What’s A Pancake Race? A look at the history and customs surrounding Shrove Tuesday

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Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day, is the day before the 40 days of Lent. It was traditionally the day on which Christians treated themselves to the food they would not be allowed to eat until Easter. Pancakes were the perfect food for this as they contain rich ingredients such as eggs, milk and sugar.

For most students today it means spending an evening whisking, flipping and eating as many pancakes as possible. The smell of pancakes wafts out of almost every kitchen on campus.

There have been reports suggesting that the “celebration” of Shrove Tuesday is diminishing, with an estimated two thirds of people saying they ignore the tradition.

However, this does not seem to be the case at Lancaster University and many pancake related traditions still take place around the country.

Olney, in Buckinghamshire, is renowned for the Olney Pancake Race, which dates back to 1445. Participants run 415 yards, carrying a frying pan containing a pancake. When the winner crosses the finishing line they must successfully flip their pancake. They are strict about who can enter; contestants are “housewives or young ladies” and must have lived in the town for at least 3 months.

Similar pancake races take place throughout the country. London hosts the annual Parliamentary Pancake Race, in which members of the Houses of Parliament race against members of the press. Spectators are invited to come along and cheer for their favourite team. Last year’s winner was political correspondent Nick Robinson.

The simple pancake has a long history, with recipes featured in cookbooks as long ago as 1439. The biggest pancake on record was made in Rochdale in 1994. It was 15 metres in diameter and contained about 2 million calories.

The tradition of flipping pancakes is nearly as old. A man in Leipzig, Germany, currently holds the record for flipping a pancake 416 times in two minutes.

Favourite pancake fillings seem to vary depending on where you are in the country. A poll conducted by Asda showed that almost half of Scottish people prefer their pancakes with cheese; a popular filling in the North is mince; favourites in the West Country are jam or syrup. But the most popular filling overall is still lemon and sugar.

This traditional option seems to be the favourite at Lancaster as well. However, some less common favourites amongst Lancaster students include sour cream, pineapple and ginger, and gravy.

A Shrove Tuesday tradition that may be even older than the making of pancakes takes place in Ashbourne, Derbyshire. It is the home of Shrovetide Football; but this is no ordinary football match. On Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, several thousand people compete in a game that is played over two eight hour periods and the goals are 3 miles apart.

Normal life in the town comes to a standstill as the brawl moves through the roads, across fields and even along the river bed. Shrovetide football is thought to be nearly 1000 years old. The event is well known in the area and BBC Derby even provides a live commentary.

So whether you are racing with them or just eating as many of them as you can, enjoy your pancakes this Shrove Tuesday.

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