Why Pancake Day Is Celebrated
Image Credit: Pixabay

Thin, fluffy cakes of batter have graced the breakfast tables of people around the world for years. Eaten with maple syrup in the US and Canada, and lemon juice and caster sugar in the UK, pancakes from different countries have their own charm. 

Some experts believe people ate pancakes in the Stone Age. However, the first written record of pancakes can be traced back to ancient Greece, from when a poet mentioned warm pancakes. The ancient Romans ate pancakes, too. They sweetened them with honey, while the Elizabethans used spices, rosewater and sherry to flavour theirs. Before baking soda was discovered, chefs used fresh snow (because of its ammonia content) to make pancakes fluffy. Milk as we know it and cream began to be used for pancake batter only in the 1800s. 

Falling on 1st March this year, Pancake Day is celebrated on Shrove Tuesday, which is a day of feasting before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Lent is the 40-day period during which Christians fast or give up certain types of food, right before Easter celebrations begin. The 40 day period represents the time that Jesus spent fasting in the desert. The word “shrove” has been derived from shrive, which refers to confession or penance. Historically, a bell was rung to invite people to confession and came to be known as the “Pancake Bell”.

On Ash Wednesday or the first day of Lent, Christians go to church to attend mass and the priest uses ashes to draw a cross on their forehead. The cross symbolises the passage from the Bible: "For dust you are and to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:19).

Pancakes are eaten on Shrove Tuesday as it is the last chance for Christians to use up leftover ingredients in the kitchen like eggs, milk and butter (mainly animal products) before beginning their fast for Lent. 

The Oxford English Dictionary has mentioned “Flat as a pancake” as a derogatory phrase since 1611. It is a testament to the nature of pancakes, which must always be flat. Countries around the world have their own versions of pancakes, which include the Indian paratha, French crepe, Russian blini, Irish boxty and Jewish latkes, among others. Sweet, savoury, large, small, and made with different ingredients, the humble pancake holds a special place in the hearts of many.