Skinny Pancakes for Four Generations

Skinny pancakes at family brunch

Sunday morning text from Jeff, “Wanna join us for virtual church and skinny pancakes?” 

For the uninitiated, this was not about praying for a trim waistline. Jeff was offering to continue a tradition begun by his grandma more than fifty years ago. Skinny pancakes (actually, we all simply call them skinnies) are as large as a dinner plate, but thinner than the fork used to eat them. At least once a week, Grandma Hazel served them to whoever came to the table. After only one taste I never missed a day.

As Hazel got on in years, I realized that at some point, we would lose our master cook. So I asked for her recipe. She happily obliged: A saucer of flour, several eggs, a teacup of milk, a spoonful of sugar, a pinch of salt, a splash of vanilla and then add something or other to taste. 

Watching closely completely cleared up absolutely nothing. But what did register was lotsa eggs and lotsa milk. Turns out that a basic pancake recipe with lotsa eggs and lotsa milk produced a tolerable imitation of Hazel’s recipe. 

The real story was in the making. Coat the pan with butter. Coat the pan with batter. Wait a little bit. And here’s tricky part – flip it over. Ever tried to flip a hot wet ten inch circle of tissue with a spatula? It takes practice. After several hundred I was getting closer. Especially humbling having watched Hazel do it with ease using nothing more than a table knife.

Cooking was only the first step in a breakfast of skinny pancakes. In our family simply diving in and eating the skinny that arrived on your plate will have you booed from the table. You must pour a single line of syrup exactly across the widest part, then roll it up. Rolling techniques vary. Beginners just use their fingers. Veterans are able to catch one corner with the little finger tine of the fork and roll the entire skinny so perfectly that it looks like a manicotti tube.

Once started, the cook delivers them from one or more pans at an awesome pace. Service is simple. First come first served. Once you joined the rotation, they keep showing up on your plate until you announce, “This is my last one.” Failure to do so meant another would arrive in sequence – and woe be unto you if you didn’t eat it. 

In Park Ridge, skinnies were a regular Saturday morning feast. One morning unbeknownst to Ed, Jeff was carefully counting. At the count of eleven, Ed announced his last. Jeff quietly held off until he had snarfed down one more – at which time he jumped for joy. He had out eaten his older brother. There was no peace until the rematch the next week. It would be decades before Eddie again ate less than Jeff.

One Saturday, we had an unusually large group. We hadn’t noticed, but when Jeff ate his last, it was 16 – a new record. We could hardly believe it! The record lasted about an hour – a friend came by and learning of the record topped it by one. It’s fun cooking for teenage boys.

Moving to Arkansas hasn’t changed our family’s love of skinnies, and we now have a new generation of eaters. Alice started at the age of two. Her mommy let one cool a bit then tore it into two-year-old size pieces. Before we could blink, Alice was signing, “More.” She didn’t stop until she had eaten the better part of four.

The beat goes on. I’ve learned to measure the ingredients so I could share my imitation of Hazel’s skinnies. And on Sunday morning, Jeff did just that. 

Over the years we’ve discovered that blueberries, strawberries, whipped cream and maybe peanut butter are all wonderful additions. And Gria now replaces the single line of syrup with a carefully drawn letter of her grandchild’s choosing.

However they’re served, the party is always joyful. I look forward to the day Alice tosses skinnies on my plate and doesn’t stop until she hears, “This is my last one.”

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