread to other tribes.

Going to buy a ready mix? You’re not the first…

Aunt Jemima’s pancake flour was the first ready-mix food ever sold commercially. It was invented in 1889 and is still going strong today.

Shrovetide is also a time of mob football

Several towns around Britain host the manic sport as a Shrove Tuesday celebration, with some matches dating back to the 12th century. It is nothing like standard football: it takes hours, if not days, to play; there isn’t a pitch, and the goals are on opposite sides of the town; there is no limit to the number of players; and you’re allowed to handle the ball with your hands. It is somewhere between a rugby scrum and a riot.


The Royal Shrovetide Football Match in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, begins on Shrove Tuesday and continues on Ash Wednesday. It achieved royal assent in 1928 when Prince Edward attended. Unfortunately for him, he got to close to the ‘hug’ and left with a bloody nose.