If ever a family represented the immigrant melting pot, it is ours. Every corner of the British Isles was once home to one member or another of our diverse tribe. Geographically speaking, the northern, southern, eastern and western regions of the European mainland all also contributed to the gene pool.
One of the best things about such an ethnic brew is the treasured family recipes it produced. Mom had a real knack for gathering them from all areas of our geographic radius and producing everything from ravioli to Irish stew to wurst and kraut with an ease that defied imagination.
Potato pancakes, thin, crispy and redolent with onions, were a particular favorite. They turned up seasonally on the table – in the fall as a kind of oblique homage to Oktoberfest and in the spring, served with creamy tomato soup as a Friday night Lenten repast.
The key, I think, to Mom’s wonderful potato pancakes, was her spud to onion ratio: one small or medium onion to one medium or large potato. She also squeezed the life out of the mix they produced to get as much of the water out of them that she could.
The resultant batter made for crispy German style-potato pancakes which she served up with apple sauce. These days, the family likes a variety of toppings – the obligatory apple sauce, homemade, brown and sweet, and also side dishes of sour cream. Those who favor things hot and spicy have taken a liking to slathering the pancakes with wasabi mayonnaise.
During Lent, they are often accompanied by the plain old Campbell’s tomato soup favored by my Mom or thin smoked salmon sandwiches on white bread with mayonnaise and finely chopped onions.
- 4 small or medium onions
- 4 large russet or Idaho potatoes
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour (or store bought potato pancake mix) to use as a thickener
- 6 tbsp fresh vegetable oil
- 6 tbsp unsalted butter
- applesauce, sour cream, wasabi mayonnaise for condiments.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees and place two nonstick baking sheets in the oven
Using a box grater, coarsely grate one onion to one potato and place them in a colander in the sink and let them drain. In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs and then whisk in the flour or the potato pancake mix. I often use potato pancake mix which you can find in the international section of most supermarkets, because it adds just a bit more zing to the recipe.
Once the potato and onion mixture has drained a bit, press down on it with your hands and extract as much liquid as you possibly can. Then, add the potato-onion mixture to the egg/flour mixture. Season with salt and black pepper and mix well with your hands.
In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over moderately high heat, heat 1 tablespoon oil and one tablespoon butter until hot but not smoking. Form pancakes out of the batter and drop into the pan and flatten just a bit with a spatula. Fry until the bottoms are golden brown and then turn them over and fry an additional four or five minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain, season with more salt and pepper and transfer them to the baking sheets in the oven while you make the rest of the potato pancakes.
Repeat with remaining batter, wiping out the pan and adding one tablespoon oil and one tablespoon butter before each batch.
Makes about 20 pancakes.
Let us pray:
If you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted;
Then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday;
Then the LORD will guide you always
and give you plenty even on the parched land.