It’s a Pan! It’s a Cake! No, It’s Pancake Day!

Today, as many of you probably know, is Pancake Day. I didn’t find out about this until about midday today, when my mum told me we were having pancakes for dinner, much to my confusion. Still, even if I couldn’t remember it was on the 12th, I love Pancake Day. It’s an awesome holiday and so to celebrate it, I’m going to give you a short history/info on pancakes and Pancake Day. Let the feasting (of knowledge) commence!

Nobody really knows how long pancakes have been around for, although it’s thought that people have been making them for a very long time. As in since ancient times. They’re a pretty hard food to pin down, too. What do you call a pancake, anyway? You could call the flat bread people made by grinding grains, nuts, water, and milk together into a liquid – which they then baked on hot stones around a fire – pancakes. In a way, pancakes are one of the world’s earliest forms of bread. After all, back then frying food was likely the easiest way to cook, given that they didn’t have ovens or other handy kitchen appliances (or kitchens, for that matter).

So people have been eating pseudo-pancakes for years now, even when they weren’t called that. The actual name “pancake” supposedly originated some time in the 1800s. I haven’t been able to find out why, but I’d guess the name came from the fact that they were cooked in a pan. And apparently someone thought they had something to do with cake.

Pancakes are eaten around the world at all times of the year, but today is an especially special day for the food. Shrove Tuesday (another term for Pancake Day) always starts 47 days before Easter Sunday, so the date varies from year to year, although it’s always on a Tuesday. Its name comes from the word “shrive”, which means to confess one’s sins. It marks the beginning of Lent, a Christian festival that lasts for 40 days, during which observers “fast”. Nowadays this can involve giving up anything from TV to chocolate, but traditionally it meant giving up types of food. Eggs and butter were some of the foods forbidden during Lent, so making pancakes was a great way to use up those ingredients and stop them going to waste before the festival began. At the same time, many people liked to confess their sins before the beginning of Lent – hence the “shrive”.

There are variations on this theme, though. In different parts of the world, Pancake Day can be known as Fasnacht (German for “night of the fast), Mardi Gras (French for “fat Tuesday”), or even Carnival (which comes from Latin and means “farewell to the flesh”). I’ve even heard it being called just International Pancake Day. It does have religious connotations, but loads of people enjoy the holiday even if they aren’t Christian.

Now you know all enough about pancakes and Shrove Tuesday, here are some fun facts about them both:

  • What we call pancakes in the UK are often quite different to the “pancakes” of North America. Our versions might be called “crepes” on the other side of the Atlantic, whilst the American versions are closer to what we call “Scotch pancakes”.
  • In the UK, pancake races are a big tradition on Shrove Tuesday. In order to compete, you have to run a race whilst flipping a pancake. There are even some famous ones, such as the Olney pancake race, in which the competitors must be local housewives and wear aprons when they run!
  • Some people view the ingredients of pancakes as having special symbolism: eggs (creation); flour (the stuff of life); salt (wholesomeness); and milk (purity).
  • Napoleon was supposedly a fan of pancakes and liked to eat them with his wife Josephine. In fact, he blamed the failure of his Russian campaign on a pancake he had dropped years earlier. I’m sure everyone was very sympathetic.
  • Actually, Napoleon wasn’t alone in his pancake superstitions. Some say that if you toss a pancake while holding a coin in your left hand, you will become rich. Others say that the first pancake must be given to the hen that laid the eggs, and it is bad luck to drop a pancake.
  • There are plenty of marriage-related superstitions, too. In Ireland, the first pancake would be tossed by the eldest girl in a family. If she succeeded in tossing it, she would be married within a year. Way to put the pressure on.
  • Not so much a fun fact as just a plain fact, but a few popular pancake toppings include: sugar and lemon juice; jam; syrup (especially maple in North America); honey; fruit; cinnamon; chocolate spread; and even rhubarb.

I’ve already had my pancakes this evening, and I hope you enjoyed yours if you had some. If you haven’t, wishing you the best of pancake-eating later! Happy Shrove Tuesday, everyone!

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6 Responses to It’s a Pan! It’s a Cake! No, It’s Pancake Day!

  1. Nosey Blighter says:

    Well said, and healthy home cooking too.

  2. It’s called International Pancake Day because there is a race that goes on at the same time between a little town in the UK, and a town I live very close to, called Liberal, Kansas. I actually just got home from the Pancake Day races. Also, the ladies do have to wear aprons and flip pancakes (there’s like a requirement that you have to flip your pancake three times in the race). There’s a guy who comes from England every year to serve as an ambassador between the countries, and most of the time someone from England wins the race, but sometimes one of our ladies wins. It’s all a lot of fun. :)

    • Mary says:

      Wow, I’d never heard about that international pancake race! The lady I spoke to who called it International Pancake Day is actually from Sweden, so I think that’s just what she calls the holiday in general. Anyway, I just Googled it and it all does sound very cool. What a great way to unite countries :-) I guess people from the UK might win more often because we get more practice with pancake races. Are they also very popular in America? I thought they were just a British thing.

      • Yes, pancakes are really popular in America. I’m not sure how popular they are as compared to the popularity in the UK, but they’re definitely a celebrated thing here.

      • Mary says:

        I think in the UK they are a pretty popular thing, but we probably make a bigger deal out of Pancake Day than just pancakes in general.

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