March 8, 2011 at 10:38 AM ET
Forget the raucous Mardi Gras celebrations of New Orleans, Carnival parades in Rio and the Fasching street festivities in Germany: Britain celebrates the day before Lent with pancakes.
Made of eggs, milk, butter and flour, the pancakes look nothing like the flapjacks we are used to in the States. Britain’s version is more like a crepe – flat and thin. They are jazzed up with any number of fillings that range from sugar and lemon juice, to chocolate, or even smoked salmon and cream cheese.
The tradition of making pancakes on Shrove Tuesday goes back hundreds of years, and villages in the U.K. still hold pancake races, said to have been started in 1445 after a housewife heard the church bells and raced out of her house with her frying pan in hand.
Pancakes were a useful way to use up foods like milk, butter, eggs and sugar that are forbidden in Lent, and that spoil quickly.
Even Prince William and his bride-to-be Kate Middleton got in on the pancake action on Tuesday, flipping pancakes on a visit to Belfast, Northern Ireland.