Pancakes in Summer

August 27, 2010

August is a busy time in our household. Our kitchen goes into full production mode as we harvest, freeze and can the tons of garden produce that seem to ripen all at once.

Until last week, August was also presenting me with an empty week in my blog schedule. For some reason, I was simply at a loss for a story idea—that is, until my Aunt Judy called.

Judy is my grandmother Ruth’s daughter and she’s the preserver of an important family tradition. Judy is key to the potato pancake recipe.

Perfect timing! She gave me a yummy story topic and coincided it with our great harvest of potatoes.

“I learned this recipe from my mother,” says Judy. “And she probably learned it from her mother. We always had them on Good Friday and we never had meat with them. I loved them. I carried it on with my family.”

Perhaps my mother didn’t love these pancakes as much because, as a kid, I don’t remember her cooking them. So, naturally I’m coveting my aunt’s recipe. Except, guess what, like many family recipes, there’s no real recipe.

“We never had any specific measurements, nothing that was written down,” says Judy. “I just go by the potatoes and how they mix together.”

So, together over the phone—Judy calculating and estimating, and me writing things down—we came up with the following recipe. You can start practicing it now and by next Good Friday, you’ll be good to go.

Ruth Larson’s Potato Pancakes
6 medium potatoes
4 eggs
2-3 Tbsp. flour
1-2 teas. baking powder
Salt and pepper, to taste
Vegetable or olive oil

Grate potatoes. If grating with water in a blender, drain water. If grating in a food processor, allow natural potato juices to remain. Beat eggs and mix with potatoes. Sprinkle flour and baking powder over potato mixture, mix well to create a thick paste.

Heat griddle and oil until hot. Drop the batter into pan in 3-inch diameter pancakes, making sure dough is thin. When browned on one side, flip and flatten pancake with spatula. Brown the second side. Cook until brown and crispy.

grated potatoes

I called Judy to verify my potato volume and texture. I ended up with about six cups of potatoes grated to the size of rice kernels. She said that was good. (And just so you know, food photography is very stressful. The potatoes discolored as fast as I set them up for shooting!)

Be sure the griddle and oil are hot enough. Drop the batter in 3-inch diameter, thin cakes. I think I should have made these thinner, as some of them didn’t cook completely before browning.

Potato pancakes are commonly topped with syrup or applesauce, however Judy puts granulated sugar on hers. “That’s how we ate them as kids,” she says. “That’s how we liked them.”

And while Judy never ate meat with her pancakes as a child, she now serves ring bologna or kielbasa when cooking for her family. She also sometimes adds chopped onions or uses zucchini instead of potatoes.

Judy didn’t say anything about beer. But I’m remembering our German heritage. I’m remembering those beer-drinking, ball-swinging, picnicking Hornburg cousins and as my husband and I sit down to dinner, we raise a glass to Ruth.