Do you remember specific dishes from your very early childhood? Some that you outgrew but still make, a little changed up? I can still taste the German pancakes my mother used to make when I was about four; we usually had them for lunch in our nursery, my mother, my brother, and I. Sprinkled with plain sugar and with a side of home-made apple sauce or compote. My grandmother usually provided us with the latter. I loved those lunches. Until I found that sweet is so not me anymore.
Of course, I learned how to make pancakes by watching my mother. She never had to tell me the recipe. While I was sitting on the washer next to the stove, I was able to observe every single move she did when preparing a dish. Her pancakes asked for a cup of milk to one cup of flour, a pinch of salt, and two or three eggs. She baked them out in butter, and they had the structure of a French crêpe, only a little thicker.
Now, of course there are different recipes these days. Trust me, this the most basic and traditional one. Seltzer, as some people claim has to be in the dough, is a thing from an era when you started having Seltzer or soda as a household staple – way past the time when my mother grew up. As to baking powder – that could be a regional thing. At any rate, pancakes were never a German breakfast item. You had them for lunch, dinner, or dessert. Always one by one, never stacked.
Apparently, pancakes are one of the oldest and most widely spread dishes in the world, coming in the most different varieties and flavors. What is common to all of them – and no matter whether they are thick or thin, sweet or savory – is that they serve as the basis for toppings. Have you ever eaten injera, for example? The Ethiopian pancake with the texture of a sponge, is plate, cutlery, and bread in one. You rip off a piece, clamp it between two fingers and use it to grab some of the veggies or meats that it is either topped with or that are served on the side. I remember times when I topped my German pancake with apple sauce and rolled it up to have it as finger food. And you all probably know tacos, too.
Somehow, I over-ate on the sweet pancake dish as a kid. On any sweet main dish, as a matter of fact. By the time I was ten, I moaned when we had them, or plum-stuffed dumplings covered with browned butter and sugar, or steamed yeast dumplings with vanilla sauce. I enjoyed my first American pancakes very much at the age of 15 – this time thick, fluffy breakfast items – more because of the intriguing mixture of melting butter and (an absolutely new food experience!) real maple syrup they were topped with. Over-ate on them, too. And avoid them these days.
But I still make pancakes. Oh yes! Same recipe as my mother’s, poured into a hot buttered pan very thinly, then baked on both sides. But I sometimes add chives into the dough. Or other herbs. And I top them with savory items. Only recently and inspired by a Facebook friend who is a well-known chef in Germany, I made some and sprinkled cubed fried bacon, fried onions, and fried scallions on top. My, they were excellent! That good in fact, that my husband asked for another one. Which had me mend my ruined meal plan for the next day.
Because I had planned another specialty from the region I grew up and lived in for over 40 years – a Swabian Flaedlesuppe (pronounce flah-dlah-zoo-pah, meaning pancake strip soup). Basically, you make some meat broth with veggies, but instead of noodles, rice, croutons or other soup ingredients you add pancake strips. A fun way to use left-over pancakes. Wouldn’t work with any other kind of pancake that is fluffier, as it would dissolve into a mess. It has to be a Swabian-style pancake. With or without herbs. In case you have left-overs. I have a hunch that most likely you won’t.