Saturday mornings traditionally call for cartoons with a side order of Apple Jacks, but every once in a while we get a hankerin’ for potato pancakes. While they’re not made of flour, sugar or eggs and topped with maple syrup, they are made from…that’s right baby, potatoes! (Can you ever really go wrong with potatoes?)
Last Saturday, donning our finest flannel pajamas and housecoats, I found myself in my parent’s kitchen. Mom and I were goofing around as she was whipping up a batch of these tasty little devils, so I thought I’d capture the moment by documenting the experience with photographs.
I watched as Mom mixed and scooped and plunked and as she did so she giggled, revealing stories about cooking with her Mother and Grandmother and what her experience had been in making potato pancakes over the years. What I realized while I was photographing, was that I was missing out on the best part, her stories! That’s when I flipped the switch to video.
Mom had no knowledge I was video taping her, which was perfect because had she known, she would have froze or given me her best “Chandler” smile (those of you who watch the show, “Friends” know what I’m talking about).
Mom, in this moment, was a regular Julia Child, cooking and talking and tasting and teaching – with a couple whoopses and mild swear words sprinkled in.
The potatoes have to be dry, not like Yukon golds, which tend to be watery and require another step, straining the water out. Russets make the perfect choice because they are dry and have the best flavor. Mom likes Sunset potatoes from Jackson Farms in Grand Rapids. You also want to choose a medium-sized potato when making this recipe, as we’ve found a bigger potato just throws off the rest of the ingredients and they don’t turn out right.
When it comes to grating, Oscar is Mom’s best friend (Oscar is the name of her food processor). No more risking appendages to grate them by hand.
Adding garlic really brings out the flavor in this potato-ey cake. Though it’s not in the original recipe (which is posted below), it adds just the right amount of zing!
And, of course, what would potato pancakes be without a little Ungiemuck (pron. ooon-gie-muck) on top! I have no idea what the correct spelling of Ungiemuck actually is, or if there even is such a word but most people know it as “Top the Tater”.
Using a griddle to fry them is important. Mom likes her two-burner griddle because as she brushes on the oil, most of it slides down the sides and doesn’t absorb into the cakes, making them greasy.
The potato pancakes turned out perfect! After we were done with breakfast, Mom viewed the taping. She laughed at herself and joked that she could have done with a hairdo and a little lipstick but thought it was a fun way to hand down her wisdom.
The following is Mom’s adaptation from Mary Kukuch’s recipe in the Slovak-American Cookbook published in 1952.
Ingredients $0.00 (4 Servings)
Grate potatoes and strain. Add grated onion, eggs, flour, salt and lastly the buttermilk. Fry in hot fat (or Crisco Oil).
In addition, Mom adds:
1/2 tsp (or to taste) onion powder
1/2 tsp (or to taste) garlic powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced