Popping Pancakes

Saturday mornings were my favorite. Although I wasn’t able to sleep in ’till noon, I didn’t have to wake up with my alarm at five or six. Instead, I was roused from my slumber slowly. First, by the rattle of silverware in the drawer, followed by the smell of pancakes cooking on the stove and finally, the sweet whistle of the kettle signaled me that the tea was ready to be poured by around seven. I’d hop out of bed and make my way to the kitchen. The apartment was by no means massive, so all of this took no time at all, and I was setting the table and pouring the tea before the lingering kettle whistle had left the air. Then, Mom and I would sit over the meal chitchatting until it was time to get to the day’s work.

Mom was a nurse and was up before me in the morning during the week and, depending on her schedule, either left before I woke up or, once I began getting up earlier to have a cup of tea with her, left soon after my rising. So Saturday’s were a treat. Some mornings my friends and I would be camped out in the living room and the early morning pancake sounds would wake us all up to the fluffy deliciousness she concocted. At her memorial, one of my friends identified our group of friends as “the pancake girls.” Pancakes were a mainstay in our home from time immemorial. When my brother was young, his best friend taught us all how to make corn pancakes after one sleepover.

As I got older, I did more of the cooking at home, even taking-over cooking the pancakes sometimes. But nothing could have prepared me for the terrible truth I learned once I had children of my own.

Exasperated, I stood at the oven in our new apartment, wanting to replicate my mother’s perfect pancakes. Whether it was because I hadn’t made them since I left home or because I was using new pans on a new oven with an original recipe, things were not working out as well as they had in the past. I picked up the phone and was talking to my mom before I even registered dialing.

“Mom, how do you know when to flip the pancakes? How do I know when I’ve popped enough bubbles?”

Chuckles then raucous laughter, greeted me on the other end of the phone. “You don’t,” Mom gasped, “have to pop the bubbles at all!” More wheezing laughter, then, “I just told you that so you guys would leave me alone and stop pestering me!” I could hear the phone slapping against her cheeks as she dissolved into even more snorts and guffaws. I was incredulous – indignant! I didn’t have to pop the bubbles? Did she really say that just to shut us up? What kind of tom-foolery was this! I was horrified, shocked, and amazed. I hadn’t felt this betrayed since I found out that my letter from Santa was written by the 94-year-old neighbor across the hall. Breaking through the haze of treachery and disbelief, I heard her explaining, “It was an easy way for you guys to feel like you were helping, and it made the time go by faster.”

Begrudgingly I admitted that her dastardly deception had been ingenious, cunning, cool and collected even. But still, there had to be something to the popping.

“But doesn’t it make them cook better?” I ventured.

“Not really, they pop on their own anyway.” Drat! She had me there. I had, on occasion, observed this strange phenomenon. Having been too slow in my pancake popping duties, I had noted that they did indeed pop on their own. But didn’t it make them cook more quickly? Surely the heated air streaming through the yummy tunnels of batter must have made some impact on cooking time! Still, the question remained, how did she know when to turn them? Before getting off the phone, she told me to wait until the edges had begun to brown and the batter was solidifying. Disgusted I walked back over to the pan, picked up my spatula, and popped more bubbles.

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