Sunday, April 24, 2011


When I lived in South Africa a pancake was very wide and very thin and would be rolled up with sugar and cinnamon, and eaten with a sprinkling of fresh lemon juice. It was a crepe, but we did not speak French.

I only liked my mother's pancakes. All others were fatter and more leathery, though they aimed for the same ideal. My mother stirred hers in the bowl with a wooden spoon, the batter in the middle, of egg and milk, being whisked around so that imperceptible quantities of soft flour were swept up from the surrounding crater into the smooth liquid. She never, ever, pulled the flour into the middle in a fit and beat it all together. It took forever. Then it rested in the fridge. Then she cooked them in the green-enamelled iron pan. After that they were dusted and rolled and put into the oven in a pyrex dish covered in foil to heat through. Coming out, they were hot and supple and the sugar and lemon juice had made delicate syrup that mingled with the veins of brown cinnamon that ran their lengths.

Long ago, my mother cooked us a stack of buckwheat pancakes, American style,  for breakfast in Plettenberg Bay, the town where we holidayed, year in, year out. At least my father and my brothers and I holidayed. My mother made breakfast and packed lunch to take to the beach in cool bags, and then came home after sitting on the beach she detested, unpacked the coolbags and cooked dinner. It was the one year when we rented a house away from the beach, on a road that branched down from the main street. She doesn't remember this, but I do. Sitting at that kitchen table, the stack made an impression, and so did the exotic maple syrup that we poured over its top to run like amber waterfalls down its warm, pleated sides.

After years of living in the United Sates, I reluctantly abandoned my thin pancake  ideal and admitted that here, a pancake is what in South Africa may have been a large crumpet. In short, leavened; that which rises up, though slightly. And a pancake could contain Things, like fruit.

So when Vincent returned from Quebec recently bearing two cans of Canadian maple syrup there was only one thing to do.  I found a recipe for wholewheat pancakes online, which included whipped egg whites for lift, and into these I sliced bananas.

My second impression of my mother-in-law, Germaine, after the warm hug at her front door in Beloeil, as we walked in from the December snow outside, was of sitting at her kitchen table and being fed pancakes, the thin ones, this time, one by one, hot from the pan, with maple syrup poured over them. I think I ate four or five, or more, until I realized that everyone else was yawning politely and remaining awake in the glow of my pancake ecstasy. Perhaps she was metaphorically buttering my feet, as one does with cat, to distract it from change and keep it from wandering.

Thank you for the syrup, Germaine...


  1. "down its warm, pleated sides" Hmm, something about that feels good.

    Betsy wants to make pancakes for easter breakfast. I wouldn't know if pancakes are a holiday food, although she makes good pancakes and crepes, and I have never made either, but enjoy both.

    Happy Easter!

  2. You should have seen the utter decadence this time: maple syrup AND Nutella... ;-)

  3. Mother made pancakes with brown sugar syrup (brown sugar, butter and water boiled to thicken) on Sunday nights. This brings back the memory. thanks.

  4. I'm from the States, but I'm partial to the crepe (foreign pancake!). I make them similar to your mom, minus the whole crazy flower on the side process. I am not patient enough for that! Its hard enough having to let it set in the fridge.

    I think I'll be making crepes for the royal wedding am!


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