Sunday, April 8, 2018

Of beer pancakes, Dad and the psychology of breakfast

They say that smell is more closely linked to memory than any other sense. It stands to reason that taste, being closely related to smell, would also have the same effect. Simply smelling or tasting something can trigger trigger vivid memories and emotions.

My question is this: Can it be reversed? Can a memory of something be so strong that you can actually smell and taste it?

Wednesday night, I was settling in to watch a hockey game and I had the overwhelming smell and taste of pancakes. Not just any pancakes. My Dad's beer pancakes.

Now, I know what you're thinking. Who would waste perfectly good beer making pancakes? Then, I'd introduce you to the resourceful man my Dad was. And tell you about his habit of creating happy accidents and adhering to family tradition.

Like all of Dad's stories, the story about how beer pancakes came into existence changed depending on whether we were standing around a campfire, breakfast table or poker table. This is the version I heard most often:
We were at deer camp one year and whoever was supposed to bring milk didn't. (Probably him.) Everyone was supposed to bring a 5-gallon jug of water, but not everyone did. Pretty sure I brought one. You know I don't like going without water. (True story. He'd forget toilet paper, but never water.) So the day it was my turn to make breakfast, we didn't have any milk and we were short on water. But we had plenty of beer, so I figured I'd give it a shot. The rest is history. Everyone liked them so much, I started making them all the time.
Dad started making them at home when I was two or three years old. He probably didn't make them as often as I think he did, but if you ask me now, I'd probably tell you he made them most of the time he made breakfast on the weekend.

I guess he probably made them to remind himself of a simpler time in his life, and to bring back memories of being with his buddies and their new families in an Eastern Oregon deer camp for a week. They'd hunt all day, drink beer and play poker or sitting on strap lawn chairs or logs around a campfire all night to see who could spin the best yarn about catching the biggest trout, the most smelt or the monster buck that got away.

My memories of beer pancakes center around deer camp and the smell of the scrub cedar and sumac that surrounded the clearing along Middle Caney Creek in Chautauqua County in Southern Kansas. My dad cooked on a cast-iron griddle on an ancient Coleman stove he probably built from spare parts he acquired in the early 60s when he worked for that company.

Now, it's been at least 25 years since I've had Dad's beer pancakes. But on Wednesday night, the sense of smell and taste hit me so hard, I knew I had to make them this weekend. They weren't as "beer-y" - or as good - as Dad's, but still had that familiar tangy-sweetness I remember.

Maybe beer pancakes simply taste better after a morning spent sitting in a tree. Or maybe they're better when someone else makes them while telling you about how he created the recipe and you laugh, not because it's the fifth time you've heard this version of the story, but because you can see his enjoyment in making them while telling the story.

Or maybe it was just the company.