Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Pancake Supper (and an Appreciation of Judith Jones)
I occasionally run across a food blogger's post that opens with an ecstatic exclamation like: "Breakfast for dinner! What could be better?", followed by a description of an evening meal of french toast or waffles swathed in syrup and whipped cream which, to the writer, is apparently a culinary dream come true. Me, my reply to the "What could be better than breakfast for dinner?" query is: Dinner for dinner would be better, thanks. Frankly, I often prefer dinner--or at least lunch--at breakfast But that doesn't mean I don't like pancakes....
I recently read Judith Jones's charming memoir of her eating life, The Tenth Muse. Jones herself is a more than capable writer, and a pretty good cook, it sounds like, but her life's work has been most notable for the role she played in publishing the work of some pretty remarkable cooks and authors. I knew that Jones was the visionary editor who took on Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and while Julia Child is a pretty tough act to follow, Jones assembled a more than respectable stable of other authors through her long career at Alfred A. Knopf: Claudia Rhoden, Irene Kuo, Marcella Hazen, Lidia Bastianich, Madhur Jaffrey, Edna Lewis. She also edited Anna Thomas's The Vegetarian Epicure, which I believe was the first cookbook I ever owned. And those are just the highlights from her cookbook editing. Her literary authors include some rather distinguished names, as well, John Updike and Anne Tyler among them.
It occurred to me as I looked over that list of authors that my life truly wouldn't have been the same without them. While I've certainly availed myself of Child's expertise many times in the past, more important in my cooking, and ultimately, food writing life, were books like The Vegetarian Epicure, and Kuo's The Key to Chinese Cooking, which really sparked my interest in Chinese food. Another Jones author was Roy Andries de Groot, whose book The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth provided one of the first examples I encountered of the literary married to the culinary. I still vividly recall its splendid descriptions of meals prepared from the local products of farms and forests in the Savoy region of France. This was local, seasonal cooking at its finest, exalted in a book published decades before the term "locavore" reared its awkward head.
And yet, it wasn't because of her association with all those food world luminaries that I picked up Jones's book in the first place. Rather, it was her own writing, specifically several articles in Saveur magazine, that caught my interest. Writing from a farm in Vermont, she showed such a wonderful appreciation of the northern palate, extolling the beauty of humble ingredients like sorrel and gooseberries, fiddleheads, and even milkweed. I sensed a kindred spirit.
Which brings us back to the pancakes. When I finished the narrative portion of The Tenth Muse, I was delighted to find a section of recipes. I'm not sure how I missed them in my general perusal of the book, but my obliviousness did result in a lovely surprise. Just a bit under 80 pages long, the recipes section draws from her family's past, her travels, life on that Vermont farm, Bryn Teg, and elsewhere. One of those Vermont recipes, sorrel and leek pancakes, caught my eye at exactly the right moment--the sorrel was just up, and a few last leeks still remained in the cellar.
There are loads of other recipes in the book I want to try--and I'm not a big recipe fan, not at all. But these dishes have an elemental appeal, steering well clear of any trendiness or affectation--spaghetti and cheese; butternut squash in cream and cinnamon; gooseberry sauce for grilled trout; duck giblet salad. This is the sort of intimate, personal collection of recipes that I think you can trust; she's not trotting out any old thing just to fill out a cookbook and make it look like more value for the dollar. Give me quality over quantity any day.
And when it comes to a pancake supper, I'll take savory over sweet. I made the cakes a bit more substantial, main course fare, by adding a cup of leftover rice-wild rice pilaf. With a bit of home-smoked bacon and a sunnyside-up egg, some good sourdough toast and a salad of wild watercress tossed with Hay River pumpkin seed oil and coarse salt, they made a swell, simple supper.
Sorrel Leek Pancakes (after Judith Jones)
1 medium leek, chopped--white and light green part, about 1 cup
1 cup lightly packed sorrel leaves, chopped
1 cup cooked wild rice, rice, or a combination
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup flour
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sauté the leek in the butter over medium heat until it is wilted and soft but not browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the sorrel and remove from heat.
Whisk together the eggs and flour with a couple good pinches of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Add the vegetables and rice and mix well.
Lightly oil a large heavy skillet and heat it over medium-high. Add the pancake batter in heaping tablespoons. Cook until well browned on each side, about 3 minutes per side.
Text and photos copyright 2012 by Brett Laidlaw