by Lynn Ruth Miller
One cannot think well or move fast without a hearty breakfast. My Mother
Unless you know what it is to awake in an icy room, the outdoors obscured by windows veiled in frost, you do not understand what morning chill-out really is. You force yourself to throw off the covers and put your feet on a floor that feels like an ice rink, grab the closest warm over-garment you can find and stagger into the bathroom. The water is frozen in its pipes, the toilet forgot how to flush and the mirror, thank God, is covered with frost. The expression on your frostbitten face would be anything but comforting to you and, in any case, your eyes are crusted with ice.
If you manage to eke water from the faucet, you brush your teeth in ice water, splash the equivalent of a chipped glacier on your face and force your muscles to work just enough to clothe yourself. You stagger downstairs for anything hot enough to thaw your insides, but the gas pipes have burst, the wood is sodden and won’t burn in the fireplace and you are doomed to letting your own organs try their best to circulate your blood.
It is in times like these that omitting breakfast is not an option. You need that steaming platter of anything hot, that boiling beverage and the heat in the kitchen to thaw yourself out and get your fluids running once more.
In my hometown, mornings were below zero on good days all winter long. Most of the time, the 6 a.m. thermometer (if it hadn’t cracked) registered several degrees below zero and was usually embedded in so much snow and ice that you couldn’t read it anyway, even if you had wanted to know the chilling truth. I believe it was deliberately hiding because of a misguided humanitarian impulse to prevent suicides.
During World War II, we had rationing and all the good breakfast foods like eggs, butter and sausages were rare treats. We saved our sugar coupons just to sweeten our Rice Krispies and watch them do their dance. We would tap our fingers to the rhythm of their snap, crackle and pop in the vain hope we would encourage some digital movement.
I still remember the winter of 44 when it was so cold I actually envied the Jews in Auschwitz because they got to go into a furnace. That was the year my cousin Richard was born and my Aunt Tick hired a Swedish nurse, named Anna, to take help her take care of the baby. I loved to stop at her house on my way to school to tickle the baby, and if I was lucky taste some of Anna’s unique cooking. She was the master of original comfort foods never seen on this side of the ocean. “In Sveden, vere I vas from,” she would say, “Food has to stick to da ribs or you freeze to your deat.”
My aunts home was filled with the aroma of meatballs, thick potato soups, stews filled with huge chunks of meat, herring casseroles and a fruit soup so thick you could use it for wallpaper paste.
Sunday mornings, Anna made breakfast for the whole family, and I never missed one of those gigantic meals that calorie filled year she was at my aunts. I would bundle up in my snowsuit and mittens at eight that morning. I stuffed my thickly stockinged feet into on my stadium boots and wrapped a muffler around my nose before I dared to attempt to break my way out of our frozen house. I had to chip away the ice that sealed the front door before I could bounce down the ice-crusted steps, and slide and coast the half block to Aunt Ticks house. The smell of that wonderful breakfast was actually discernible the minute I opened the front door, and it became strong and more exciting to me with every snowdrift I hurdled.
As soon as I entered that kitchen, my stomach, now thawed and ready to be filled, did its usually ecstatic flip flop at the thought of the treats to come.
I was never disappointed. Anna always made the same breakfast for us, but to me each Sunday, it all tasted brand new. “Sit down, Lynnie Rute!” she would cry. “I have made for us Svedish pancakes like my mama made for all of us back in the old country.”
I have often thought that Anna missed her calling when she became a baby nurse. Instead she should have patented those pancakes as environmentally friendly fuel that could get anything from a frozen snail to a Mack truck revved up no matter how cold the weather, or how bitter the wind.
The recipe in this issue for Swedish Hotcakes are the pancakes Anna served to us.
Legacy of Anna
1 C unbleached flour
1 t sugar
1 t baking powder
1 t salt
1 C milk
1 C half&half cream
3 eggs separated
6 T softened butter
Safflower oil or butter for cooking
Mix dry ingredients thoroughly, and beat in milk and cream. Beat yolks and blend into batter. Whip egg whites until they are stiff but not dry, fold into batter stirring gently to incorporate whites. The batter will be slightly lumpy. Stir in the melted and cooled butter. Brush griddle with oil and heat it to 400 degrees.
Pour batter for each hot cake. Cook until bubbles form on top of the cake and lift edge with a spatula. Be sure the edges are browned. Flip the pancake. Let brown a few moments.
Serve hot with powdered sugar and maple syrup or warmed applesauce.
Remember: It has to be very cold outside to do these magic cakes justice.
Are French Fries Really French?
French fries are the most popular form of potato preparation in North America. While no one is really sure about the origin of french fries, with France and Belgium each claiming that they were the first to deep fry potatoes in the early 1800s, they remained exclusively a European treat until the turn of the century.
America’s craving for french fries can be traced back to thousands of hungry soldiers who were stationed in Northern France and Belgium during WWI. American servicemen were introduced to the irresistible, thinly sliced regional potato specialty by the local people and dubbed them french fries, after the French-speaking Belgians who sold them. The servicemen liked the french fries so much they wanted to have them at home as well.
French fries have come a long way since the 1830s. The introduction of products such as McCain Superfries, processed using non-hydrogenated oils that are better for managing blood cholesterol levels, are the latest generation of more health conscious fries. This is good news for french fry lovers, since in the last year over 62 million kilograms (136,690,000 lbs) of frozen french fries were sold to Canadian consumers.
So, next time someone asks you if "You want fries with that?" take a moment to remember the colorful history of the fry and answer, "Yes, thank you."
U S Legacies Magazine October 2005
U S Legacies Magazine October 2003