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Shrovetide is the English equivalent of what is known in the greater part of Southern Europe as "Carnival", or "Fasching" in Germany.

On Shrove Tuesday in the UK, practising Christians are obliged to use up all the flour, eggs and sugar they have in their cupboards, and everyone else just makes pancakes - hence "Pancake Day".

Shrove is an old English word meaning to confess one's sins. A person is said to be a shrove, or shriven when he/she has confessed. Shrove Tuesday is always the day before Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of Lent.

During the period of Lent the devout were expected to practice complete abstinence, including not eating meat, and so frugal housewives, mindful of the waste of perishable foodstuffs if they were not eaten before the Lent fasting commenced, pancakes were a good way to use up food and pancake races are a traditional sport on Shrove Tuesday which has also become known as Pancake Day.

Obviously, the most important aspect of Pancake Day is - pancakes! These are closely related to French crepes and are very easy to make. Why don't you try the pancake recipe in my recipe section.

Pancake-racing is one of the more unlikely events on the British sporting calendar and takes place in many towns and villages each Shrove Tuesday. The object of the race is to run 450 yards and get to the finishing line first, carrying a frying pan (diameter no larger than 45cm (18 ins)) with a (cooked) pancake in it whilst flipping the pancake a pre-decided number of times. The skill lies not so much in the running of the race but in flipping - and catching - the pancake, which must be intact when the finishing line is reached. Nowadays these events are often held to raise money for charity.

Allegedly the pancake race started in Olney in 1445. Legend has it that women customarily used up accumulated cooking fats (forbidden during Lent) to bake pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. One woman, engrossed in her pancakes, forgot the time until she heard the church bells calling everyone to the shriving service. She ran to the church, clad in her apron and with skillet in hand, to become the first pancake racer. In following years, other women of Olney, not to be outdone by their neighbors, got into the act.

Nowadays a Pancake Bell is rung and the Pancake Race begins. The course is 425 yards long and shaped like an S from the Old Bull pub in the centre of the village to the church gate. Only women over 16 years of age can enter, they must be a native of the village or a resident for at least 3 months and they must wear clothes typical of a housewife such as a skirt, apron and headscarf. The pancake must be in a frying pan and must be loose. To ensure that it is not glued to the pan, the pancake must be tossed up in the air before the start and after the finish of the race.

Unfortunately Health and Safety insanity has forced some councils and schools to cancel their traditional pancake race, in one town, St Albans, they even insisted that the contestants walk, because it was raining! See the story here.

(Information taken from Origins of Festivals Feasts, Jean Harowven, Kaye Ward, London, 1980)

Pancake Records

The largest pancake was created in Rochdale, Manchester, UK in 1994, by the Co-Operative Union. It measured 15.01 m (49 ft 3 in) in diameter and was 2.5 cm (1 in) thick. The pancake weighed 3 tonnes (6,614 lb).

Australian celebrity chef Brad Jolly, holds the record for most tosses of a pancake in one minute, notching up 140 flips in 60 seconds during an event in Sydney in 2012.

Dominic Cuzzacrea made a monumental flip measuring 9.47 m (31 ft 1 in) at the Walden Galleria Mall in Cheektowaga, New York, in November 2010 to create the highest ever pancake toss.

The most people tossing pancakes is 890 and was achieved at an event in Sheffield, South Yorks in February 2012.

While flipping a pancake continuously in a frying pan, American athlete Mike Cuzzacrea completed a 26 mile a marathon in a time of 3 hr 2 min 27 sec on 24 October 1999.

Shrove Tide Football Match

Another long running (if you'll excuse the pun) tradition is the Shrove Tide Football Match, held in Ashbourne, Derbyshire. Here the men of Ashbourne play football through the streets of the town, in a no rules (thankfully murder and manslaughter are barred), free-for-all. It is the world's the world's oldest, largest, longest and maddest football game. The game takes place between the Up'ards and Down'ards (two mills three miles apart which form the goal posts) and two teams attempt to score. The ball (a specially prepared one - slightly larger than a football and filled with cork) is thrown in by a visiting guest of honour. It can then be kicked, carried or thrown, and the game can last for many hours, often finishing after dark.

First recorded in 1682, though thought to be much older, various attempts have been made by the fun police to suppress it over the years. In 1891, it is said, the police attempted to prevent the game from being started at all, but the ball was smuggled in under the skirts of a woman. (Where there's a will, there's a way.)