This is when Pancake day takes place in 2020 - and why we celebrate it

Thursday, 30th January 2020, 4:29 pm
Updated Thursday, 30th January 2020, 4:29 pm

Despite being an American breakfast treat, both pancakes and Pancake Day have been around for centuries - but what is the day itself, and why do we celebrate it?

Today, our idea of Pancake Day is far removed from its religious origins.

Pancake Day and religion

According to history and heritage guide, Historic UK, Pancake Day - or Shrove Tuesday - is the traditional feast day before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday.

Lent (the 40 days leading up to Easter) was traditionally a time of fasting, and on Shrove Tuesday, Anglo-Saxon Christians went to confession and were “shriven” (absolved from their sins) - hence the name Shrove Tuesday.

Another popular opinion is that pancakes would be made as a way of using up any remaining eggs, milk and butter before the start of Lent - when people would abstain from these animal products.

In fact, in America Shrove Tuesday is known as Mardi Gras (meaning 'Fat Tuesday' in French) - a nod to using up all the fatty, perishable food before Lent.

But it seems that by the 18th century, when Hannah Glasse published her popular book The Art of Cookery, the practice of using up all the butter, eggs and milk was no longer followed, or at least, not as popular. Part of the book was dedicated to‘Recipes for Lent’ which has a simple recipe for pancakes that doesn't use dairy or eggs - meaning these pancakes could be eaten during Lent.

When is Pancake Day this year?

Because of when Easter will fall, Pancake Day this year is Tuesday 25 February 2020.

The date of Pancake Day changes every year (as it falls 47 days before Easter) but it will always be between 3 February and 9 March.

Pancakes around the world

This quote from 1619 shows the age-old tradition of pancake tossing, "And every man and maide doe take their turne, And tosse their Pancakes up for feare they burne."

Pancakes have been around for hundreds of years, with recipes on how to make them changing from places to place and year to year.

In Germany they eat doughnuts, in the Netherlands they have waffles, and in Russia they consume blinis.

As long as there has been some sort of meal to mix with water, and a flat stone set in a hearth, we have eaten pancakes.

Cooking and recipes

Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery (Photo: Wikimedia)

The method of cooking on a bakestone is the most simple and primitive form of cookery – although these days we are more likely to use a frying pan.

In The Scots Kitchen (1929), F Marian McNeil, who is the authority on traditional Scottish food, gives two recipes for pancakes traditionally eaten on Shrove Tuesday.

One is called a sooty bannock. Interestingly, but not so surprisingly, it is made with oatmeal flour. The 'sooty' part comes from the French word sauter, to toss, like so many other Scottish culinary terms.

The other recipe she gives is for Scots Crumpets. Scottish crumpets are quite unlike their thick and spongy English counterparts as they are thinner, and can be rolled up, and eaten with jam and butter.

In the first recipe book published in Scotland, Elizabeth Cleland gives no fewer than nine recipes for pancakes in her book A New and Easy Method for Cookery (first published in 1755).

One to note is her recipe for Common Pancakes which is spiced with nutmeg, ginger and best of all, laced with brandy.

For a modern, American style pancake recipe, click here.

Why are there Pancake races?

Portobello women have a practice toss at the start of the annual pancake race along the promenade in February 1980 (Photo: TSPL)

Today, most of us will probably enjoy a more leisurely Pancake Day, spent in the comfort of our kitchens with minimal exercise.

But, for years, the pancake race was also a highlight of Pancake Day, with many still happening all over the country.

The race involves running (usually in teams or fancy dress) with a frying pan and flipping a pancake as you go. The aim is to get the finish line with the pancake still in tact.

It is alleged that Olney, Buckinghamshire has the most famous of all pancake races, which has been going since 1445.

Part of this article originally appeared on The Scotsman Food and Drink