What's the Deal with...Pancake Day a.k.a. Shrove Tuesday

Rachel Tepper Paley
March 4, 2014

You know that thing? That thing that sounds like something you should already know about, so you don’t really want to ask? Well, we know about it, and we’ll give you the intel. Welcome to What’s the Deal With.

Photo credit: Getty

Happy Pancake Day! Don’t worry, you can guiltlessly enjoy that short stack draped in maple syrup; Pancake Day isn’t another one of those phony food holidays, nor was it concocted by the pancake lobby. (There isn’t such a thing as the pancake lobby, either. Sorry.) 

So what sort of a holiday is it, then? Here’s an explainer:

What It Is: Pancake Day also goes by the name “Shrove Tuesday.” It’s a Catholic holiday that falls the day before the start of Lent (a 40-day period of fasting and penitence leading up to Easter.)

How It’s Observed: Since medieval times, Shrove Tuesday has been celebrated by gorging on pancakes rich with eggs, milk, and sugar in preparation for Lenten fasting. The tradition has persisted even as the holiday’s religious connotations have slipped away in some communities.

Who Celebrates It: You, maybe? In some parts of the United States, Shrove Tuesday is better known as Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday. In places like New Orleans, the day’s signature overindulgence takes the form of buzzed revelry in the streets and King Cake instead of pancakes. But folks in the United KingdomIreland, and Australia all prefer to get their pancake on.

The holiday is celebrated with other foods elsewhere in Europe. For instance, in Poland (and Polish communities in the U.S.), Shrove Tuesday is celebrated by eating pączki, a type of donut often stuffed with jam or custard.

How You Can Celebrate: Eat some pancakes, of course. You can always hit up your local IHOP, but we prefer to whip up our own fluffy flapjacks. Try these light and airy ricotta pancakes topped with finely grated orange zest.

Whether or not you’re religious, Pancake Day is a delicious holiday to celebrate.

Photo credit: Everyday Food

Orange-Ricotta Pancakes

from Everyday Food

Serves 4

1 3/4 cups (15 ounces) part-skim ricotta cheese
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons grated orange zest (1 orange)
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons canola oil
Confectioners’ sugar or maple syrup

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together ricotta cheese, granulated sugar, eggs, and orange zest. Whisk in flour until just combined.

2. Heat canola oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Working in batches (and adding more oil to skillet as needed), add batter, using a scant 1/4 cup for each pancake. Cook until browned, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer pancakes to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain. Serve hot, dusted with confectioners’ sugar or drizzled with maple syrup.