I once ordered a stack of “harvest pancakes” from the menu of a small diner. They came to my table beautifully browned, light and fluffy, and studded with dried, sweetened cranberries and kernels of canned corn. Well, it’s “harvest time” now, and instead of reaching for these preserved legacies of previous ones, I’ll make use of the fresh bounty, with tart cranberries just in season and sweet corn on its last ears of the year.
I do have to thank that diner for giving me inspiration; I had never before seen corn in typical breakfast pancakes, fresh or not. I’d half-expected cornmeal blended into the batter for those. But this fall and late summer, I’ve been loading up on fresh ears of corn, as many recent recipes and photos can show. I’m impressed by how long they keep in the fridge. While the husks may dry out and the sprout of silk turn even browner, the kernels beneath seem to stay just as crisp. Weeks pass, and I might shuck a single ear here, and another there, to sprinkle in soup, succotash, pasta, or something weird like ice cream. I think the ear that was destined for these pancakes was three weeks past the day I picked them up at a farm stand.
It’s also high time for the fruit that has to be scooped from the bog: cranberries. More sour than sweet, these unique berries are packed with antioxidants for the oncoming cold weather. Contrary to what one might think, they don’t have to be cooked very long in order to burst with an intense red sludge. Two minutes on each side in a pan should do it, to be exact, and your pancakes will have a built-in syrup.
If you can remember one simple equation in your head, you’ll be set to make pancakes for the rest of your life. That is, 1 cup flour, 1 cup milk, 1 egg. 1 tablespoon sugar, give or take, and 1 teaspoon baking powder. Not so hard to get down, right? Then there are a couple minor details to round it out: 1/4 teaspoon baking soda in addition, which I’ve seen in recipes and have followed, guilelessly, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Now, you can add to that 1 cup of fresh cranberries, and kernels from 1 ear of corn, to make these. Whisk, ladle, and flip.
No, you don’t have to use buttermilk to make pancakes. It’s an attractive descriptor and we rarely see the word “pancake” without “buttermilk” nowadays, it seems. I think this is less because the taste of buttermilk is essential to good pancakes than because it just sounds good. Don’t get me wrong, buttermilk is great — it lends a slight tang. But you won’t miss it, really, if you’re just looking for pancakes. Plus, many people have regaled tales of this dilemma to me: they buy an ingredient, use it once, and never have another use for it until it goes bad. Buttermilk will do that to you. It’s also not the easiest grocery item to find. I’ve heard of substituting “sour milk” for buttermilk and have done so, too, adding a drop of vinegar to regular milk on the sly. So you can go ahead and do that, or substitute real buttermilk for the whole milk in this recipe below. I also sometimes like to replace a handful of rolled oats for its same weight in flour with pancakes, or go halfsies with a half-cup of whole wheat flour to a half-cup all-purpose. Do you like cornmeal? That can be factored into the equation as well. Or buckwheat — the choices are endless. I just wouldn’t exceed fifty percent of the “other” flour or grain in proportion to the all-purpose, in order to keep the pancakes light and fluffy.
The final flavor that was added to these pancakes was a hint of the wintery herb rosemary. Chopped very fine, these spindles’ oils migrate a bit throughout the batter, and especially sing if a few pieces sink enough to make direct contact with the pan. On afterthought, you could scatter a small handful onto the hot pan just after it’s been brushed with butter, and before ladling the pancake batter onto it. I’m not complaining though; for a cool, mid-October morning, this breakfast hit the spot. And there’s so many more left — for such a short time they took to prepare — I’ll be enjoying them again soon.
Cranberry and Corn Pancakes with Rosemary
(makes about 8 )
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon light brown sugar (or substitute white sugar)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh cranberries (give or take)
kernels from 1 ear corn
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
about 2 tablespoons butter
Beat the milk and egg in a bowl. Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium-large bowl and make a well in the center. Add all the milk/egg mixture at once and gently whisk, turning the bowl as you go so that the sides spill a little more of the dry mixture into the wet. Once mixture is completely blended, and there are no lumps (about 4 minutes), add the corn, cranberries and rosemary.
Heat a large frying pan. Once hot, turn heat to medium and lightly brush a stick of butter in a circle in the center of the pan. Pour one ladleful of the batter into that center. Let cook without turning or touching for about 2 minutes, or until air bubbles have just begun to form in the center of the batter. Check underneath to see how golden the bottom of the pancake is, and if desired color, flip. Cook on opposite side about 2 minutes longer, and transfer to a plate. Repeat with the rest of the batter, and serve immediately (with optional toppings like maple syrup, butter, whipped cream, etc.).
(for 8 pancakes)
1 cup fresh cranberries (at $4/lb): $0.80
1 ear corn: $0.75
1/4 teaspoon fresh rosemary (from a bunch from CSA): $0.10
1 cup flour: $0.30
1 egg: $0.35
2 tablespoons butter: $0.25
1 tablespoon sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, baking powder: $0.25
Four brownie points: Healthfulness can be sweet. I don’t typically put syrup on my pancakes, just ’cause I don’t see why I’d need to pour it on what I already find to be sweet enough, moist enough (the cranberries help), and basically satisfying enough. Of course, you don’t have forego this common topping, but if you’re looking to de-condition yourself out of some extra calories from sugar, I think you won’t have such a bad run of it with these jammy cranberry-studded pancakes. The berries alone are unique for having little sugar (comparably), and lots of Vitamin C as well as lycopene, as with most red-pigmented foods. The sweet corn adds folate, potassium and beta-carotene, as well as a little more sweetness. Try mixing the flour with some of the whole grains suggested above, like whole wheat or oats, for more nutritional boost.
Eight brownie points: You can get cranberries and corn anywhere, anytime, but they’ll only be fresh this time of year. In this case, they were fresh and organically grown at the farms where I picked them up on a recent trip to New England. People tend to travel this time of year a lot — I know I do, it’s great weather for getaways. Bringing home food souvenirs from farmstands is not only fun but a nice gesture to the local farms and economy. Also, cranberries are great for freezing, so don’t be afraid to load up.