Traditional English Pancakes

It’s Pancake Day! (Shrove Tuesday)

In Germany this is the height of Fasching (carnival) and in this area the “gypsies” and witches and evil spirits are “driven” out of the towns and villages with a frightening spectacle involving ugly masks and drums… not my idea of fun on a freezing afternoon in February!

Such pagan ceremonies never spread to Britain and fortunately they have kept Shrove Tuesday in their own traditional way… with pancakes. Now that is much more my cup of tea!

When I say pancakes I mean the crepe-style pancakes – not the American ones (which the English call drop scones or Scottish pancakes).


A memory?

I’m not at school… am I ill? Am I home for the lunch break?  Suddenly there is a buzz outside and Mum goes out the front door. A handful of housewives are gathered, a few curlers poking out from colourful headscarves, floury aprons and scholls, frying pans in hands. Ready for the challenge, they say? Come on, join the fun!

A pancake race!

Hitching up their skirts they quickly establish the rules…. pancakes must be tossed at least once on the way, and the first to reach house number 12 is the winner. (Mrs R is waiting for them up there to check there’s no cheating).

Everyone ready?

And they’re off!

It’s a warm spring day, the midday sun smiling down on them. A few are already puffing, and some start to perspire. Mrs B is doing well, but is no competition for Mrs L – always at the front of things. Mrs W is getting left behind, Mrs M loses her pancake, Mum is somewhere in the middle… Nearly there… it’s very close… 

and Mrs L stumbles!

Mrs B is gaining ground…

Yes! Mrs B tosses her pancake high in the air as she reaches the finishing line!

Cheers all round, pats on the back, a brief chatter… then, as if it was quite a normal day, everyone goes slowly back into their homes and carries on making their pancakes.


The idea of impromptu pancake races in the streets began not far from my hometown in a small place called Olney on the River Ouse. They have been holding pancake races there since the 15th century! In other parts of Britain it is also still a tradition.


Despite all the wonderful recipes on the internet for various fillings, the real English will only put two things on their pancake: fresh lemon juice and sugar. The best and only way to eat pancakes on Pancake Day!

I like to take my time making the batter, using my big stoneware pudding basin and a wooden spoon. It’s all part of the fun!

English Pancakes

175g plain flour

pinch of salt

3 eggs

350ml milk

1 dessertspoon vegetable/olive oil

Fresh lemons, quartered

Sugar for sprinkling

Sift flour and salt into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and break in the eggs. Start to mix, slowly bringing in more flour from the outside until almost all the flour is mixed in. Slowly add milk, little by little, stirring vigorously all the time until you have a smooth batter. Stir in oil, transfer to a large jug, and leave to stand for a few minutes.

Brush a shallow non-stick frying pan with a little oil and heat until it sizzles when a drop of batter is dropped into it. Take off the heat and turn heat down slightly. Pour in enough batter to coat the base. Put back on heat and cook until top is just set, then turn or toss and cook other side until just brown. Careful – it only takes a few seconds!

Sprinkle with fresh lemon juice and sugar, roll up and enjoy while still warm.

It’s nice for everyone to have a go at tossing their own pancake… there may be the odd accident, but that’s what this is all about! And that means you can sit down and enjoy yours while someone else is keeping the pan hot!

I’ll post my photos later tonight… can’t cheat and make them a day early now, can I!