Growing up, awakening to the sound of an electric egg beater against a melamine mixing bowl was the most exciting way to start a Sunday morning. This meant my mom was beating egg whites, which meant she was making either pancakes or waffles. I would fly down the stairs in my pajamas, knowing that when I reached the kitchen I would find her at the counter in her robe and slippers, or perhaps in her gardening clothes if it was summer and she’d gotten up early to water the vegetables. My dad would be sitting at the head of the table, the Sunday Boston Globe spread out before him.
My mom would always make a double batch of pancakes because my brother and I could pack them away like nobody’s business. She says she was always amazed at how many we could eat, the fresh pancakes disappearing into our mouths practically as soon as she slid them onto the table. We always ate them with real maple syrup, drizzled carefully because we knew it was an expensive treat. The syrup always came to the table in a small metal beaker, which had been warming on the griddle or on top of the waffle iron. I always wondered why I’d never seen a container like that in any thrift shop or kitchen store, until my mom told me it came from one of the first laboratories my dad worked in.
As we grew into teenagers, we ate just as many pancakes but learned to enjoy them with what I always thought of as more adult toppings: yogurt especially, or sauces made from fresh fruit like rhubarb. It was always a sure sign of spring when my mom entered the house proudly bearing the first rhubarb stalks from her garden. Her rhubarb plants held a strange fascination for me; from a young age I knew the broad, majestic leaves were poisonous, but I also knew she would make the most delicious pies, crumbles, and upside-down cakes with the blushing stalks. A plant full of contradictions to be sure.
My mom and I live at opposite ends of the continent, so Mother’s Day usually doesn’t involve much more than a phone call, but today I decided to make my mom pancakes. She didn’t get to eat any of them, but I’m sure she would have liked them if she were here, especially with a big dollop of rhubarb sauce. I based this recipe on the pancakes I grew up eating, thin and soft; I’m pretty sure the original recipe comes from a dog-eared, batter-splattered copy of a Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook from the ‘70s or ‘80s. Buckwheat updates the recipe to a more modern style, and provides a nice earthy background to the tart sauce.
Mom, I’d make you a thousand pancakes if it could come close to saying thank you for all you’ve done for me, but it wouldn’t be enough. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom; and to all the mothers out there.
You could also jazz up your rhubarb sauce with some fresh strawberries, orange zest, or a split vanilla bean. Rhubarb sauce is also fantastic on shortcake, sponge cake, pound cake, or vanilla ice cream.
This recipe makes enough pancake and sauce for 4 people, unless you’re cooking for hungry children. Then you probably want to double it.
¾ C white flour
¾ C buckwheat flour
1 T sugar
1 T baking powder
1 t salt
3 eggs, separated
2 C milk
¼ C butter, melted
Combine the flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl whisk together the egg yolks, milk, and butter; add this to the dry ingredients and mix until smooth. Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and carefully fold into the batter.
Preheat the oven on the lowest setting and place an ovenproof platter on the middle rack. Lightly oil a griddle and heat over medium. Pour about ¼ C of batter on the griddle. Flip the pancake when bubbles are bursting on the surface, and cook until both sides are lightly browned. Keep pancakes warm in the oven until ready to eat.
4 stalks rhubarb, chopped (about 4-5 C chopped)
4-6 T sugar, or more to taste
Place the chopped rhubarb in a medium saucepan with a few splashes of water. Heat over medium, covered, stirring occasionally as the rhubarb cooks down. When at the desired consistency, stir in sugar to taste. Start with 1 T sugar per cup of rhubarb if you like yours tart, or 2 T sugar per cup of rhubarb if you prefer a sweeter sauce.