What Is Shrove Tuesday All About and Why Do People in the UK Make Pancakes in the Evening?

Mardi Gras pancakes

Shrove Tuesday is the day before the beginning of Lent, which is known as Ash Wednesday. Everybody knows that, don’t they? But what is it all about, and how is it celebrated across the Globe?

It’s Pancake Day

I always remember as a child my mother tossing pancakes in the air and serving them up with lemon and sugar. I loved them, it was one of my favorite days of the year after Christmas and Easter, oh and of course my Birthday (which happened to coincide with Bonfire Night as well, so double whammy there).

The word ‘shrove’ comes from the old English term ‘shriven’, which means ‘confession’, and it derives from the fact that people used to go to confession on the night before Ash Wednesday to cleanse themselves of their sins.

Lent is a period of fasting in the Christian calendar, so on the day before Ash Wednesday people would get rid of all their fattening food such as milk and eggs, and they would combine this with flour to make what we know in England (and most Commonwealth countries) as pancakes.

What about Mardi Gras?

In other countries, the term ‘Mardi Gras’ is used, which literally translates from the French to ‘Fat Tuesday’! Massive carnivals are held in many major cities from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil to Sydney, Australia. A bit of a far cry from the Pancake Races of old England, where people run whilst tossing a pancake in a frying pan, but they derive from the same thing. The Rio carnival began in the late 1700s when the Portuguese settlers introduced their tradition of throwing flour and water at each other. See how the English were far more refined here—they added eggs and made a meal of it. Mind you, one or two tossed pancakes landed on a poor unwitting individual on the odd occasion.

In Greece, they have Kathari Deftera, or Clean Monday, which is the end of the 3-week period of Carnival celebrations. Meat, eggs and other dairy products are consumed because these are not permitted during Lent. Also, certain kinds of seafood are used up, and salted, cured cod roe is mixed with lemon juice, olive oil, and breadcrumbs to make ‘taramasalata’.

How to make pancakes the English way

You need:

  • 125g plain flour
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 2 free-range eggs, beaten
  • 25g melted butter, plus extra for cooking
  • 250ml semi-skimmed milk
  • 3 tbsp cold water
  • 1 or 2 lemons (depending on how many you make

Here’s what you do

  1. Put the plain flour, salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl, make a well in the center and add the eggs. Start stirring with a balloon whisk, then slowly whisk in the melted butter, milk and water. Increase your whisking speed until you have a thin batter about the consistency of single cream
  2. Next, heat a frying pan (preferably non-stick) over medium heat, drizzle in a teaspoon of melted butter and wipe it over the base with kitchen paper.
  3. Drop a small ladleful of pancake batter into the pan, swirling so it coats the base evenly in a thin layer. Cook for 2 minutes or until the underside is golden, then flip and cook on the other side for a minute or so. Remove to a warm plate and repeat.
  4. Sprinkle with sugar, fold and serve warm with a wedge of lemon. Alternatively, you can serve it with maple syrup or jam, but that is more American style.

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  • Duchess Of Fuller's Earth on

    Love your blog! Very informative, interesting and now I know how to make Pancakes! Thank you!👍😊

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