As a breakfast-loving internet sleuth, I naturally have Google alerts set for both “waffles” and “pancakes.” That’s how I learned a bit of unusual pancake-related news: a woman from Liberal, Kansas, defeated competitors in Olney, England, during a “traditional Pancake Day race” last Tuesday. I got the scoop from Kansas news source KSNW, which reports that runner Whitney Hay won the race with a time of 1:07. But what, pray, does a traditional Pancake Day race entail?
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten fasting season, and the Tuesday prior goes by many names. You might know it as Fat Tuesday or, more traditionally, Shrove Tuesday. Either way, it’s a feast day before the beginning of the restrictive Lenten season. Per Historic UK, the day came to be known as “Pancake Day” because it marked the last opportunity to use up indulgent ingredients before beginning the Lenten fast. And what better way to use up those eggs and fats than with a big stack of pancakes?
Eating pancakes is a lovely way to indulge before beginning one’s penitence—but what’s that got to do with a race? Legend has it that, in 1445, a woman heard the ringing of the “shriving bell”—the church’s solemn call to be “shriven,” or take Confession—just as she was whipping up her pancakes. The woman is said to have run to the church in her apron, still gripping her frying pan so as not to miss the call to confess.
That woman apparently resided in Olney, a town in Buckinghamshire, England. Now, Olney women run a Pancake Race in her honor. NPR reports that all competitors must wear an apron and a hat or scarf; they must also carry a frying pan containing a hot pancake during the race. To successfully complete the race, all runners must toss their pancake three times before reaching the finish line, which is at a local church. The course is 415 yards, and some speed demons have been known to complete the race in under a minute.
As I mentioned up top, a woman from Liberal, Kansas, won this year’s race. Turns out that Liberal residents compete against Olney residents every year in a transatlantic pancake race, an occasion they’ve dubbed International Pancake Day. Residents complete the race on their own turf—Liberal runners in Liberal and Olney runners in Olney—and compare times to determine the winner.
The Kansas Historical Society explains that the international race began in 1950, when members of the Liberal Junior Chamber of Commerce learned about the Olney race. They challenged the Olney runners to a friendly competition, and a transatlantic tradition was born. Though this year’s Pancake Day concluded last week, you can bet your little pancake that I’ll be firing up the griddle in honor of next year’s race.