Pancakes, pancakes, who wants pancakes?
Just hearing the word makes me happy. I’m six years old again, sitting at the kitchen counter in my red polka dot pajamas, while my mom adds eggs, milk, and a little vegetable oil to some Bisquick.
I wait for the sizzle of slightly lumpy batter on the hot griddle, the little bubbles forming on top, and that great swish-hiss when she finally flips them. Then it’s gobs of butter and a river of syrup on those steamy, golden beauties. Mmmmm!
Since the only thing better than eating pancakes is reading about them, I was excited when I learned that Princeton Architectural Press had recently published an updated edition of The Pancake King by Phyllis La Farge and Seymour Chwast.
Originally released by Delacorte in 1971, this toothsome tale asks the seemingly silly question, “Is it ever possible to get tired of pancakes?”
(boo, hiss, never, no, perish the thought, erase, don’t be silly)
Consider young Henry Edgewood, who wakes up one morning craving pancakes. Since his mother is busy making poached eggs, she suggests he make his own.
He does, and loves them so much, he makes pancakes for lunch and dinner that day and the next and the next.
From then on, Henry cooked pancakes three times a day: buckwheat pancakes, blueberry pancakes, cornmeal pancakes, onion pancakes, and even blini. He ate them with maple syrup, blueberry syrup, sour cream, whipped cream, and apple butter.
Not only is Henry really good at making pancakes, he’s a whiz at flipping them — right into his dog Ezra’s mouth. Pretty soon his friends, neighbors, and even the mailman and milkman drop by every day for pancakes. He invents new ones and flips them higher and higher.
One day a certain mustachioed gentleman in a snazzy suit appears at the door, asking for the “pancake boy.” One taste and Mr. Jinker is sold; he offers to become Henry’s business manager on the spot:
This pancake thing could be very big. If we partnered with the syrup people, anything’s possible!
And so Henry is on his way to becoming the Pancake King. Mr. Jinker decks Henry out in a chef’s uniform, takes some publicity shots, and before his next tall stack has a chance to cool, Henry rides in parades, participates in cook-ins, does commercials and all kinds of cool public appearances.
Everyone loves the Pancake King — there are fan clubs, buttons, posters, dolls, even a song and a chain of restaurants!! Henry crisscrosses the country making hundreds and hundreds of pancakes day in and day out. He becomes rich and famous, and even makes pancakes for the President!
But soon after his visit to the White House, Henry realizes how much he misses his family, friends, and even school. His pancakes are suffering too — they come out heavy or runny. It just wasn’t fun anymore. So, despite Mr. Jinker’s pleas, Henry decides to retire his spatula and return home.
After recuperating for awhile on a milk and cookie diet, Henry wakes up hungry one morning. His mother is making boiled eggs. Waffles, anyone? 🙂
Seymour Chwast’s eye-popping illustrations with their bright psychedelic colors give the story a très cool retro pop art vibe and by themselves are worth the cover price.
The pink roof, purple sidewalk, blue-tinted shades and pancake puffs rising from the smokestack remind me of the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” and Peter Max posters.
An award winning graphic designer, illustrator and type designer, Chwast uses perspective to great effect with his giant platters of pancakes and close-ups of Mr. Jinkel, an opportunist personifying the seductive lure of fame and commercialism.
In several spreads, Henry’s a small figure who seems to be swallowed up by all the clamor and spectacle of parades and hoedowns. One spread shows a small Henry sitting in the back seat of a limo driven by an imposing Mr. Jinkel, reminding the reader that famous as Henry might be, at heart he’s still just a boy, and little by little, all the attention and prestige, though thrilling at first, seems to be diminishing his spirit.
Henry’s dismay is quite palpable when we see him with bowed head and downcast eyes as disgruntled, menacing-looking eaters complain about his pancakes. Even their tiny white teeth look angry.
La Farge and Chwast serve up a convincing parable about how easy it is to lose sight of one’s priorities. Doing something for love is one thing, doing it for money is quite another. There’s a lot to chew on with this timeless and timely message about “selling out” vs. finding that tricky balance between ardently pursing a passion and living a happy life.
The Pancake King is an enjoyable read and a visual feast for the eyes that feels retro and modern at the same time. Easy to see why it is Mr. Chwast’s favorite project from his long, illustrious career.
Who’d have believed that ‘too much of a good thing’ could even apply to pancakes?
(really? hmmm. better eat a few more to make sure.)
Still, Henry’s culinary creativity (Swedish pancakes, strawberry pancakes, coconut pancakes, bacon pancakes, crêpes Suzette) will likely inspire young cooks to wield their spatulas, flip a few dozen hot ones, and keep everyone drooling. Luckily a recipe for Henry’s Famous Pancakes is included. 🙂
So what’ll it be — butter and maple syrup, or berries and whipped cream?
HENRY'S FAMOUS PANCAKE RECIPE
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 eggs
Heat a griddle or cast-iron frying pan over medium-high heat.
On a separate burner, melt the butter with the milk in a small saucepan over low heat. Once evenly melted, set aside to cool a little, so the eggs don’t cook when you add them.
Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a large bowl.
Beat the eggs so they are evenly mixed in a medium bowl.
Now add the butter and milk mixture to the eggs and stir until smooth.
Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients and combine only until the dry ingredients are well-moistened. Don’t mix it too much; lumpy is good!
To invent new pancakes, you can add berries or sliced bananas.
When the griddle or pan is hot, add a little butter. For each pancake, fill a 1/4 cup measuring cup and pour most of the batter onto the griddle. Cook pancakes until bubbles form and pop, and the bottoms turn golden brown. Flip with a spatula and cook the other sides until golden brown.
Serve to the mailman and milkman with butter and warm maple syrup, or flip one right into your dog’s mouth!
THE PANCAKE KING
written by Phyllis La Farge
illustrated by Seymour Chwast
published by Princeton Architectural Press, March 2016
Picture Book for ages 4+, 32 pp.
This post is being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your best bibs and aprons, and come join the fun!
Copyright © 2016 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.