I grew up at a time when a lot of dads didn’t routinely cook. My dad, Frank H. Maynard, certainly didn’t.
He left for work at American Airlines at 6:30 a.m. every weekday after downing a bowl of cereal and some coffee. He got home from Detroit Metropolitan Airport around 6:30 p.m., ready for his nightly cocktail. By then, my mother had already fed my brother and me on TV trays in front of the set in our basement rec room, where we watched reruns of Lost In Space. We usually came up to the living room after dinner to spend some time with our parents before bedtime.
But my dad had a couple of specialties. Like a lot of men in the late 20th century, he was a master of grilling. Today, people have fancy outdoor kitchens with gas grills. But for my dad, it was backyard grilling over charcoal. He had a process: a large grill for meat and a smaller grill for vegetables. He even rigged up a homemade electric rotisserie so he could roast chicken, which he patiently basted with peanut oil.
We ate all that, of course, but my dad’s other specialty was pancakes.
They were a Saturday-only feature because we went to early mass on Sunday and then had sweet rolls and the only eggs-and-bacon breakfast we ate together as a family all week. And these pancakes required fresh sweet corn, meaning we only ate them in the summer—“we” meaning my dad and me. My mother never cared for pancakes, and my brother was usually off on Saturdays doing boy things.
Through trial and error, we learned a number of things about them. First, corn pancakes are really best with tender sweet corn, as fresh as you can get it. Second, those big, yellow picturesque kernels don’t work as well in pancakes: ideally, you want a tender variety like Silver Queen that’s almost white and has small kernels. Bicolor corn, which you’re starting to see in markets now, is also useful.
For us, that meant we bought our corn from farmer Glen Rowe. You had to drive to his farm in Belleville, Michigan, where you pulled up to a little hut. They asked how much you wanted, loaded it into a shopping bag, and handed it to you through the car window. I was the keeper of the corn until we got home.
On Friday nights, we had sweet corn for dinner, and my dad reserved a couple of steamed ears for Saturday breakfast. I was in charge of carefully stripping the corn off the cob, placing it in a Pyrex bowl, and handing it over to him.
My dad’s recipe used Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix as its base. We were partial to Jiffy because the company was based in Chelsea, Michigan, a couple of towns over from us, and my parents liked the Holmes family who owned it. But my dad had a couple of different preparation methods. Sometimes he mixed the corn right into the bowl of pancake batter and dolloped it into the frying pan. Other times, he made the pancake batter, began cooking the pancakes, and scattered the corn on top before he flipped the pancakes. Both methods worked equally well.
Sweet corn is showing up now in stores in Michigan, so I’ll be able to make some corn pancakes this Father’s Day. I’ll think of my dad up in heaven, wearing his BBQ apron embroidered with “Frank” on the front, delighting a breakfast table full of saints.
Yields six to eight pancakes.
- 1 box Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix
- 1 egg
- ½ cup milk or buttermilk
- 2 tsp. oil
- 1 ear of cooked sweet corn, off the cob
Lightly grease and warm a nonstick pan over medium-low heat. Place the Jiffy Mix in a bowl. Combine the egg, milk, and oil in a separate bowl, then mix them into the dry ingredients. The batter will be thick.
If you are adding the corn into the batter, do so now; otherwise, reserve the kernels.
Place about 1/4 cup of batter in the pan. Let it set for about one minute.
If you’re adding the corn at this stage, sprinkle the kernels evenly around the surface of the pancakes. You can gently pat them down with the back of a spoon so they adhere to the batter.
Let the pancakes cook about two minutes, until you see bubbles appear at the edges. Carefully flip the pancakes. Cook for two or three more minutes, until brown on both sides.
These pancakes cook more slowly than conventional flapjacks. Be patient. Resist the temptation to bump up the temperature. Otherwise, you can wind up with brown surfaces and gummy interiors.
The pancake batter will spread, so it’s best to cook one pancake at a time unless you use a larger pan.
Corn pancakes work perfectly as a bottom layer for shredded meats, like pork or chicken or even brisket. You can add barbecue sauce or try something like a Thai peanut sauce. You can also use them as a substitute for blini and put smoked salmon and sour cream or creme fraiche on top. For veggie lovers, you can make a stir fry and layer that over the pancakes. They’re also great with just a little powdered sugar and maple syrup, with berries on the side.