Saturday, 8 December 2012


Although overused, Proust's madelines demonstrate an important neurological fact: memories associated with smells are very powerful and long lasting.  For example, the very distinct odor of petouli oil is enough for me to be transported back to the latter 1960s and early 1970s.  But, I digress.

Today's Proustian memory is the smell of pancakes.  I grew up on pancakes (on the weekends only).  My mother cooked them using the time honored recipe from the Joy of Cooking (her standby).  Once, before college, my mother sent me to Macy*s with her credit card and told me to get something "useful" for college.  I came back with the Joy of Cooking.  She wasn't pleased, she wanted me to buy clothes.

I've been cooking pancakes since college.  Surely the hardest aspect is flipping the little devils.  The edges must be firm but not too firm (otherwise they're burnt).   And the inside must have bubbles.  The recipe from JoC is nothing but simplicity itself: flour, egg(s), baking powder, salt, milk and oil.  I used to sift the flour but I really think it doesn't make a noticeable difference to ignore that instruction.  If I'm feeling awake, I might separate two eggs and whip the whites: that creates a truly fluffy pancake.  And if I really want to duplicate my childhood (not very likely!), I should serve bacon or sausages with my pancakes --- my father worshiped breakfast sausage.

And that leads me to this morning: because I made buttermilk bacon cornbread to accompany the cashew chili, I had leftover buttermilk.  This was an intended consequence, because I planned on baking with it (yes, pancakes are baked in the pan).  Buttermilk pancakes are old style: the only rising agent is baking powder and egg whites.  I also used half whole wheat and half white: I like that combination because the whole wheat gives it a little more "punch" and flavor but without that heaviness I find in 100% whole wheat breads.

The recipe I used comes from James Beard's  American Cooking.  He wrote "Practically no one makes pancakes from scratch these days.  With the mixes, refrigerated batters and frozen pancakes available on the market, there seems little need.  However, I feel that homemade cakes are better and worth the trouble".  Just better?  Maybe completely different?

When we have guests staying the night, I often make pancakes in the morning.  One guest, an Italian, had previously told me how his sister's American boyfriend had insisted that Krusteaz pancakes were delicious and he didn't think so at all.  I told him I'd make him some fresh pancakes in the morning.  He came away converted.  And then, there's my in-laws: Lenny Bruce has a wonderful monologue about Jewish vs Goyish.  Pancakes are definitely goyish.  But my in-laws really appreciate them.  Sure, they're not a bagel, but they are hot and smell of memories.

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