Feb 09

The Then and Now of Shrove Tuesday

Every year on Shrove Tuesday kitchens around the world become battlefields, peppered with the debris that is only to be expected after the construction of the traditional pancake.

But why do we do it?

And what is the attraction that drags hundreds of workers from their desks throughout the UK to run up and down the streets armed with frying pans, tossing pancakes into the air?


the history of shrove tuesday

Shrove Tuesday is the feast before the start of Lent, which according to Christian beliefs commemorates Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. Observant Christians mark this the time by fasting and giving up luxuries such as chocolate and other goodies for the forty days leading up to Easter.

Hands held in worship towards Christian cross

The making of pancakes was traditionally the last opportunity to use up all the surplus eggs and fat before the fasting during Lent. But let’s face it, whether you are religious or not, pancake making is enormously tempting, messy and more to the point, fun!

In the US, Pancake Day is commonly known as Mardi Gras, which is crudely translated as ‘Fat Tuesday’ from the French. Closer to home, the pancake has been traced in our culinary history as far back as 1439 with the tradition of tossing being just about as old, with the first recorded pancake race taking place in Olney, Buckinghamshire back in 1445.


pancake statistics

Just so that you can bore your friends in the bar over the next week, the world record for pancake tossing currently stands at 416 times in two minutes and the largest pancake was cooked in Rochdale in 1994 and measured 15 metres in diameter. It weighed three tonnes and if eaten whole would have supplied the diner with an estimated two million calories!

Guinness World Records - Largest Pancake

But the most important statistic I know that you are gagging to find out is how high is the tossing record? This was set in 2005 by celebrity chef, Aldo Zilli, at a height of 329 cm – the challenge is there for all you MoneyMagpiers to take on.

So, if you want to go and join in the fun and watch normally rational human beings running up and down the streets armed with frying pans in crazy costumes, here are a few of the events that traditionally occur in honour of the humble pancake:

Find out how you can save money with Pancake Day here


fun pancake races to take part in on shrove tuesday

The Great Spitalfields Pancake Race

The race starts at 12:30 at Dray Walk, Brick Lane, London E1 (nearest tubes are Aldgate East and Shoreditch). Teams of four people compete in pancake races helping raise funds for various charities. For more information have a look at the organizers’ website

The Great Pancake Race

Takes place every year on Tower Hill Terrace at about 13:00, in front of All Hallows by the Tower of London (nearest tube is Tower Hill) and the frolics last for about half an hour.

Poulters’ Company Shrove Tuesday Pancake Race

Takes place at 12:00 in Guildhall Yard in front of the Guildhall (nearest tubes are St Paul’s, Bank or Mansion House). The teams are made up of four people from the various livery companies, all in a variety of costumes, raising money for the Lord Mayor’s chosen charity.

The Parliamentary Pancake Race

Both politicians and political journalists take part in the race which usually starts at 10:00 in the gardens outside the Houses of Parliament (nearest tube is Westminster). As you would expect with anything to do with Parliament, there are stringent rules for the country’s top tossers to adhere to, albeit slightly tongue in cheek, but if you read the rules you get an idea why this is my choice of event to watch:

London Rehab Pancake Race

Get the basic pancake recipe and clever toppings ideas here


Parliamentary Pancake Race Rules of Engagement

You can run your own Pancake Race, but we suggest you follow the Parliamentary Pancake Race Rules of Engagement:

  • Gentlemanly and Gentlewomanly behaviour will be strictly observed at all times. Those from “another place” will especially be expected to be on their best behaviour and to act as a Lordly example to all participants.
  • Frying pans must not be used as weapons or as a means of making unseemly gestures, whatever the depth of provocation or the nature of the person at the root of the provocation.
  • Any surplus eggs, flour or butter remaining from the earlier making of pancakes must not be propelled in the direction of other participants or spectators.
  • The course is over 25 metres and, in that distance, pancakes must be tossed three times to a minimum height of three feet each time.
  • If a participant allows a pancake to fall, he or she must return to the starting line and begin again.
  • Members from each team will run in relay and the pancake and frying pan must be exchanged intact before the next member of the team can proceed.
  • The organisers reserve the right to send off violent or unruly participants by means of showing a blue card to members of the Conservative Party, a red card to members of the Labour party, and a yellow card to members of the Liberal Democrat Party. Members of the Parliamentary Reporters Team will be referred to the Press Complaints Commission.

London Rehab Pancake Race

But whatever you decide to do, we hope that you have a great day of tossing and stuffing your faces with pancakes. If you have any great stories to tell in the aftermath please email us and let us know!

Have fun!


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