The pancake is a breakfast staple with our friends across the pond, but how often do we Brits actually eat pancakes? For many the answer is on a single day, Shrove Tuesday, when we tuck into a huge stack of pancakes with various toppings – lemon juice and sugar, golden syrup, banana, chocolate spread, jam – or even savoury fillings.
So why eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday in particular? The answer lies in a tradition that goes back centuries and is linked to the religious festival of Lent. Incidentally, ‘Shrove’ comes from the old English ‘Shrive’ which means to confess or do penance. This is fitting since Shrove Tuesday immediately precedes Ash Wednesday, the first day of lent, a traditional fasting period when rich foodstuffs such as eggs, flour, sugar and fat were restricted – hence the pancakes. Pancakes themselves have been around since Roman times, but the first recorded ‘Pancake Day’ was in 1445 in Olney, Buckinghamshire.
Pancakes are available at American-style diners all year round and in fact there are various restaurants which serve only pancakes. Perhaps the reason that we don’t make so many at home is that we’re under the impression that they are high in calories. In fact the average pancake made at home is around 170 calories minus filling, whereas thicker pancakes from McDonalds are 350 calories, for example.
These statistics pale into insignificance when compared with the largest pancake ever cooked, which measured 15 metres in diameter, weighed 3 tonnes and had an estimated 2 million calories. This monster was prepared and cooked in the Lancashire town of Rochdale. The highest pancake toss was by celebrity chef Aldo Zilli at 3.29 metres.
Plain pancakes are of course classed as carbohydrates and contain few essential vitamins or minerals however, like bread and pasta, they can still provide a balanced diet through the choice of fillings. Examples of pancake fillings include spinach and ricotta in a tomato sauce; mixed vegetables, seafood, minced beef, chicken, or fruits such as oranges, apples, blueberries or bananas.
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Happy Pancake Day!