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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Southern Advice

December 5, 2005

Small-Town Pancakes

I love living in the South.

As far as my literary agent in New York is concerned, I live in a small Southern town. In reality, I live in a medium-to-large-sized town by Southern standards.

Whether my metropolitan area is large, medium, or small, there are two events each year that make me feel as if I am living in the smallest of the small-town South: My local Christmas parade and the annual Kiwanis Club pancake breakfast.

Both events occurred on the same day this year. The Hattiesburg Mississippi Christmas Parade is small, even by small-town standards. There are no large Macy’s-style helium-filled balloons, Broadway lip-syncers, or elaborately decorated floats, but there is a spirit to the event that evokes a comforting sense of community.

There is something about small-town Southern Christmas parades that transports me to the innocence of a Norman Rockwell painted America. I try to never miss a local parade.

The Kiwanis Club pancake breakfast has been a local event for as long as I can remember. The pancakes are O.K. The syrup is an inexpensive generic variety, and the sausage is passable. But it’s not the food, or the quality of the food, that make the event memorable. It’s the people. It is citizens from all walks of the community that gather together to share a meal, and a morning meal at that. Young, old, black, white, Protestant, Catholic, rich, poor, the only link connecting all of the people in the room is that they all bought a $5 ticket from a Kiwanis Club member. Nevertheless, there is a common bond that is shared during a meal that breaks down all barriers.

It’s not the food, it’s the fellowship. Sharing a meal together is a very biblical thing. Food is used throughout the Bible. Whenever two or more are gathered in His name, there is usually a loaf of bread, a few fishes, and some wine. Food is the common link we all share it is the catalyst that brings us together.

Pancakes were a common link in bringing my family together on many occasions. My grandmother made excellent pancakes. We never woke up in her home without eating pancakes. Her pancake recipe was one of the components that defined her place in the family structure— my grandfather was the avid sportsman who could fix anything, my grandmother made great pancakes. Of course their personalities and talents were deeper and more complex than that, but when broken down into their simplest forms, those were the roles and labels. We all lived up to them. I was the hyper wild kid, my mother was the single-mom art teacher, and my grandmother cooked great pancakes.

Whenever the family gathered on vacation and breakfast was served, my grandmother— Muz we called her— prepared pancakes. She cooked them at her home, at our home, and away from home. Muz showed her love for us through the simple act of cooking pancakes.

A few years ago, while eating pancakes with my daughter, it struck me that no one had ever cooked pancakes for Muz. Every time we were together she did all of the cooking. At the time she was living in an assisted living home. We called her and made arrangements for a pancake breakfast the next morning. I cooked the pancakes this time and it was one of the more memorable breakfasts I can remember.

I have never joined a civic club. Most of them meet at lunch which is the height of my workday. And I don’t know a whole lot about what they do other than cook pancakes once a year. However, one has to be a fan of any organization whose motto is “Serving the children of the world.” In addition to serving the children of the world, once a year, they are feeding the citizens of my town.

Here’s some unsolicited advice from a formerly jaded southerner: Never let a small-town parade, a pancake-breakfast fundraiser, or a chance to cook for your grandmother pass you by, ever.

Muz’s Pancakes – The World’s Best (and good for the soul)

1 cup All Purpose Flour
2 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
1 /2 tsp Salt
1 Tbl Sugar
1 Egg
1 cup Buttermilk
1 /2 cup Melted Butter, divided

Mix dry ingredients thoroughly. Gently add liquid ingredients including 1 /4 cup of butter, and stir until just incorporated. Do not overwork the batter. The batter is thick, if you like it can be thinned with a small amount of water or a little more buttermilk.

Cook pancakes on a lightly greased griddle. Pancakes should be turned only once. They are ready to be turned when bubbles form in the middle and the edges appear cooked. Once pancakes are turned, use a pastry brush to spread the additional 1 /4 cup of melted butter on top of the pancakes while the other side is cooking. This will keep you from having to spread cold butter on them, which will tear them. The pancakes will already be buttered once they reach the table. Serve with real maple syrup.

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