As Shrove Tuesday is the last day before the period of sacrifice, (usually of rich foods), people traditionally make it a day to indulge in feasting on fatty & rich foods.
The term 'Mardi Gras' is French for Fat Tuesday, referring to the last day before the fasting begins. Hence: the joyous festival of Mardi Gras.
Like so many Christian traditions, Pancake Day has its roots in Paganism. Before Christianity, many Europeans believed that the change of seasons was a battle between the god of fertility, vegetation and springtime and the evil spirits of cold and darkness.
The week that spring arrived, was celebrated by the eating of pancakes. The hot round pancakes, symbolised the light and warmth of the sun.
Across Britain, pancake races are held in villages and towns. The tradition of pancake racing is believed to have started in 1445, when a housewife from Olney, in Buckinghamshire, was so busy making pancakes that she forgot the time, until the church bell started ringing, calling people to the service. She rushed out of the house still holding her frying pan, tossing its content to prevent it from burning!
In Olney, the world's most famous pancake race is still held annually. The contestants carry a frying pan over a course of 415 yards, to the finishing line. The rules say they must toss their pancake at the start and finish of the race and wear an apron and a scarf. Men are allowed to take part but they must dress as a housewife!
Will you be whisking up some pancakes today? Here's how to make simple lemon and sugar pancakes. Try eggsperimenting with other sweet or savoury fillings.
For the pancake mixture
110g/4oz plain flour, sifted
pinch of salt
200ml/7fl oz milk mixed with 75ml/3fl oz water
Sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl with a sieve held high above the bowl so the flour gets an airing. Now make a well in the centre of the flour and break the eggs into it. Then begin whisking the eggs - any sort of whisk or even a fork will do - incorporating any bits of flour from around the edge of the bowl as you do so.
Next gradually add small quantities of the milk and water mixture, still whisking (don't worry about any lumps as they will eventually disappear as you whisk). When all the liquid has been added, use a rubber spatula to scrape any elusive bits of flour from around the edge into the centre, then whisk once more until the batter is smooth, with the consistency of thin cream. Now melt the 50g/2oz of butter in a pan.
Spoon 2 tbsp of it into the batter and whisk it in, then pour the rest into a bowl and use it to lubricate the pan, using a wodge of kitchen paper to smear it round before you make each pancake.
Now get the pan really hot, then turn the heat down to medium and, to start with, do a test pancake to see if you're using the correct amount of batter. I find 2 tbsp is about right for an 18cm/7in pan. It's also helpful if you spoon the batter into a ladle so it can be poured into the hot pan in one go. As soon as the batter hits the hot pan, tip it around from side to side to get the base evenly coated with batter.
It should take only half a minute or so to cook; you can lift the edge with a palette knife to see if it's tinged gold as it should be. Flip the pancake over with a pan slice or palette knife - the other side will need a few seconds only - then simply slide it out of the pan onto a plate.
Stack the pancakes as you make them between sheets of greaseproof paper on a plate fitted over simmering water, to keep them warm while you make the rest.
To serve, sprinkle each pancake with freshly squeezed lemon juice and caster sugar, fold in half, then in half again to form triangles, or else simply roll them up. Serve sprinkled with a little more sugar and lemon juice and extra sections of lemon.