The 1930‘s was a tough time for just about everyone in the United States and in most of the industrialized world. It was the decade of the Great Depression. People had lost their savings and jobs, and many families literally did not know if they would have food for their next meal. My parents families both lived on small farms, so at least they had food if little else.
The 1930’s was a particularly difficult time for my mother. Her mother was diagnosed with tuberculosis and admitted to a sanitarium at Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin when Mom was a teenager. Her two older sisters were no longer at home, so she was promoted to chief cook and housekeeper for her father, two older brothers, a younger brother and little sister.
Up at dawn to make breakfast for Grandpa, who was the foreman of a CCC crew, and for the older boys who headed out to their jobs as soon as the farm chores were done. Then there was breakfast to cook for the two younger ones and a sandwich to make for Uncle Bill before he left on his walk to school.
It was during that time that Mom probably learned to make her pancakes. They are simple and filling, good solid American farm food, pancakes that flop on your plate with a satisfying slap, not the wimpy whisper of a light fluffy pancake like the ones I enjoy making and eating today.
But a funny thing happened a few weeks ago. I started thinking fondly about Mom’s pancakes. Then I wanted to eat a couple to test the memory. The problem was that I never got the recipe from Mom. Actually, I don’t think that she ever had written down a recipe. She just put herself on automatic in the morning, and the next thing you knew, pancakes were piling up on a plate.
I watched her many times. Here is what she did. After starting the bacon in the big cast iron frying pan, she would put about three cups of flour in a bowl, add some salt, baking powder and sugar, mix in milk until she had a medium thick batter, stir in two or three eggs and beat in some bacon grease. Then she would add more milk and keep stirring until she had a thin batter.
By this time the bacon would be close to done. When it was, she would drain the extra grease from the frying pan into the aluminum bacon grease can and start frying pancakes. Man-sized pancakes about nine or ten inches in diameter but only an eighth of an inch thick.
They cooked quickly and pretty soon there were a dozen hot pancakes ready for the table. We ate them with butter or oleo and Karo syrup, bacon and fried eggs.
Lacking Mom’s guidance, I simply trusted my memory and came up with a winner. The one major change I made is to use vegetable oil rather than bacon grease. If I get the batter a little too thin, I end up with pancakes that are sort of “poor man’s crèpes” which are not quite right but taste fine anyway.
If it takes you more than five minutes to stir up a batch of these pancakes, it’s because you can’t find the salt or baking powder or are obsessing too much about having level measures of any ingredient. This recipe makes six pancakes about eight inches in diameter.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 T baking powder
1 T sugar
1 large egg
1 cup milk
1 T oil
Sift or mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Stir in about three-fourths cup of milk, the egg and oil. Add more milk and stir well until you have a thin batter.
Pour or ladle about a third of a cup of batter onto a hot frying pan and spread it to an eight-inch circle. Cook until bubbles start forming in the center of the cake and the edges are dry. Turn and brown it briefly on the other side.
Serve these pancakes with bacon or sausage, butter and syrup.
NOTES: These pancakes are pretty good cold too. Butter them, spread on some jelly or jam and roll them up for a nice midmorning snack.