For as long as I’ve known my husband, I’ve heard more about these pancakes then any other meal. “Nobody makes them like Grandpa,” my mother-in-law often states. I’ve known for awhile these pancakes were important to my husband’s family. I’ve enjoyed them myself over a handful of times – at my in-laws, on camping trips ranging from Mt. Rainier to Yellowstone to a cabin on Lake Cushman, and in my very own kitchen. It wasn’t until I whipped a batch up this morning that I finally knew the story behind these pancakes.
As we drove across town, I fiercely scribbled down notes while my husband recounted memories from his childhood. My husband’s family, rooted in Yakima, would spend weekends making the trek over the Cascades to visit his Grandma and Grandpa Sell’s in Kenmore, a city just north of Seattle. His grandparent’s house was perched atop a hill where you could peer out the living room window or step onto the deck through the large french doors to get a glimpse of Lake Washington.
My in-laws would arrive in Kenmore Friday evening, unload their bags, and settle in for the weekend. My husband’s aunt would drive up as well and deposit his cousin in Kenmore for a weekend stay. My husband was one of three boys; together the four of them would run around the house for a few hours before ending up in the basement where they would stay for the night. They would fight over which sleep pad to use and sprawl out on the green shag rug lining the hard concrete floor. First thing the next morning, the four boys would race up the stairs where Grandpa would be, without a doubt, heating up the griddle pan with shortening, preparing the way for his buttermilk pancakes. A few moments later, he would start creating little medallion-shaped pancakes, seven to a pan. The little pancakes would quickly form a crisp, golden brown outer-layer because of the shortening which I’ve been told is essential to recreating these pancakes.
As soon as the pancakes were cooked, the boys would fight over who would get the most and who would have to endure the long wait for the next batch. There was rarely an even number. The boys would make their way through the long galley kitchen, past Grandpa, and take a seat at the white, circular mid-century table around the corner. Within ten seconds, the pancakes would be gone. Buttery, sweet, and light from whisking the eggs until fluffy right before mixing them into the batter. And just the right size – small enough to fit into the mouth’s of four growing boys.
Five minutes later, the next batch would be up and whoever had received the least number of pancakes the round before would lead the pack into the kitchen in pursuit of the next batch. Each of the boys would devour twenty something pancakes throughout the entire hour plus morning ritual.
Later, once grandma was up and my husband’s parents had made an appearance in the kitchen, the family would discuss plans for the day. Sometimes, they would make the trek down to the Pacific Science Center, taking advantage of the grandparent’s family membership. Other times, the boys would end up tossing a ball in the yard, picking wild berries in the empty lot next door for blackberry pie, or sometimes venturing to the Sunset Bowl on Market Street in Ballard which was sadly demolished several years ago.
This weekend ritual would take place five to six times a year. While seemingly unremarkable, these were clearly special times for my husband’s family and have certainly made an impression on his life. And while they were just pancakes, this recipe has been passed down through my husband’s family and enjoyed among many family and friends over the years. I think my favorite place to eat these buttermilk pancakes is by the fire pit on one of our family camping trips during the summer, but regardless of where you eat these pancakes, please just eat them somewhere – they are good. I’ve adapted the recipe to be gluten- and dairy-free, however, substitute regular buttermilk, butter, and all-purpose flour if desired. These pancakes, in either form, are reliable, delicious and always a crowd-pleaser.
Buttermilk Pancakes (GF/V)
Modified from the original Sells’ family recipe
2 1/2 cups non-dairy buttermilk (unsweetened almond milk plus 2-2.5 tbsp apple cider vinegar)
2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour (e.g., Namaste Brand)
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup melted vegan butter (e.g., Earth Balance)
Melt the butter and let cool. Whisk together the dry ingredients in a medium sized bowl.
Beat the eggs until fluffy. Stir in the buttermilk and slightly cooled butter.
Gently pour in the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Heat a large skillet on medium heat or a hot griddle to 400°F, and line with cooking spray, butter or Crisco shortening – as my husband’s grandfather would use. I usually find that a light coating of cooking spray works just fine. Cook for approximately 2 or 3 minutes or until the bubbles in the pancakes begin to pop. Flip and cook for another 2 or 3 minutes until done. Serve with toppings of your choice, though I prefer these with a sliver of butter on top, nothing else.