The sun glistened through the sheer curtains, reflecting the light like a kaleidoscope around the guest bedroom which sat at the front of the house. The windows gave way to a second-floor balcony perched directly above an elevated garden, which was plush with an abundance of vibrant flowers and symphonies of birds shimmying their feathers in the sun warmed water of the bird bath. Oaks, willows, pines and crepe myrtles slouched under the weight of their leaf saturated branches, threatening to topple at any minute, but managed always to stand their ground. The golden morning light spun a halo around the North Texas countryside and my eyes followed the seemingly endless driveway bordering the right side of the lawn until it disappeared behind the botanical respite and stretched out of sight.
I could hear my brother and sister surfacing in the other rooms, and the faint chatter of my Aunt Donna and Uncle Terry downstairs in the kitchen. Their house was a dream. Pushed far away from the hum and patter of freeways and honking vehicles, it sat on several acres in the countryside, the closest neighbor 300 yards away. The crisp, clean air enveloped your skin and you effortlessly melted into the fabric of the bucolic pastures in the distant roads of Argyle. It was slow, simple, full of life and though hundreds of miles away from my bed, when I was there, it felt like home. I walked onto the balcony, breathing in the intermingling scent of hay and wet moss, the smoke tinged air of last night’s bonfire, hot manure and blooming flowers, and wafting up behind me, the irrefutable smell of breakfast.
The old hardwood floorboards wept and creaked beneath me as I made my way down the staircase, through the sitting room, and into the only modern thing about the house: the kitchen. Standing behind the marble topped island housing the stovetop, my Aunt Donna with her blonde bobbed hair and striking features was furiously whisking away at an enormous bowl of pancake batter. I took a glance around the kitchen, taking careful note of the countertops littered with broken egg shells, bottles of oil, various containers of flour and baking spices, and blueberries-tons of blueberries. My uncle Terry handed me a cup of coffee (which I wasn’t supposed to be drinking), and quipped “’mornin’ Bek” with the faintest of drawls tinging his annunciation. “Morning” I replied. I was the first to make it downstairs, and as such, took advantage of the few minutes of alone time with them, which I relished and valued above anything else. Before long, the rest of the family made their way downstairs, and the chatter multiplied as Donna got to work turning her batter into fluffy disks and her extra blueberries into homemade syrup.
She worked the stove top like and old pro. Measuring and mixing, pouring and heating, simmering and flipping-If she was in the slightest bit stressed you wouldn’t have known it. She engaged and laughed, and flipped and stirred, and stopped only to retie her apron. I watched intently as she poured the blueberry saturated batter onto the searing hot griddle, the liquid forming flat round disks as the shock of the cold batter on the heat emitted a satisfying crackle. The pancakes began to puff and bubble along their perimeter, and Donna kept a close eye on their progress, assessing the thickness of the batter before flipping and finishing them off and stacking them up, one atop the other until I was sure they’d topple onto the ground.
After she finished the last bits of batter we all gathered around the table in the breakfast nook and took our seats, the bay window behind us shedding beams of sunlight onto the pancakes and homemade syrup, magnifying the steam and specks of blue interspersed throughout the stacks until the light was absorbed by the kitchen floor. She told us to serve ourselves, and without hesitation we grabbed our forks and knives and went to work.
They were soft in the center, with the right amount of crunch on the outer edges, the syrup, not too sweet, was a perfect compliment to their warmth and delectable wholesomeness. Slowly the pile of pancakes began to dwindle, until nothing was left but haphazardly scattered morsels and dollops of syrup which we somehow didn’t manage to sop up. And then, just like that, breakfast was finished. As we all began to scatter from the breakfast nook, I surveyed the kitchen once more, taking note of the artifacts left over from the cooking process, moved by the fact that my aunt and uncle didn’t see the point in cleaning as they went, as it would’ve been a distraction from the process of feeding their guests.
As the years have gone on, I’ve had many encounters with exceptional pancakes, and underwhelming flops of sticky dough presented to me at questionable diners. Vague attempts to make pancakes from scratch as a dirt-poor college kid resulted in me trying to substitute the raw ingredients with pancake mixes and cardboard flavored vegetable oils and never ended well. And eventually I gave up until a few years ago, when I randomly ordered pancakes for brunch, and remembered how delicious they were when Donna fed them to me fresh from the griddle. I was transported back to the warm and sweet aromas of the sun kissed breakfast nook that pervaded in my memory, but had been obscured by time, lack of resources and failed attempts.
That Saturday morning brunch launched me into a pancake recipe campaign, for which I tried every variety of pancake one could concoct in their imagination. Savory, sweet, cheese, plain, fruit, nuts, candies, various syrups, grains and flavors…nothing was off limits. I wanted a recipe to call my own, one I could pass on to my friends and family and anyone who showed an interest. Over the past few years, I’ve worked and reworked recipes until I’ve found the perfect balance for my taste preference when it comes to pancakes. Funnily enough, I don’t typically crave sweet foods in the mornings. Given the option, I will almost always take savory breakfast over sweet, but from time to time I’m struck with a pang of nostalgia for the slow summer days of my Texas adolescence and calculated chaos of my aunt’s kitchen. Without fail the pangs inspire an overwhelming desire to replicate that sweet, leisurely morning. So I wake, up, make coffee, and do just that.
Buckwheat, Ricotta and Lemon Pancakes
- 1/2 cup Buckwheat Flour
- 1/2 cup All Purpose Flour (if you don't want gluten, you can use one cup of Buckwheat)
- 1.25 cups Ricotta Cheese
- 2 tbsp Lemon Zest
- 1.25 cups Fresh Blueberries
- 1.5 tsp Baking Powder
- 1/4 tsp Salt
- 3/4 cup Whole Milk
- 3 Eggs Separated
- Maple Syrup Optional
Turn on oven to 300F. Mix together flour, egg yolks, milk, lemon zest, salt and baking powder until combined.
Mix the ricotta and blueberries into the flour mixture, and carefully combine. You don't want the ricotta to be too smooth nor do you want to smash the blueberries. Mix until they're just integrated and you still see flecks of the ricotta.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, and then carefully fold them into the batter. Do not over mix it.
Heat a griddle or skillet over medium-high heat, and pour in just enough oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. I use coconut oil for my pancakes, but butter, vegetable oil, shortening-whatever you prefer is fine.
When skillet is hot, lower the heat to medium, and using a 1/4 cup measure, scoop the batter on the griddle or skillet two at a time, taking care not to crowd the pan. When the edges of the pancakes start to bubble and brown (about 2-3 minutes) carefully flip them over and cook for another minute. Do not press down on the flipped pancake with your spatula, just let them cook.
Remove the pancakes when they're done and keep them warm in the oven while repeating the process until the entire bowl of batter has been cooked.