Saturday, February 28, 2009

Comfort Food


I took eggs and milk out of the refrigerator, found the can of baking powder, measured out flour and powdered sugar. Mixing the ingredients in a bowl, adding enough milk and then water to make a thin batter, I could have been six instead of sixty, helping my mother make French pancakes in the old kitchen on Silver Street.

Mama was not a rise-and-shine person like my father. It took a cup of scalding coffee and a quiet half hour by herself in the kitchen before she was functional. It was the smell of that coffee, perking in the little metal coffeepot on the front burner that opened my eyes in the morning and drew me down the stairs. When she saw me standing in the kitchen doorway, my toes curling inside my slippers, my bathrobe buttoned wrong (I am not a morning person either), Mama would smile and set down her cup and give me a hug. Then she would ask me what I wanted for breakfast. If we hadn’t already had them three days in a row, I would tell her, “French pancakes, please.”

I learned to crack eggs making French pancakes. I was allowed to pour the milk from the bottle into the measuring cup, to make a well in the dry ingredients, to mix the batter with a big spoon. “Not too much,” Mama would caution. “The lumps will take care of themselves.”

Mama would light the burner on the gas stove and set the crepe pan, a round, shallow-sided, long-handled fry pan, on to heat. Then she would drop in a small dab of butter and when it melted into a yellowy puddle, she would tip the pan back and forth until the bottom was coated.

I climbed on a chair and helped her ladle a spoonful of batter into the browning butter. With deft movements, Mama made sure the batter ran right up to the sides of the pan. I stood and watched for tiny bubbles to cover the upper side of the pancake and when I called out that it was ready, Mama came with the spatula, worked its blade under a curling edge of the cake and flipped it over with a sizzling splat. The top side of the pancake was now a delightful golden brown and steam eddied in little curls from the edges of the pan. The first pancake was flipped onto a damp towel spread on a plate, covered over, and placed in the warm oven. As each successive pancake was cooked, it was stacked under the towel until the batter bowl was scraped clean.

The smell of them cooking, and my frequent yelps of, “Okay! It’s ready!” roused my brother and sisters out of their beds. They tumbled sleepy-eyed and hungry into the kitchen. French pancakes were their favorite, too, and we all ate happily, forking the thin, perfectly browned morsels of syrup-soaked cakes into our mouths. Some mornings we had bacon alongside, other times we spread the thin cakes with applesauce or jelly and rolled them up before eating them. Mama often filled hers with cottage cheese and fruit but I liked them best stacked, a little pat of butter melting into the top cake, and streams of amber syrup puddling on the plate.

I still do. This morning, by myself in the tiny kitchen of my cottage, I made a small hill of the dry ingredients, pressed a well in the top with the back of my spoon, poured in the water and milk and beaten eggs, stirred just enough to make a thin batter (“The lumps will take care of themselves,” said a voice in my head), and watched as a dollop of batter spread in the hot pan.

I don’t need to stand on a chair anymore, but I watched the cake as tiny bubbles began to cover its surface. Beside me, in a bathrobe buttoned wrong, stood the image of my child-self. “Okay! It’s ready!” I heard her cry and I took the spatula, and with a deftness that would have made Mama proud, flipped the pancake, letting its other side brown to perfection.

10 comments:

focusfinder said...

You write screenplays, Pauline.

introspection said...

beautiful post. i m glad i visited. Dont our children grow up just like we did.....!

budh.aaah said...

A touching post and scary..we gain some but we loose some..

Roberta S said...

I'm drooling everywhere. I love crepes, pancakes, waffles, etc. But there is a rule when grandchildren come to visit -- two pancakes without syrup or jam -- only butter and then they can roll in the syrup if they want to. Big whine first time around. But when they found how good a buttery pancake can be without syrup they voluntarily eat them that way at home now as well. Only one still whining here is Hub cause he wants syrup on his pancake, egg, bacon, sausages...
I enjoyed this little story. I love your poetry, Pauline, but I also totally enjoy your real life prose...with or without syrup. :)

Sky said...

remembering childhood is close to my heart right now. my mother died 10 days ago, and i am flooded with memories as i navigate this difficult journey ahead of me.

Pauline said...

I hadn't thought of it that way, B but always try to describe something as though I was watching it happen. I guess it works.

intro- thanks for stopping by and yes, my own kids loved these very same pancakes.

budh- scary? How?

thank you Roberta - come for crepes anytime :) Tell Hub there's sausage and/or bacon and eggs for him, too.

Sky - I am so sorry to hear of your loss. My own mother has been gone for 26 years yet I clearly recall the awful emptiness I felt for a long time after she died. It does get better - keep that hope in mind as you go through your own grief.

Rebekah said...

One of the GREAT pleasures of the blog world is finding new people - and I usually do that by bouncing to the commenter's sites from my blog friend's sites. Today, I found you through Corey Amaro at Tongue in Cheek. I'm just coming back into blogging, and discovering fabulous new places to visit. Your description is precious here, and I love your other blog as well, especially reading about some of your experiences at your (ahem) age, which I can oh-so-well relate to. Nice to make your acquaintance!

Barbara said...

I can almost taste those wonderful pancakes. One of my finest memories of my grandmother in Minnesota was helping her make silver dollar size pancakes early in the morning before my parents were even out of bed. They were the best!

firebird said...

Yum! Brings back memories...I think I'll try making crepes again when I become a hermit. Then I'll actually have a stove and sink all to myself--

meggie said...

I love this post. Takes me right back to my grandmother making pancakes as we called them, for us for breakfast. How we loved them, rolled with a little butter lemon juice & sugar. Later my own children loved them too, & now the grandchildren. They never go out of style!