Sunday, January 27, 2008

Do You Waffle, Pancake or Popover?

There was a wonderful tradition in our house when I was growing up. Every Sunday morning my father would get up early so he could fiddle around in the kitchen, preparing one of three favorite family breakfasts---Waffles, Pancakes or Popovers. To make sure we got up in time for Church, the smell of cinnamon and maple syrup would wake us, and we’d happily trudge down to the dining room to see which of our three favorite meals he’d prepared. Not only that, but we’d also have to guess what secret ingredient he’d added that week.

For you see, my father didn’t rest on his laurels when it came to making the perfect pancake or award-winning waffle. He was constantly trying to improve on the recipes Aunt Jemima and Bisquick had already established. Adding a few drops of fresh orange juice or a tablespoon of wheat germ was common, but he also experimented with other spices, fruits, and flavorings. Sometimes he even ventured into the confectionery world, with surprise additions of chocolate chips, M & Ms or peanut butter. But mostly, he stuck with the basics, preferring to experiment with the mixture itself, rather than trying to overpower it with a lot of bells and whistles. (Or in my case, chocolate and peanut butter.)

The one experiment that truly went wrong was when he somehow found a recipe for Sauerkraut pancakes, a combination I still don’t understand to this day. But apparently if you added a small amount of Sauerkraut to the recipe, it gave the pancakes a moister flavor, or some such nonsense. (What can I say? It was the late sixties. Someone was probably on an acid trip when they came up with the formula.) Anyway, nowhere in the recipe did it say you had to chop up the Sauerkraut into tiny pieces before putting it into the mix. So my father, always diligent when it came to following recipes, threw whole pieces of Sauerkraut into the bowl. This created quite a mess when the batter was then poured onto the skillet. Needless to say, the pancakes ended up looking like small baseball mounds, with weeds poking out from all directions. Even when we drowned the pancakes in maple syrup, it didn’t help the taste. Or the weird texture. After that, my father was a little less daring when it came to tampering with the family classics.

The long-standing staple of Sunday mornings had to be the pancake. We had pancakes on a fairly regular basis; certainly more often than both waffles and popovers combined. Probably because it was the easiest to prepare, and was a virtual winner every time.

In our family, we liked our pancakes of the thinner variety. Not necessarily silver dollar size, but definitely silver dollar consistency. I was never a fan of the thick heavy pancake you find at most IHOPs and Denny’s. They are weighted down with so much dough and filler, you can’t even get through one, let alone a stack of three. But with my father’s light and airy pancakes, I was able to eat eight to twelve, an astonishing feat for someone so young. Slathered with butter and dripping with syrup, these tempting little treats always started the day off on the right foot. (Though halfway through the church service we attended afterwards, I would begin to feel the after-effects and often doze off during Communion.)

Waffles were also a favorite in our household. But for some reason, they’d often make the transition from breakfast to dinner. And more often than not, we would eat Waffles at night rather than on a Sunday morning. I’m not sure why this was exactly. Maybe because the waffle iron took so long to heat up and go through its cycle, it somehow elevated the meal to a more important status. Whereas pancakes could be turned out pretty fast, there was nothing to quicken the pace of our old waffle iron. One waffle every five minutes was about all it could handle, which meant most of the waffles were put in the oven to warm until the entire process was completed. This meant that some of the first waffles would be a little crispier than the final waffle off the iron. Still, the little pockets and holes were perfect for filling with butter and syrup, and gave me my first basic lesson in how to compartmentalize.

The final Sunday morning treat, and certainly my favorite, was the Popover. An English tradition that my father somehow incorporated into our heritage as well, the popover was a magical creation that took the longest to make, but was definitely the most fun to eat. With its soft airy interior and crispy outside, it was the perfect vessel for honey or jelly or anything sweet. I loved to break them open and watch the steam rise, as the doughy interior screamed to be covered in butter. (Or Country Crock, or whatever was in the plastic tub in the center of the table.)

The popover had to go through a two-step process in the oven, which was so critical to its success, my family practically didn’t speak until the batter successfully made it through the popping process. Sometimes we’d even monitor the progress through the oven window, just to make sure all the little cups of batter were rising properly.

But no matter which of the three Sunday morning treats we had, it was always the best meal of the week. Even if it meant we’d have to go to Church afterwards. (Which of course, as a child, I really hated…BORING!) Which makes me wonder if my father’s motivation for creating these amazing Sunday morning concoctions had less to do with making something delicious, and more to do with making sure we got to Church on time. Either way, I will always associate Sunday mornings with my father’s creative cooking, as I continue to carry on his tradition to this very day.

But that’s just me. What’s your favorite Sunday morning meal?

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