Shrove Tuesday pancakes are any sort of pancakes that are eaten on the last Tuesday before the Christian season of Lent. The tradition of pancake-eating on this day has its roots in British culture, and has been an English tradition since at least the 18th century. Pancakes are a simple bread-like product typically made with butter, milk, and eggs. The Church of England at one point forbade the consumption of all of these things during Lent, which made pancakes a convenient way to use them up before the start of the season. Most mainstream Christian churches no longer place such severe restrictions on Lenten diets, but the pancake tradition persists both inside England and in Christian communities around the world.
In the Christian calendar, Lent is the 40-day period preceding Easter. Church-goers are usually encouraged to use this time to contemplate their sinful nature and prepare their hearts for the coming Eastertide. Self-denial and fasting is a common part of this observance for many people. Shrove Tuesday, also called Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras, is usually regarded as the last day for jovial, rich living, which is right where Shrove Tuesday pancakes fit in.
There is no right or wrong way to make Shrove Tuesday pancakes, and cooks are usually free to innovate as they wish. Standard breakfast pancakes are the most traditional, and involve little more than milk, eggs, flour, and often a bit of butter. All of these ingredients are mixed into a batter, then poured by spoonfuls over a hot griddle until cooked through.
Innovations to Shrove Tuesday pancakes are common. Spinach, cheese, and potato-based pancakes often form a richer meal, particularly when paired with sausages or other meats. Some cooks will also make crepes, a traditionally French thin pancake, or will use more substantial flours like whole wheat or buckwheat to change the pancake's flavor and texture. There is really no fixed process, and much is left to the cook’s discretion. Most of the time, the symbolism of Shrove Tuesday pancakes is more important than the actual ingredients used.
British culture hails Shrove Tuesday as something of a national holiday, commonly viewed independent of its religious origins. It is frequently referenced as “pancake day” in the popular media, and communities and schools have been known to host pancake races, bake-offs, and eating contests as means of celebrating. These celebrations are rarely strict Lent traditions and are more often viewed as facets of a shared cultural heritage.
Outside of England, pancake-centered Shrove Tuesday traditions are generally much more private. Churches often host Shrove Tuesday pancake dinners, and Christian families will sometimes prepare pancakes on this day as something of a “last hurrah” before Lent. Lent is celebrated differently by different people, but is generally regarded as a time of austerity, particularly when it comes to diet. Pancakes are rarely forbidden, but are often viewed as a bit too celebratory for regular consumption.