Late yesterday afternoon, we were grating potatoes and onions, mixing them with enough flour and Panni Potato Pancake mix to hold them together, frying them up in canola oil and thinking of Baerbel Gunderson.
It was Baerbel – German, she said, for Barbara – who introduced us to what she unfailingly called “First Advent” Bavarian style.
She opened the door to a four week celebration of Advent in the home that began with the ceremonial lighting of the first of four candles in a real evergreen wreath followed by a meal of German style potato pancakes – kartoffelpuffers – strong coffee and apple strudel mitt schlaag (whipped cream).
Throughout the Sundays of Advent, in her house, as the lights were lit one at a time and the prayers were said, the glow grew stronger. Little by little, she would set out the seasonal symbols that meant so much to her – evergreen boughs and candles in the windows, Christmas cards and letters from family members in Germany, warm comfortable, colorful throws and, inexplicably, trolls with squishy odd faces and unruly hair that delighted her children, Andrew and Lizbet.
As I recall, her husband, Andrew Sr., had a perpetual smile on his face during Advent and seemed to enjoy everything related to it immensely.
And the sense of the nearness of Christmas grew incrementally, sweetly and softly, just as it should.
In offering a potato pancake recipe, I should tell you that it isn’t Baerbel’s. There’s a little of her in it but there are also elements of my mom’s pancakes and something of myself.
Mom liked onions very much and grated one small onion for each large potato – something you don’t see in traditional recipes.
In homage to Mom, I go heavy on onions but favor instead big sweet ones instead of the small, sharper tasting ones.
And there’s a secret ingredient – Panni Potato Pancake Mix. I developed a taste for it while working in the German restaurant/butcher shop where Baerbel and I first met. You can find it in supermarkets with international sections.
After lighting the first Advent candle and saying the prayers, the pancakes make their long awaited appearance on the coffee table in the living room with toppings of applesauce (home made) and sour cream mixed with Greek yogurt. For those with a taste for spicier foods, there’s a daring mix of Wasabi and sour cream. The coffee is brewed lighter than Baerbel would have had it and caffeine free, but the strudel is nice and warm and topped with lots of schlag for good measure.
Ingredients: 2 pounds of peeled potatoes; 1 large sweet onion; ½ cup half and half; ½ – 1 cup flour; 2 tablespoons Panni Potato Pancake mix; 2 teaspoons salt; 2 eggs; vegetable oil of your choice.
Grate potatoes and onion into a bowl and squeeze as dry as possible; add the half and half, then stir in flour, salt and Panni and mix well. In a large, heavy skillet, heat ½ inch oil until hot. Drop large spoonfuls of the batter into the oil, smoosh lightly with a big, slotted spoon and fry until golden brown and crisp on both sides. Drain on a paper towel. Serve piping hot with toppings.