Thursday, July 1, 2021

Better Pancakes Made from a Packaged Mix


It isn't officially summer until I make my first blueberry pancakes. It's a kind of ceremony where I pay homage to the nostalgic ritual of child-hood summer vacations of the1950s-1960s when my family and a zillion other Americans traveled the newly-built expressways and "turnpikes".

We departed from Indiana to Long Island, New York to visit the paternal side of the family. Oh, what excitement and fun! And all along the way Howard Johnson's were there to greet us with ice cream and breakfasts of blueberry pancakes washed down with hot chocolate and afternoon platters of hamburgers or hot dogs with French fries and ice-cream flavors we could only dream of!

Those places were always busy and, for children, they were fraught with amusement and exploring--like the neighborhoods of that incredible era, every Howard Johnson was packed with kids. Each one had a gift shop unique to its geographical terrain. Lots of exciting, colorfully-illustrated maps. And souvenirs marketed for children. It was like Christmas! 

They were simpler times, back then, for sure. Everyone was on their best behavior--unless my dad made a wrong turn, got lost, and had to turn around. Once, he broke his sunglasses in two and threw them out the car window! Still, how exciting was that? It is now an indelible part of our family history and lore. 

At its peak, Howard Johnson's had more than 1,000 locations across the country that outsold McDonald's, Burger King, and Kentucky Fried Chicken combined! It was one of the first "chains" to use unique architecture-inspired branding. It relied on a traditional Early-American Georgian style. The artsy orange roof and turquoise spire beckoned and welcomed weary-hungry travelers.

Here's something you may not have known about the ubiquitous Howard Johnson restaurant/hotel chain back then. Famed chef Jacques Pepin turned down a presidential request to be head chef at the White House under the Kennedy administration. Instead, he chose the top position at Howard Johnson to develop an American menu. And what an incredible job he did! Today, blueberry pancakes are as American as apple pie. And fried clams! Indeed, the iconic Howard Johnson logo is a chef offering a stack of pancakes to a small boy and his dog.

Cars then had no air-conditioning. But Pepin made sure to have a couple dozen ice-cream flavors for hot, weary car travelers. Brilliant!

It's fun to make pancakes from scratch, and pretty easy. But it is even easier to buy a premixed box and go from there. I used to buy Aunt Jemima, but now that it has gone all "woke" and scrubbed her beautiful face from the box, I have moved on. My regret is that I do not buy Land O'Lakes Butter. Why? If so, I would boycott it, too, for scrubbing the image of that beautiful Native American, the daughter of the artist who so proud!  I use "President" brand from France for eating and "Plugra" brand for cooking.

Really, there are dozens of pancake mixes from which to choose. Some are quite gourmet with a price to match. My only complaint from many is the predominant phony taste of artificial vanilla. Most taste like pancakes from McDonald's.

Anyway, I picked up a box of "Krusteaze" buttermilk pancake mix. It was dirt cheap! I didn't care for the name because it reminds me of Krusty the clown from The Simpsons. But it has a great history originating to the Depression. Today, a one-pound box is less than three bucks. What drew me were the easy directions and the ability to make as few as I wanted--not as many as I would like.

I have fooled around with pancake and waffle mixes before. It is so easy to add flavorings that ramp things up. 

For my first batch, I made as directed. They were quite good. Fluffy, light and absent of that phony artificial vanilla taste. They did a great job of sopping up the maple syrup. Real maple syrup, thank you very much.

For the next batch, I added a bit of authentic vanilla extract and just a bit of almond flavoring. Kaboom! With maple syrup, it was wonderful combination.

But then I upped it. I add the blueberries and I was in pancake heaven! There is no going back! They were sublime and absolutely delicious with each little bit of blueberry explosion. Later, I added some lemon zest. Delicious. Complex yet so simple.

I urge you to give them a try and try your own combination of extracts. You could do citrus with lemon and orange extracts. You could go all Canadian with a bit of rum and maple and butter flavoring with a sprinkle of cinnamon thrown in. If you have malt on hand, go ahead and throw a tablespoon in. Yum.


Makes about 7 nice-sized pancakes:

  • 1 cup Krusteaze Buttermilk Complete Pancake Mix
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla and almond extract combined (1/16 each)
  • 2/3 cup water
  • a few scratches of fresh lemon zest (optional, but worth it!)

Add dry mix to a small bowl. Add extracts to a 1/3-cup measure. Fill with water, add to mix. Add the other 1/3 cup of water. Stir just to dissolve everything. You want lumps! Add about a handful of fresh blueberries--about 24. Allow to sit as you heat your pan.

Heat a non-stick skillet. Add a bit of oil of your choice (I use bacon grease) and, when melted, swirl around with a bit of paper towel. You don't need much. Pour in about 1/4 cup or less of your batter. If you are hesitant about flipping pancakes, do not crowd the pan.

Now, here's the secret to know when to flip. Yes, the edges will get bubbly. But that is not the time. Look at the wet "sheen" on the top of the pancake. Do not flip until that sheen dulls and becomes opaque. Than, and only then, flip. Why? When the top dulls, most of the moisture has evaporated from the pancake and it is less likely to fall apart.

If desired, keep warm on rack placed on top of cookie sheet in a 200 F. oven But don't keep in there too long or they will dry out.

Spread with non-woke butter. My method is to cut them all up and then drizzle with maple syrup so all the pieces are coated. 

Have a great vacation. Order a great breakfast!



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