For those of you who know me, you’ll be surprised to find me in Day Three of Four of my Thanksgiving Staycation, still in sweats, which is a rare delight. You see, my life does not really allow for these long breaks of staying home, padding around the house in slippers or sipping umpteen cups of tea while flipping through food magazines. I own a busy restaurant and catering business, I teach a weekly bible study, and I have a very full life on the personal side of things. I am married to my business partner whom I adore, we have two almost-grown boys who need our attention and a two-year-old golden retriever who needs the ball thrown. A lot. Also we have family and friends who like to see us on occasion. In all of this, down days are few and far between. We are usually working when others are not, like breakfast time, lunchtime, nights and weekends. That’s when people eat, take their lunch break, have weddings, dinners and cocktail parties.
So for me, when I am looking at a purposeful blank three or four days on the calendar (we turned down three catering jobs to get here, people) I am inclined to rent a stack of movies, throw on some new sweats, turn off the phone and get in the groove of slowing down. And that means weekend food. Cooking something big in the oven (we’re talkin’ turkey) and waking up to something seasonal for breakfast. And that, my friends, brings me to pancakes.
Pancakes are so comforting to me. The sight of a stack of pancakes dripping with melted butter and real maple syrup is enough to make me cry these days. In a good way. The smell of butter browning, the sound of sizzling batter as it hits the pan, the sweet, familiar taste of maple syrup and the satisfying bite of all of this goodness on a fork…there really is no substitute.
Pancakes are the ultimate in seasonal flexibility when it comes to flavors. Summers’ blueberries, bursting with that sweet tartness, bananas and toasted pecans for that classic hit of nostalgia, shredded apples and chopped walnuts when falls’ chill hits the air, and of course these babies. Pumpkin pancakes with those trusty spices of the holiday season – cloves, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon. What could be more inviting? Well, maybe a side of smoky applewood bacon, baked by Joe.
Pancakes were one of the first things I made for my family when I was a girl. I remember asking my mother to buy the Aunt Jemima mix for me in the red box. It had to be the red one. I’d eaten some pancakes made by my friend’s father after a sleepover and they were so good I wanted to make them at home. But my mother said that brand cost too much (she was a baker), and that we could make pancakes from scratch, from what we had at home. Well. I was so mad. I was determined to make those yummy pancakes, with or without the red box.
I scoured all of my mother’s recipe books, squinting at the ingredients, comparing their amounts, and settling on one version for “fluffy” classic pancakes. I made my plan and announced at dinner one Friday night that I would be making breakfast, and that no one had better eat anything until those pancakes were on the table. I woke up tired, having tossed and turned all night, anxiously awaiting dawn. I stumbled down the stairs and assembled my ingredients.
I sifted, stirred and folded, and then let the batter sit a few minutes like the recipe said to. I waited. I waited. I watched for those telltale bubbles to start forming on the surface of the batter as it sat in the bowl. Finally I was ready to get cracking, so I pulled out my mom’s electric frying pan (I was not allowed to use the stove) and turned it to 350 degrees, just like I’d seen my mom do countless times before. I yelled for the family to assemble at the table. I melted my butter pat in the pan, waiting for the foam to subside, like the recipe said to. I grabbed a small gravy server and started to pour the batter out four pancakes at a time. I watched for the edges to dry before I flipped them over, revealing their little brown bottoms, and waited. I peeked like I’d seen my mother do, with a spatula, just barely lifting the edge. I felt like an expert. I felt proud. I stacked the first four on a plate, just like I’d seen in countless cookbooks, and proudly carried them to the table with a flourish. My sister and my dad were grinning wildly, and immediately grabbed two each, slathered them with butter and doused them with syrup we’d gotten from the maple syrup guy (at St. Joseph’s Island….we grew up in Northern Ontario in Canada). Then the two of them devoured those pancakes, making contented noises, and held their plates out for more. I never felt a sense of accomplishment like that before. I did not need the red box. I did not need a brand name mix. I just needed my mother, and people to eat what I’d made, to tell me it was good. That I was good. I found out that pancakes can make people happy. I was ten.
2 cups flour
6 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon each ground ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups shaken buttermilk
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
3 large eggs, at room temperature
3 tablespoons melted butter, cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl. Mix wet ingredients together in a large glass measuring cup or glass bowl. Add the wet to the dry and stir until just mixed. Let stand 10 minutes. Stir again, and using a 1/4 cup measure, drop into buttered pan over medium heat. Cook over medium heat until edges dry out and bubbles start to form. Flip and cook until bottom is browned and pancakes is cooked through. Serve right away with butter and maple syrup, or if feeding a crowd keep in a warm oven and make the whole batch.
ps. I made these the next morning and I had to add a small amount of buttermilk to loosen the batter, but it did not affect the taste or the texture of the pancakes. So. You can make these the night before! Good news for if you’re the kind of person who is a planner. Or lazy. Like me. Nothing like rolling out of bed and simply cooking pancakes. No muss no fuss!
Also I think a nice addition would be some grated orange zest or chopped crystallized ginger in the butter. Just mix a little into some soft butter, pop into the fridge and slice the next morning. Yum!!!