Friends from Calgary came to visit, and this morning, with a houseful of hungry kids and grownups, Tasha stood at the stove and made loads of thin pancakes. Although she’s really a great cook, she says these and spätzle are the only things she can make well. This is not true of course – but it is nice to have a few things in your repertoire that you feel completely comfortable cooking. Especially when they are deliciously crisp-edged thin pancakes that your grandmother taught you how to make.
Tasha’s grandmother made these pancakes on her farm in Saskatchewan – it was one of those staples she could always make because they had chickens, and thus eggs. They lived close to the train, and so during the depression she would feed hungry men looking for work, stretching flour, milk and eggs to feed as many as needed to eat. Tasha used pale green-blue eggs one of the girls plucked straight from the chicken coop at a farm near Coombs, on the other side of the island.
Usually in Tofino I make crepes or pancakes, and these are somewhere between the two: rather than attempt the pour/tilt method of coating the pan quickly with thin batter, Tash spoons the ever so slightly thicker than crepe batter into a hot oiled pan using a spoon from the cutlery drawer, then uses it to spread the batter around the pan into a thin pancake shape. The other advantage to this method, she says, is that you can easily make the pancakes in rudimentary shapes – hearts, for example, if you have little girls at the table.
These must be our new Tofino pancakes. I love knowing how many hundreds Tasha’s grandma cranked out for her neighbours, friends and grandkids, and now have the memory of Tash herself standing at the stove, kids sitting around the table and grownups milling about, someone grabbing each pancake as it came out of the skillet, and she following her grandma’s rule that the cook not eat until she cook the last pancake. That one’s hers.
They have just slightly more substance than our usual floopy crepes – they’re eggy but not rubbery, and somehow more appealing than plain old puffy stack-style pancakes. They spread theirs with sour cream and brown sugar or butter and maple syrup and roll them up, then slice them into bite-sized pieces.
We spread some with butter and sprinkled them with brown sugar. Others we drizzled with maple syrup and wrapped around a slice of bacon. Then I got the bright idea to sauté some apple slices in a bit of butter and brown sugar, and we topped those with maple syrup. A good start to a day that mostly involved rainy beaches.
I hate to say this is one of those recipes Tasha and her grandma make by feel – but that’s another thing I love about them – there’s no written down formula that must be followed. I often think that recipes are detrimental, suggesting that the cook must follow orders to the letter or risk failure. This is not how to learn how to cook. There are so many variables, between cook, kitchen and ingredients – one experiment years ago had 20 professional food writers make the same cake, following the same recipe, and they all came out slightly different. Although I’m a bit of a recipe fanatic myself, I love when food like this comes along that you learn to make by watching your friend, and listening to her talk about her grandma teaching her in the same way. I love this. I think we should all teach one of our recipes we know by heart and feel utterly confident about cooking to someone else. Kids are always great subjects, but even experienced cooks are always learning. In fact, sometimes its those cooks who get stuck in ruts of making the same recipes over and over who need to be jarred out of their comfort zone. And so much of the appeal of any given food is its history and emotional connection. Am I reading too much into a pancake? Maybe. Maybe not.
To make these, try 1 cup of all-purpose flour, 1 cup of milk and 2 eggs, whisked until smooth. (Tasha, are you reading this? Does that sound about right?) You want a batter slightly thicker than crepe batter (which is about the consistency of heavy cream), but a little thinner than regular pancake batter. It won’t be runny enough to swirl and coat the pan – you’ll need the back of a spoon to spread it around. Pour some oil into the pan between each pancake – this makes them wonderfully golden and crispy-edged. Once the surface of the pancake goes from shiny and wet to dry, it’s ready to flip over. (You won’t get the bubbles on the surface that you do from a baking powder-leavened pancake.) Best served to a room full of people, doling out a pancake at a time as it’s finished, with butter and syrup and jam and brown sugar on the table for all to spread and roll their own.