I’m passing the baton today to a guest blogger - Gwen Southgate – a friend of mine who has written Coin Street Chronicles - the poignant tale of her childhood in England during World War II. It’s a story that evokes with heartbreaking and beautiful honesty as well as humor, the poverty and deprivation she and her family endured during World War II. Like so many other children whose families wanted to shield their children from the horrors of bombings in London, Gwen and her brothers eventually were sent to live in England’s countryside for the duration of the war.
Weekly rationing meant that an already poor family had to get by with even less as the war raged on, but in her captivating book Gwen writes about one special treat her mother made that to this day conjures memories of comfort and love – her mother’s pancakes. In her guest blog piece below, Gwen recounts her tale and the recipe for you.
This well-written, self-published book deserves a much wider audience. I hope this short piece below by Gwen will inspire you to read the entire book, which is available from Barnes and Noble and from Amazon.com, in either traditional book form or as an e-reader. And if your local bookstore doesn’t stock it, ask them to order it for you along with a few extra copies for other readers!
If you’re on Facebook, you can also connect with Gwen on her Coin Street Chronicles Facebook page. I know she’d love to hear from you.
Read Coin Street Chronicles to learn more about history, about World War II, about a vanished neighborhood on London’s South Side, and about the masses of London children who were raised by strangers far from the city. Read it to learn, to laugh and to cry a little too. In the meantime, enjoy Gwen’s mother’s pancakes.
My Mother’s Pancakes
By Gwen Southgate
Not until I was writing Coin Street Chronicles did I realize how important my mother’s pancakes had become to my brother and me in 1943—at which point World War II was in its fourth, and perhaps bleakest, year.
Thin, golden-brown and crispy, with the sharp sour-sweet contrast of lemon juice and sugar with which they had been sprinkled, her pancakes had always been an exciting dish. Before the war they were a once-a-year treat, served only on Shrove Tuesday, the last day before Lent. (The only day of the church calendar, other than Christmas Day, to which our family paid attention, I fear). Every year on that special Tuesday we hurried home from school for our mid-day dinner, eager for the aroma of sizzling pancakes and freshly squeezed lemon juice that would greet us—in place of the usual Tuesday smell of Shepherd’s Pie and cabbage. (Cabbage being the only green vegetable available in the dreariness of February).
However, by 1943 the wartime weekly meat ration was so skimpy that the ratio of meat to carrots in Tuesday’s Shepherd’s Pie was vanishingly small, and for the rest of the week dinners were usually meatless. So pancakes had become a regular weekly part of our diet—to the delight of my brother and me, now ever-voraciously hungry teenagers. But those yummy pancakes filled more than our stomachs. They were also comfort food, an emotional fix for all of us. My mother enjoyed nothing more than piling on our plates the foods that she knew we loved. And my brother and I were somehow soothed by those golden-brown crispy pancakes; the pleasure they gave helped us deal with the stresses of air raids, evacuation, and a difficult stepfather. Not to mention the angst of adolescence.
I made several unsuccessful attempts to find a cookbook with a recipe that produced a crepe-like pancake resembling my mother’s version. (The most spectacular failure involved 4 eggs, and the result was amazingly unpancake-like—an absolutely scrumptious, sort of pan-fried egg custard!) I then fell back on memories of watching my mother whip up a pancake mix—and, after a bit of trial-and-error, the easy-to-remember recipe below emerged.
MY MOTHER’S PANCAKES
A cup of flour
A cup of milk
A couple of eggs
With a fork, whisk together the eggs and milk .
Put the flour in a large bowl, and make a ‘well’ in the middle.
Gradually pour the egg-milk mix into the well, stirring gently until all the flour is blended with the liquids.
Beat the mix for a minute or so, until there are a few small bubbles on the surface
Heat butter in a frying pan.
When hot, pour in just enough batter to make a thin pancake (about 1/4 cup for a 9-10 inch pan), Quickly tilt the pan to spread the batter evenly and cook quickly on both sides, until golden brown.
Squeeze lemon juice and sugar on the pancake before rolling it.
Then sprinkle more juice and sugar on the rolled pancake before serving.
Also good with blueberries and/or maple syrup
(Makes about 7 or 8 pancakes. And any left-over mix keeps well in the frig for a day or two.)
* My mother never owned any measuring cups, spoons or scales. A cup was, for her, whatever tea-cup was nearest to hand. Experiment in my own kitchen has shown that most tea-cups are, fortunately, very close to the 1 cup of a standard measuring cup.
Note from Ciao Chow Linda: This is my recipe for the blueberry sauce in the photo:
1/2 cup water
2 T. sugar
2 tsps. cornstarch
grated rind of 1/2 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 cups blueberries
Mix sugar and 1/4 cup of water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, letting the sugar dissolve. Take the other 1/4 cup of water and mix in a small cup with the cornstarch, until there are no lumps. Add to the pot and cook for a couple of minutes until thickened. It will become a little looser when you add the blueberries. Place the blueberries in the pot and cook a few minutes more, but not so long that the blueberries lose their shape. Add lemon juice and grated rind, cooking only for another minute. If still too thick, add a little more water.