Ever since I can remember I was a pancakes girl.
I'm thinking of a picture circa 1996. I'm standing on a stool next to the oven, just tall enough to see over the stove with the extra ten inches propping me up. I'm wearing an oversized t-shirt that appears to have functioned as a nightgown, freckles sprinkled over my nose and cheeks, and a smile of missing teeth that takes up the bottom half of my face. I hold out a black, plastic spatula in my right hand like it is the trophy of the kindergarten soccer league. On my left is my Grandma—Grandma Carolyn—who had just taught me the art of flipping pancakes. Not when the bubbles form, but when they start to pop, it's time to flip.
When my cousins, siblings, and I came to visit Grandma, I came to expect pancakes as much as I could expect her tears as we pulled out of the driveway on the last day of our trip. It wasn't the fluffiness of the pancakes or the sweetness of Aunt Jemima's syrup, but the way that the pancakes would gradually and groggily draw all generations—the cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents—into the kitchen. It was the way that Grandpa, with his signature, perfect, smell, would come around and kiss all the grandchildren on the forehead, gingerly rubbing our heads, and telling us how much he loves us, as we stuffed pancakes into our little mouths. And most of all, it was getting to talk and laugh with Grandma in the still of the morning, before everyone had congregated in the kitchen, as we whisked and stirred, poured and flipped, and as she scraped down every. last. drop. of pancake batter. Grandma's secrets to making—and flipping—perfectly golden pancakes started on 6th street, but the tradition didn't stop there.
While we usually only visited Grandma and Grandpa's at Christmas and in the summer, pancakes were far from an anomaly growing up. More often than not, I was awakened on Saturday or Sunday mornings by the familiar smell of pancakes cooking and the clicking of the griddle, amidst a full but quiet house. In my plaid boxers and soccer t-shirt, I would creep down the stairs to the kitchen, so as not to wake any of my siblings, and maybe even surprise Mom. As I rounded the corner to the kitchen, there she was, in all her morning glory. Despite the creaking of the stairs in our old home, Mom always turned around with that signature smile, "There she is!" she exclaimed, as if she had been waiting all night to see me. Sometimes she was still in her PJs, makeup-less and just as beautiful; other times her hair was hidden under her baseball cap, shorts and tennis shoes on, having already finished a killer workout; and still other times she was already dressed and ready for the day—probably already having worked out and showered at that. Quietly manning the griddle, spatula in hand, she seamlessly whipped up pancakes, and a spread of fruit, bacon, and—if we were lucky—pumpkin bread to boot (Dad made his special cream cheese scrambled eggs). Mom trusted that the smell of pancakes and bacon wafting through the house would be enough to gently stir us from our slumber—and it always was.
Crowded around the kitchen island in our pajamas, with special blankets and pillows in tow, "dog breath," as Dad called it, and bedhead abounding, all clamoring for more pancakes, remain some of my fondest childhood memories. As the pancake batter dwindled, Mom would sing a familiar tune, "Would you liiiike, a silver dollar pancake?" while she poured little batter circles onto the griddle.
Whether it was Aunt Jemima, Hungry Jack, or from-scratch buttermilk pancakes (a treat!), Mom always added her special ingredients—and I'm not just talking about love. A splash of orange juice (sound familiar?) and a bit of vanilla extract packed that extra flavor, Mom insisted. Between her signature ingredients and Grandma's flipping techniques, we were golden.
One day a year, we kids tried to turn the tables on Mom. I can't say we were as subtle (read: pots and pans clanging and loud Irish whispers), but we tried to beat Mom to the brunch—I mean punch—with breakfast in bed. Rarely did we wake up early enough to actually get it to her while she was still in bed, but year after year, Mom at least looked surprised to walk into the kitchen to find the kids already making a pancake breakfast.
These days, when I get the privilege of traveling to that small town in Kansas or travel home to the Mitten, I can expect at least one morning of griddle smells and giddy smiles to add to my pancake memory bank. Whether it's in our blood or the batter, I hope pancakes create the same connection and conversation for my children as Grandma, Mom, and pancakes did for me.
Happy Birthday, Mama! Happy Mother's Day to Mom, Grandma, and all the moms out there! Whether you get a pancake breakfast this weekend or not, I hope you know how much you mean to us, your children. We love you!
From-Scratch Buttermilk Pancakes (with the Mama T touch)
Adapted from Kemps Buttermilk
2 cups flour
2 Tbsp. white sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups buttermilk
1/3 cup milk
2 Tbsp. butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp. vanilla extract
splash of orange juice
1. Heat a griddle to about 350º or a pan to medium high heat.
2. In large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In separate bowl, beat together buttermilk, milk, eggs, butter, vanilla extract, and orange juice.
3. Pour wet mixture into dry mixture, stirring until just blended. Do not over mix!
4. Pour or scoop batter onto griddle, using about 1/3 cup for each pancake. Feel free to sprinkle chocolate chips or other toppings into batter!
5. When pancakes bubble, wait for the bubbles to start to pop, and then flip! Let cook through other side, remove from griddle, serve hot, with syrup, peanut butter, or toasted coconut flakes. Enjoy!
The dish-ware used in this post is part of the Kate Spade New York Charlotte Street collection, which we registered for for our wedding. Our collection + other dishes in the collection are linked below