Clutching skillets, women race through downtown Liberal, Kan., on Shrove Tuesday each year. With aprons and headscarves flying, they compete against their flapjack-flipping sisters in Olney, England, during the International Pancake Race. The two towns have held the trans-Atlantic race at 11:55 a.m. the day before Lent begins for more than 50 years.
Traditionally, on Shrove Tuesday housewives used up their cooking fats by making pancakes. In 1445, according to legend, an Olney housewife was making pancakes when she heard the church bell calling the faithful to confession. She dashed from the house, apron-clad, griddle in hand, and flipping pancakes all the way to the church. So began the Olney race.
The Liberal Jaycees read about the race and first challenged Olney to a friendly competition in 1950.
The whole festival is about community spirit and our connection with Olney,” says Janice Northerns, former chairman of the event. The towns send representatives to each other’s race, and winners visit by telephone.
Overall, the scores stack up with Liberal, 31; Olney, 24; and one no-count when a media truck blocked the finish line. Liberal’s Jill Wettstein won last year’s 415-yard race with a time of 1:07.3. “It was 21 degrees and misting and so cold that our pancakes froze,” says Wettstein.
Although the race lasts only about a minute, the pancake-loving Kansas town celebrates for four days with a pancake feed, parade, talent show, men’s and children’s races, and pancake eating and flipping contests.
At the finish line is the International Pancake Day Hall of Fame. Photos, books, badges, T-shirts and trinkets, including oddities such as earrings made from shellacked pancakes, tell the story of 60 years of fun, friendship and flying flapjacks.