Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Happy Shrove Tuesday!

It's that time of year again: the last day of Ordinary Time before the Lenten season commences! Alternately known as Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, and Faschingsdienstag, today is a day for merry-making and feasting before the great season of abstinence comes upon us.

Perhaps the most well-known celebrations for this liturgical day are the Mardi Gras celebrations, such as the one in New Orleans. Of course, these are also known for being some of the most irreligious and immoral celebrations available. As our family is British, we tend to draw our traditions from the celebration of Shrove Tuesday, also referred to as Pancake Day in the British Isles. The "shrove" part comes from the tradition of "shriving," or going to Confession, in preparation for Lent. Simple enough, but what about the pancake part?

Pancakes have always been a traditional Shrove Tuesday food. According to the old Lenten regulations, dairy products and fats were among the banned foods during the forty day season, so thrifty housewives used up their supplies of these staples in making sumptuous pancake feasts for their families on the Tuesday before Lent. In Britain, things were taken a bit further, though. Legend has it that one pancake-making housewife was in the middle of cooking when she remembered that she had to get to church for confession. Not wanting to be inefficient, she rushed out the door, skillet in hand, flipping her pancake as she ran down the street to make it in time for Confession. Today in towns throughout the British Isles--and even a few in the United States--women participate in Pancake Races on Shrove Tuesday. Participants must wear a skirt or dress, apron, and heels and flip their pancake a specified number of times while running between two points in town, one of which is always the local parish.

While I won't be participating in any high-heeled pancake-flipping races this year, I will be serving up an abundance of fluffy flapjacks to my family for breakfast, after I've gone a-shriving. We'll round off our gluttony this evening with some steaks, homemade french fries (fried foods are a must on Shrove Tuesday!), and salads; this will conveniently use up some of the last of the meat that I've got stored in the freezer. One nice thing about clearing the freezer for Lent is that I will actually have room to do my freezer meals before the baby's due date in May. Oh, and I mustn't forget the creme d'la creme of our scrumptuous of indulgences: hot fudge brownie sundaes for dessert. I hope your day will be equally as fun and fattening!

* The Bookworm's Library has been updated: Real Learning by Elizabeth Foss


  1. I live in Lancaster Co., PA, where it's Fasnacht Day. I went to market this morning for some healthy, fresh vegetables and not very healthy fasnachts for the whole family. The children and I ate while we shopped and then took DH's to him at work. A lovely start to the day!

    I'm a new reader who is enjoying your blog.

  2. Welcome, Rebecca. What a small world! I lived in Lancaster Co. (Kimberton and later Nottingham) for 3 years as a child! It was one of the happiest times of my life.

  3. Thanks for posting. I've been inspired to try a new pancake recipe I've been meaning to use...we'll see how it goes. I once had a friend jokingly remark, at a breakfast disaster, "I knew I shouldn't have let the Italian be in charge of the pancakes." For some reason it's a difficult skill for us to hone....

  4. My poor GF sourdough pancakes did not turn out, so we were without pancakes yesterday. :o( Better luck next year....

  5. Bethany, Are you familiar with the International Pancake Day Race between Olney, England and Liberal, Kansas that's held each year based off of the story you've shared? Since 1950, they've competed against each other to see who had the best time.
    While running a specific course, the women wear an apron, hold a skillet that has a pancake in it. Without dropping the pancake, they flip the pancake at the beginning of the race and again just before crossing the finish line.
    Liberal, Kansas is where I grew up.

  6. Deanna, I was aware of that particular race :) I wish I lived in a town where there was one. But, our area is largely Scandinavian, not British, so I'm out of luck as far as Pancake Races go.


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