He Won’t Have a Pancake This Year by Robynn
Yesterday my sixteen-year-old daughter was trying to teach me how to upload the pictures on my phone to the cloud. It’s a frightening prospect, one I’ve resisted, for several months now. I don’t want anything happening to those pictures. What if they never make it to the cloud? What if there’s a sudden downpour and they’re lost, washed away, forever?
As she was showing me the new cataloging potential Google has kindly (and freakily!) put in place to organize all my pictures, I happened to see pictures of last year’s pancakes. And before I could reason with myself, before I could dispel the rising grief with an attempt at humour, before I could distract myself with a sip of tea, before I knew it, I was in tears.
Every year, since the kids were tiny, on the first day of school, I make pancakes.
These aren’t any ordinary pancakes. The recipe is my dad’s old recipe that he perfected at Utopia House on the backside of Murree Hills in far away Pakistan. Dad would measure and mix cautiously the ingredients into a coloured Tupperware bowl. He’d raise the wick slightly in the kerosene stove, wait the appropriate time and then gently light it while holding his breath and praying for success. Once the flame was burning blue and clear, the ancient cast iron griddle inherited from Auntie Sadie Philbrick (or was it Auntie Helen Gamble?) would be wiped off and placed on top of the enamel stove. When the griddle was hot the batter was portioned out…sizzling pancake batter would slowly rise up and bubble before dad would turn the hotcakes. There was always homemade syrup and Nurpur butter. Usually there were fresh peaches or apricots cut up. Often there would be freshly made black raspberry jam. Occasionally dad would make a shape with the batter. He’d cover the design with more pancake and our round cakes would be embossed with faces, or animals or figurines.
Those were the pancakes I wanted my children to grow up on. Those pancakes became a part of their childhood, as they’d been a part of mine.
On the first day of school I always wake up a little earlier. Using dad’s recipe I carefully blend the dry ingredients before adding the milk and the eggs, the oil and the vanilla. I pour out the pancake batter on the modern electric griddle, shaping for them the number representing the grade they are about to start. When Connor was starting grade six his pancake was a “6”; Adelaide had a “4” that year; and Bronzi a “1”. It’s what we’ve always done.
I saw last year’s pancake photos and I started to cry. Connor won’t have a pancake this year. He just graduated from high school and he starts at University in the Fall. He won’t be here on the morning I make Adelaide an “11” and Bronzi an “8”. I walked into the kitchen and there he was. “You okay mom?” he asked. “You won’t have a pancake this year,” the tears started up again. With a crooked and caring smile he came over and hugged me. He let me cry a little.
Grief bubbles up in odd places—I didn’t quite expect it to rise up to the cloud in a picture of a pancake. I really had no idea letting Connor go would be so hard. I’m afraid no amount of syrup is going to sweeten his departure.
Dad’s Original Pakistan Pancake Recipe
(He’s since changed it to include whole wheat flour and flax seed and more baking powder and who knows what all! ….but this is the original…this is the one I’m keeping near the griddle!)
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
2 cups milk
2 eggs beaten
1/3 cup oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix dry ingredients together. Mix wet ingredients separately. Gently add wet to the dry and stir carefully. Avoid over mixing. Ladle batter onto a hot griddle. Make shapes! When pancakes begin to bubble flip them. Serve hot with ice cream and sliced fruit, or maple syrup, or fruit syrup, or peanut butter or cheez whiz or nutella!