Attending grad school in the United Kingdom has offered me a chance to experience a wealth of new traditions. From fireworks in November to mince pies at Christmas time, I have enjoyed immersing myself in a culture – although at first glance rather similar to my own – and embracing its own unique customs.
This week brought me once again into unfamiliar, but immensely delicious, territory. Pancake Tuesday, celebrated the day before Ash Wednesday, provides the chance to feast on sweet treats before the season of Lent, marked by fasting in the Christian tradition. In the United States, famously in New Orleans, the day is celebrated as Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday.
So: Why pancakes?
The day before Ash Wednesday is known as Shrove Tuesday, a name finding its origin in the old English ‘shrive,’ meaning ‘to confess one’s sins,’ according to The Week. In addition to receiving the sacrament of penance, Christians celebrated the last day before Lent by indulging in foods forbidden for the next forty days. Impermissible foods included meat, fats, eggs, and milk, according to the BBC.
What dish can be prepared to use the remaining butter, eggs, and milk in the house?
You guessed it.
The UK has carried on the tradition of serving pancakes, doing so in grand fashion: Estimates suggest 52 million eggs are used across the country annually on Pancake Day, a 22 million egg increase from other days of the year, according to The Telegraph.
But rather than merely consuming pancakes, the British also make it a sport. Pancake races are said to have originated in the 1400s, after a woman ran out of the house mid-pancake preparation, clutching her frying pan, to make it to the church for the day’s service.
Here at LSE, I celebrated in style alongside my fellow members of the LSESU Catholic Society. We enjoyed pancakes prepared by two culinarily talented members of the group to mark the special occasion. And in addition to my lesson on the day itself, I found myself learning the differences in terminology from one side of the Atlantic to the other. The stack drizzled with syrup I picture when I hear the word ‘pancake’ did not mirror the thin crepe topped with honey and sugar on offer. In fact, here what I pictured are sometimes known as ‘fluffy American pancakes.‘ The more you know!
I am eagerly awaiting my next foray into British holidays. I can only hope it will be this delicious!