HomeNewsCommentariesDisplay

British Billy tosses pancakes

Billy the Cat (aka British Billy) lives in Elveden, a local village about ten miles from RAF Lakenheath. Billy has been around a bit. He came from a rescue centre and prefers not to dwell on the past. He is proud of his country and its heritage and counts his friends and family as hailing from all corners of the British Isles. He is proud to be a “moggy”. Many of his American friends and admirers ask Billy about the things puzzling them about life and culture in the U.K., and if he doesn’t know the answer, he has ways and means of finding out. Feel free to send him any questions, and when he isn’t sleeping or hunting, he’ll try and put a few thoughts together to help you out.

Billy the Cat (aka British Billy) lives in Elveden, a local village about ten miles from RAF Lakenheath. Billy has been around a bit. He came from a rescue centre and prefers not to dwell on the past. He is proud of his country and its heritage and counts his friends and family as hailing from all corners of the British Isles. He is proud to be a “moggy”. Many of his American friends and admirers ask Billy about the things puzzling them about life and culture in the U.K., and if he doesn’t know the answer, he has ways and means of finding out. Feel free to send him any questions, and when he isn’t sleeping or hunting, he’ll try and put a few thoughts together to help you out.

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- Pancake Day is approaching! Some know it as Mardi Gras, but to we Brits, it is known as Shrove Tuesday, or more colloquially, Pancake Day. This year, it is Feb. 21.

The well-informed amongst you will know that Shrove Tuesday is the day before the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. As the date of Easter changes each year, so does the date of Shrove Tuesday. It is the day to reflect, to seek penance and get ready for Lent. Many churches will hold 'shriving' services before the beginning of the long Lenten fast. 'Shrove' and 'shriving' are words from Old English connected with the confession of sins and their absolution.

The traditional British pancake is unlike the American version; it is more like the American 'crepe'. The pancake is cooked in a shallow pan, and then served with a sprinkling of sugar and a dribble of lemon juice. In more modern times, syrups have also become popular. Tossing the thin, round British pancake, so that it is cooked evenly on both sides, is great fun, if a little messy at times. In Britain, pancakes are often eaten solely on Shrove Tuesday rather than all year round, as is the way with American pancakes.

Across the U.K., many communities will indulge in the strange tradition of the 'pancake race'. The village of Olney in Buckinghamshire (north of Milton Keynes) claims the origin of the Pancake Day Race, which goes back to medieval times, starting in 1445.

To prepare for the fasting season of Lent, the citizens of the town cleared their larders of delicacies, such as eggs and butter, on Shrove Tuesday. By tradition, the race in Olney began when a young woman, who just finished making her pancakes, heard the church bells tolling for the start of the shriving service. She stopped everything, took up her frying pan with a pancake in it, and ran to the church.

The custom died out - but was revived in 1924 - and became a well-known event by 1939. It was suspended during World War II, but restarted in 1948.

The modern race in Olney is a 415-yard run from the market place to a point midway down Church Lane. The churchwarden starts the race with a large, bronze pancake bell.

Competitors, who are all women, start running down the street, while tossing pancakes in a pan. The winner receives the traditional kiss from the verger (an official in the Church of England who takes care of the interior of a church building), and the vicar (Anglican version of priest or pastor) greets her with the blessing, "The peace of the Lord be always with you."

Since 1950, Olney has competed with the town of Liberal in Kansas, which holds an identical race, to see which town can produce the fastest competitor. After the 2000 race, Liberal was leading with 26 wins to Olney's 24.

For a true taste of the U.K., why not make some British pancakes this Pancake Day?

Though my paws may be too small to hold a frying pan, I will quite happily finish off anything that happens to drop onto the floor. Waste not, want not!