Pancake Day

The official name is Shrove Tuesday, the day before the first day of Lent, a Christian period of self-denial that some believe brings them closer to god.

For most people though, it’s all about the pancakes. Pancake Day 2013 is today, Tuesday 12th February.

Pancake flipping

Pancakes are associated with the build up to Lent because making them was a good way of using up rich ingredients before fasting, and eating them one last little treat before weeks of self-imposed deprivation.

Lent can involve giving up certain foods or even complete fasting, and also resisting the temptations of other treats such as alcohol. Lent lasts approximately six weeks during the build up to Easter, another Christian tradition, celebrating the supposed resurrection of Jesus, which has somehow (luckily) led to the modern tradition of eating hollow chocolate eggs.

Pancakes – a cake in a pan

There are many variations, but the basic pancake recipe is quite simple and everyone should be able to manage it. Even if you think you can’t cook now’s a good time to try because pancakes taste good even if you get them a bit wrong, and you get to flip them – or try – while you’re making them.

Delia Smith, the elder statesman of televised British cookery has a recipe on the BBC food website for basic pancakes with sugar and lemon. The recipe just requires flour, sugar, salt, eggs, milk and butter which you might have at home anyway, plus caster sugar and lemon juice as a topping. Mmmmm.

If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous you might like to give cointreau pancakes a go. Warning: contains alcohol. The sky’s the limit with toppings. Pancakes form a neutral base to which you can add sweet or savoury extras, like these suggestions for 10 pancake toppings for Shrove Tuesday

Flipping well

Essentially you make the creamy pancake mix in a bowl then pour some into a hot frying pan so it spreads out into a thin disc. Allow this to cook for a while then attempt to flip it over and have it land back in the pan so the other side can receive heat.

Flipping pancakes is a skill, it’s fairly easy but if you can’t manage to learn then build a robot to do it.

There’s an art to making pancakes for sure, but also a science, the University of Wolverhampton has recently released some research about the formula for the perfect pancake.

Non-eating Pancake Day activities

There are Pancake Day activities that don’t directly involve eating, but they’re naturally somewhat less popular.

Shrove Tuesday was a traditional day for ‘mob football’ matches, similar to modern football or rugby but with slightly more violence and many more players. Games could involve entire villages competing against each other to get a ball (an inflated pig’s bladder) into the opposition’s goal, which might be a church’s doorway. The practice has now mostly died out following new laws (as of 1835) which banned the playing of football on public highways.

Still around are ‘Pancake Races’, such as the Great Spitalfiends Pancake Race in London and Wales’ own Porthcawl Pancake Race which took place on Sunday. Put it in your calendar for next year.