Simply food


Celebrating the sublime joy of eating pancakes before the Lenten Fast.

An English pancake day race

Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday, is the 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, Christians went to confession and were shriven, meaning absolved from their sins. It always falls 47 days before Easter Sunday, so the date varies from year to year and falls between 3 February and 9 March. In 2022, it falls on Tuesday 1 March.

Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras in French, and famously celebrated to excess in New Orleans) was the last opportunity to use up eggs and fats before embarking on the Lenten fast and pancakes are the perfect way of using up these ingredients. The pancake has a very long history in England and features in recipes dating as far back as 1439. The tradition of tossing or flipping them is almost as old and is first mentioned in 1619. The ingredients for pancakes can be seen to symbolise four points of significance at this time of year: eggs = creation; flour = the staff of life; salt = wholesomeness; and milk = purity.

French crêpes with chocolate ganache filling

In Britain, pancake races form an important part of the Shrove Tuesday celebrations – an opportunity for large numbers of people, often in fancy dress, to race down streets tossing pancakes. The object of the race is to get to the finishing line first, carrying a frying pan with a cooked pancake in it and flipping the pancake as you run.

The most famous pancake race takes place at Olney in Buckinghamshire. Hallelujah, it will be run in 2022! According to the legend, in 1445 an Olney woman heard the shriving bell while she was making pancakes and ran to the church in her apron, still clutching her frying pan. Competitors must be local women, wearing the traditional housewife’s costume including a skirt, apron and scarf. They must of course carry a frying pan containing a pancake. The winner, on crossing the line at the church, must toss her pancake and she is then greeted by the verger with the traditional kiss of peace.

The English pancake is very thin and is served immediately after frying, usually rolled up and covered in lemon juice and caster sugar. The difference between French-style crêpes and English-style pancakes is that crêpes are larger in size and much thinner. Crêpes are cooked on a special griddle that cooks the batter on one side only, then folded and eaten with simple fillings or toppings, either sweet or savoury. English pancakes are cooked on both sides and traditionally tossed to flip.


Shopping list

  • 1/4 cup / 2 oz plain flour
  • 1 large egg
  • 2/3 cup / 142 ml whole milk
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 TBSP / 2 oz clarified fat for frying


  • Granulated (caster) sugar
  • Lemon juice

Preparation and cooking

  1. Mix the flour and salt together, and make into a thin batter with the egg and milk.
  2. Heat the frying-pan, add a little fat.
  3. Make it quite hot, and pour in enough batter to cover the pan thinly.
  4. When golden brown on one side, toss or turn and fry the other.
  5. Squeeze a little lemon juice over it, dust with sugar, roll up and serve dusted with sugar.

In North America, pancakes are traditionally much thicker and in America are often called flapjacks. In Canada, it is almost a crime not to serve them doused in maple syrup. Delicious with breakfast sausages or crisp bacon on the side.


Shopping list

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup / 8 oz milk
  • 1 TBSP butter, melted
  • 1 1/4 cups / 12 oz all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp / 1/2 oz baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • vegetable oil


  • Maple syrup, warmed, as much as you like
  • Whipped cream or butter
  • Fresh berries, your choice

Preparation and cooking

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together egg, milk and butter. Whisk in flour, baking powder and salt until smooth. Let stand 20 minutes.
  2. Over medium-low heat, heat a pan and coat thinly with oil. Ladle in enough batter to make 4 in rounds. Cook until bubbles form on tops, about 3 mins. Turn pancakes. Cook until bottoms are golden, about 1 min. Working in batches and brushing pan with more oil as necessary, repeat with remaining batter. Makes about 8 pancakes.
  3. Serve pancakes with warm maple syrup, berries and a dollop of whipped cream.

POSTSCRIPT: Not to be outdone, The Spectator’s Vintage Chef Olivia Potts has a great sounding recipe this week, which I have not yet tried, for a giant pancake called a Dutch Baby, created by the Pennsylvania Dutch, not in Holland and resembling a huge Yorkshire pudding. It sounds amazing and if I try it out I will add a picture here.

Featured image: Family pancake breakfast by Matthew, styling assistance by Shanna, eaten by all with gusto!

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This is Nigel’s 336th blog on Gentleman’s Portion. The SEARCH function at the top works really well if you want to look back and see some of his previous stories or check under CATEGORIES.

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