Pancake Day: a celebration that can(’t) be topped

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It appears that Pancake Day this year has ‘creped’ up on us again and, as an avid pancake lover, I am as excited as ever. However, the movable date of Shrove Tuesday is always something that has confused me from year to year. While this may be common knowledge to some, for clarity: the date of Pancake Day is determined by when Easter Sunday falls, which, in turn, is decided by when the first full moon is after the spring equinox. In other words, Shrove Tuesday is always 47 days before Easter Sunday and precedes Ash Wednesday. This means that Pancake Day could be on any Tuesday between 3rd February and 9th March.

Originally, Shrove Tuesday was a Pagan celebration prior to the arrival of Christianity. It was rooted in the belief that a strain in seasonal shifts was caused due to the coming of Spring at this time of the year. For the Pagans, the warm and circular nature of pancakes embodied the sun. Thus, the Pagans understood that by eating pancakes they would gain the power, light and heat of the sun in order to help them with this struggle of seasonal change.

Later, for Anglo-Saxon Christians, Shrove Tuesday was seen as a chance to deplete their rich food supplies of eggs, milk and sugar before Lent. Ceremonial fasting took place during the Lent period, consequently resulting in Christians avoiding food that they were most fond of. This practice is still carried out today.

For the Pagans, the warm and circular nature of pancakes embodied the sun

Pancakes are simple and easy to make due to being composed of only three ingredients. Further, each ingredient is viewed to symbolise a different aspect of spring and Christianity; eggs, flour and milk represent creation, the stuff of life and purity respectively. However, it is not the history nor significance of Pancake Day that makes it, for me, one of the most exciting days of the year – it is, of course, the pancakes themselves.

Pancakes, while seemingly straightforward, can come in multifarious styles. The basic English pancake, slightly thicker than a French crêpe, combines flour, eggs and milk into a batter which is fried to make the classic pancake that we all know and love. American-style pancakes have also become popular in the UK due to their thickness and fluffy texture, owing to the addition of baking powder. Mini Russian blinis are also common in Britain, known for their use as an appetizer. They are traditionally made from buckwheat flour as opposed to wheat flour.

Most countries have their own take on traditional pancakes with poffertjes originating from the Netherlands, boxtys from Ireland, jeons from Korea, crespelle from Italy, pikelets from Australia and raggmunks from Sweden. This goes to show how easily the basic pancake recipe can be modified by adapting a few ingredients or by changing the cooking style. But, what solidifies pancakes as a kitchen staple, for me, is the variety of toppings they can be served with.

The traditional English and, somewhat surprisingly, most popular topping in Britain is lemon and sugar. Other popular sweet toppings include maple syrup, fresh fruit or chocolate spread. Controversially, however, I prefer savoury toppings, but this could just stem from my disproportionately large love of cheese. Therefore, I cannot recommend highly enough topping your pancakes with mushrooms, ham, tomato or pizza sauce with (of course) copious amounts of cheese. Nevertheless, whatever pancake toppings you choose, I’m sure this year’s Pancake Day will be flipping amazing.

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