Today Is National Pancake Day. Plain Old Pancake Day is NEXT Tuesday.

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Whether you prefer buttermilk, wheat, blueberry, or banana nut, few things compare with the simple satisfaction of a fresh, hot stack of enthusiastically buttered pancakes, dripping with maple syrup. Variations of the dish can be found in almost every culture the world over -- from the French crepe, to the Indonesian serabi, to the South African pannekoek.

In Canada, the UK, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia, pancakes are commonly eaten in observance of "Shrove Tuesday" or "Pancake Day" - known in these parts as Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras. The tradition dates back to medieval Britain, where early Christians would make pancakes to use up all remaining dairy and eggs in a last feast before Lent. Old English manuscripts have been found making reference to the tradition and the dish as far back as 1430.

Not to be outdone, we Americans have a day devoted to flapjacks as well, also observed on a Tuesday. And it just so happens to be today. Yes folks, Tuesday, March 1 is National Pancake Day, a rich tradition with roots that can be traced all the way back to -- sigh -- IHOP in 2006.

In celebration, the nationwide chain is offering each customer a free short stack of buttermilk pancakes until 10 p.m. However, in this case "free" just means it won't show up on your bill. Diners are asked to leave a small donation to Shriner's Hospital, the local charity benefiting from the promotion. This year IHOP hopes to reach $2.3 million dollars in donations, bringing the total raised since the annual effort kicked off in 2006 to $7.65 million.

Yeah, yeah, it's just a corporate promotion. However, if there's already a centuries-old tradition still observed in other parts of the world known as "Pancake Day," wouldn't it make sense to have your "celebration" on the same day? Well, it turns out that's normally when it happens, but this year Fat Tuesday falls in March. According to a press release, "IHOP's National Pancake Day will come one week early, as the popular annual campaign has evolved into a month-long celebration that takes place during the month of February. It will culminate with the free flapjack giveaway on March 1."

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