Why can’t every day be Pancake Day?

Yesterday was Pancake Day. Mrs P and I share the cooking duties at Platypus Towers, but when it comes to pancakes I know my place: I’m a scoffer, not a tosser. Unsurprisingly Mrs P’s pancakes were faultless, and we made short work of them. But now the party’s over it will be months – and quite possibly a whole year – before we have pancakes again. And that’s the problem, isn’t it, with designating just one day per year as Pancake Day? It implies that on the following 364 days (or 365 in 2020, and other leap years) pancakes should be regarded as strictly off-limits.

Pancakes With Strawberry, Blueberries, and Maple Syrup

PHOTO CREDIT: Sidney Troxell via Pexels

For the uninitiated, in England a pancake is a thin, flat cake, made from batter and fried in a frying pan. When one side is cooked the pancake is tossed with a deft flick of the wrist. If the cook is lucky it will land back in the pan, uncooked side down; however if fortune is not smiling, the pancake will end up on the floor, or stuck to the ceiling. A traditional English pancake is very thin and is served coated with lemon or orange juice and caster sugar, or maybe golden syrup.

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The origin of Pancake Day is religious. The day in question is Shrove Tuesday, immediately preceding the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday. In the Christian calendar Lent is a 40 day period of abstinence, when believers are required to give up some of life’s pleasures. Eggs, butter and fat were all on the hit list, and turning them into mouth-watering pancakes on the day before Lent began ensured they did not go to waste.

There is also said to be religious significance in the key ingredients of pancakes. The white milk that loosens the pancake’s batter is seen by some to symbolise purity, while the eggs represent creation and salt stands for wholesomeness. According to this reading the flour symbolises the staff of life, the dietary staple upon which we all rely.

In the USA, France and Germany the day before the start of Lent is known as Mardi Gras. This translates as “Fat Tuesday”, an allusion to the excesses and festivities that are enjoyed on this particular day, before the deprivations of Lent take hold.

tray of hotcakes

PHOTO CREDIT: Mae Mu via Unsplash

Today the connection between Christianity and Pancake Day is rarely acknowledged, and the practice of giving things up for Lent has largely disappeared. However the advance of secularism has done nothing to undermine the habit of bingeing on pancakes one Tuesday in either February or March, exactly 47 days before Easter Sunday.

In a few places in the UK, Pancake Day is celebrated by the holding of a pancake race, which involves herds of eccentrics dashing frantically through the streets, each of them clutching a frying pan in which they toss a cooked pancake. The tradition is said to date from 1445, and results in the lanes of some English villages briefly becoming clogged with more than the usual number of lycra-clad tossers. However the disruption is tolerated with good humour as everyone knows that afterwards pancakes will be off the menu for around 12 months.

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In the USA, however, they do it differently. Pancakes are a big deal in the Big Apple, and everywhere else too. Every day is Pancake Day in the good old US of A.

In the same way that American and Brits are no more than distant cousins these days, their pancakes are also very different. The version from the other side of The Pond is fluffy rather than flat, using self-raising flour or baking power to get a rise from the batter. In the USA pancakes are traditionally served in a stack, accompanied by a little jug of maple syrup and, if it takes your fancy, with a few rashers of crispy bacon on the side.

And, joy of joys, Americans have pancakes for breakfast.

I remember vividly our first encounter with a “short stack” of American pancakes. The previous evening we’d flown into Rapid City via Minneapolis, and had spent the night in a grotty motel that numbered cockroaches amongst its other guests. The next morning we staggered into the adjacent diner, with expectations at an all time low.

pancakes on palte

PHOTO CREDIT: Luke Pennystan via Unsplash

It was a modest diner, as befitting its location on the outskirts of a memorably unmemorable city. And yet, to our amazement, they were serving pancakes. Now at the time I was just an innocent English guy, a first time visitor to the States, and the prospect of eating something so deliciously, decadently sweet that early in the day had me transfixed. America is amazing, I thought to myself. Americans are amazing. They play by different rules here. I love this country.

The menu sported a fabulous photo of a stack of pancakes, topped off with summer fruits and wallowing in an ocean of maple syrup. They looked irresistible, so I did the honourable thing and resolutely refused to resist them.

And thus began my love affair with pancakes for breakfast. In the years that followed I’ve visited the USA more than 20 times, and have rarely been tempted to try anything else. OK, I will confess that once or twice I’ve fallen under the spell of the sultry southern temptress that is biscuits and gravy, but pancakes are my first love, my only true love in the crazy world of American breakfasts.

So here’s my question, the big one, the puzzle that’s got me beat. If the USA can do it, why the hell can’t we? Here, in England, why can’t every day be Pancake Day?

12 comments

  1. ralietravels · March 4

    Well my English cousin, that was a lot of new information for me. Here I do take pancakes for granted. Indeed, the motel I am writing this in has a machine to make them on order – albeit very tough and not very good pancakes. The main reason most days are not pancake days for me — too many calories. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · March 4

      I suppose you’re right about the calories, although as I have to suffer 364 pancake-free days per year I guess I’ll never know for sure 🙂 I’m intrigued by the motel pancake machine, but I can imagine the results may not be up to the usual standard.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. tanjabrittonwriter · March 5

    While not every day is pancake day in our household, thanks to my husband’s skills with the whisk and wrist, I get to enjoy them more than once a year. 🥞

    Liked by 2 people

    • Platypus Man · March 5

      I note with approval – and some envy – that Mr B performs several times a year in the whisk and wrist department! To be fair, since writing this post Mrs P has treated me to additional pancakes, experimenting with a new recipe that is finished off in the oven. Happy days!

      Liked by 1 person

      • tanjabrittonwriter · March 5

        It is in your power to declare any day pancake day. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Platypus Man · March 5

        But only if Mrs P consents 🙂.

        Liked by 1 person

      • tanjabrittonwriter · March 6

        Unless Mr. P decides to surprise Mrs. P with his prowess in the kitchen! 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      • Platypus Man · March 6

        My kitchen prowess is mainly in the field of Asian cookery (Indian, Thai, Chinese), and I happily defer to Mrs P in relation to desserts, or “puds” [puddings] as we might say here. Mrs P’s mum is very good at all the decadent, sweet stuff, and I’m delighted to report that my good lady has inherited and built upon her talents.

        Liked by 1 person

      • tanjabrittonwriter · March 7

        In that case, you are complementing one another perfectly. You can prepare the main course, and Mrs. P the dessert!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Ms. Liz · March 20

    My OH has been in NZ a few decades but grew up in Hampshire. I read aloud your ‘tosser’ paragraphs and he spluttered and thought it a great joke LOL 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · March 20

      Hi Liz. I suspect many of my international followers may have missed the joke, so I’m delighted your OH got it. I know it’s bad form to laugh at one’s own jokes, but I still chuckle when I read those paragraphs. Have a great weekend, and steer clear of any tossers in the neighbourhood 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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