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An Amazing Race

6 Feb

Apparently, we’re right in the middle of National Pancake Week. Who knew? I guess the good people at the National Association of Pancake Lovers — if such a group exists — just aren’t as organized as those at the International Ice Cream Association. In fact, a quick Web search produced conflicting results for when this happy occasion is. So I’m sticking with this one, which looks just reputable enough for this kind of occasion and ensures that I still have a few days left to celebrate.

Some history: Pancake Week is actually grounded in ancient tradition. During the Middle Ages, it was common practice to prepare for the austerity of Lent by purging the pantry of foods like eggs, butter, and milk, which were considered a luxury. These ingredients were often used to make big batches of pancakes. To this day, many communities around the world feast on pancakes all the way through Shrove Tuesday — also known as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras — before the season of moderation begins on Ash Wednesday (which, if you didn’t know, is today). In fact, another name for Fat Tuesday is Pancake Day. (I’m not making this stuff up, folks.)

(Alright, so that last paragraph would seem to imply I’ve missed this happy holiday. Yet another reason to refer to this site as my reference.)

Also from the “who knew?” file: The town of Olney, England, has been holding a Pancake Race every year. Legend has it that the race’s origins stem from a day in 1445 when a housewife was cooking the family’s traditional Shrove Tuesday pancakes. The church bell began to ring, summoning the townspeople to service, and the woman was so anxious to get there on time that she ran outside still holding her skillet — pancakes and all. Each year at the race, contestants line up, skillets in hand, waiting for the “pancake bell” to ring. Then they toss pancakes in the air, catch them in their skillets, and race 415 yards to the church. When they reach the finish line, they must toss their pancakes one more time. After the race, everyone attends church services and then enjoys a community pancake party. Yesterday’s race was won by Web designer Amanda Brear, who ran the course in 1 minute, 9 seconds, beating her 23 other competitors. Amazing stuff. And it’s not without a rivalry: A competing Pancake Race has been run on the same day each year since 1950 in Liberal, Kansas. Yesterday, Amanda Curtis, an 18-year-old high school student, ran the race in just 1 minute, 6.3 seconds — even though she was battling the flu. Over the years, Liberal has won the bi-city competition 33 times and Olney has won 25 times, with one draw in 1980 when the course in Liberal was blocked. Take that, you wacky Brits!

I’m determined not to let this holiday pass by without a little celebration, even if it is belated. Next week, on February 12, IHOP will be celebrating National Pancake Day by giving out free pancakes to all customers. Yum. So even if no one can quite agree on which day or days this holiday is taking place, at least we can all enjoy a free stack of this yummy goodness — no racing necessary.