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Robert St. John

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

Pancakes and Passings

March 5, 2007

Pancakes and Passings

I buried my grandmother today. She was the only one I had left.

I was fortunate to have spent all of my childhood and a good part of my early adult years with both grandmothers, each playing a crucial role in my upbringing. My paternal grandmother passed away 17 years ago, my grandfather 25 years ago, my maternal grandmother, last week. She was 97-years old.

In their respective families, grandparents are usually known for a few specific deeds or character traits among their grandchildren. My grandfather was an avid outdoorsman, sportsman, and history buff. My paternal grandmother was a gracious Southern lady with impeccable manners and a knack for entertaining. The lady we buried today was full of spunk, devoted to her family, an excellent bridge and solitaire player, and the creator of the best pancakes on the planet.

Some cooks are more comfortable cooking specific items such as seafood; others excel at on a certain piece of equipment— a barbeque grill or cast iron skillet. Some cooks pride themselves on elaborate dinners; some are more comfortable with small, intimate lunches. For my grandmother, breakfast was her domain; the early morning kitchen was her kingdom, we were her subjects, a spatula was her scepter, and pancakes were the currency.

When dining at my grandmother’s home, no breakfast was complete without her pancakes. The supporting cast of breakfast items might change with each meal— sausage one morning, bacon the next, grits, or no grits— but there were always pancakes.

I am not sure what made her pancake recipe so much better than others, but it is better, much better. It might have been the amount of baking soda, or it could have been the baking powder, possibly a combination of the two with the addition of buttermilk. Most pancakes are dull, flavorless and too bread-like. Not hers. I am fortunate to have grown up in a home where out-of-the-box pancakes of the just-add-water variety were never served.

Whenever the family traveled she packed her pancake mix into Zip-Loc baggies and prepared them on site wherever we might be. Her pancakes were the constant in an ever-changing family structure.

I would bet three paychecks that my grandmother cooked more pancakes than any other homemaker of her era. A few years ago, as I was thinking back on so many shared breakfasts, it occurred to me that no one had ever cooked pancakes for my grandmother. All of my life, every time pancakes were served when she was around, it was she that did the cooking. At the time, she was living in an assisted living home. I invited her to my house for pancakes. This time I did the cooking. We sat with my wife and daughter and enjoyed one of the more memorable breakfasts I will ever have.

Today, my wife makes the pancakes in our family. She uses my grandmother’s recipe.

There are many options for those who want to leave a legacy to their family. It seems that food, or a particular food item, is a legacy of the utmost significance. Like money, it can be passed down to future generations, but unlike cash, the opportunities for creating lasting memories, are limitless. Sharing a meal with one’s family makes life richer. My grandmother made life richer for us all.

Muz’s Pancakes – The World’s Best

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. Mix together the liquid ingredients— including 1 /4 cup of butter— and gently add to the dry ingredients, stirring until just incorporated. Do not overwork the batter.

Note: The batter is thick, it can be thinned with a small amount of water, milk, or a little more buttermilk if you prefer.

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. Top with real maple syrup.

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