Winter, Witches, and Blueberry Pancakes

“How in the world did you decide to move to Vermont and run a B&B? From Austin?!?!?!”

Welcome to the #1 question asked of us. The basic answer is pretty simple: we needed a change, Vermont offered a big one, and here we are. The truth – the whole truth – is a little more complicated.

Hermione Gingold with large red hat
Hermione Gingold in The Music Man

Enter: Hermione Gingold, British actress extraordinaire, who has had a far greater affect on my life than even I realized. You probably know her as the indomitable Madame Alvarez from the classic musical “Gigi,” or as Eulalie Mackechnie Shinn in “The Music Man.” Star of stage and screen, her career spanned almost 80 years. But I digress. (You should definitely read more about her here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermione_Gingold – also her book “How to Age Disgracefully” is my new handbook for living)

In 1969 (so many awesome things happened that year 🙂 ), she appeared in a completely bonkers after school special starring Anna Strasberg (wife of method acting guru Lee) and narrated by Burgess Meredith(!) Somehow made with a budget of a whopping $500, “Winter of the Witch” faded into oblivion, and for years I thought I was literally the only person on Earth who had ever seen it. I thought it was a hallucination, despite my insistence that we were shown it in school each Halloween – no one seemed to remember it. Apparently, I wasn’t the sole viewer of this masterpiece and eventually the interwebs helped to solve the mystery. If you have 22 minutes to spare, you can watch the film here at the Cult of the Happy Pancake Witch website.

The Inspiration

How did this obscure and unabashedly weird short film have such an influence on my life? The plot centers on a single mother (Strasberg) who moves with her son to a dilapidated house in the country. She decides to turn it into a B&B. Things are not going so well because the house is thought to be haunted – but in reality there is a cranky old witch (Hermione Gingold) wreaking havoc in the attic. Somehow the little boy befriends the witch and convinces her to help them. She makes magical blueberry pancakes which have the amazing effect of creating a feeling of euphoria (complete with nutso music and lots of colorful “balloons”) in all who eat them. Whether via a spell or an “additive,” the pancakes – and the B&B – are a huge success, everyone lives happily ever after, the end.

Happy Pancake Boy
Doesn’t he look thrilled?

Oh. My. Goodness. All I wanted to do was to make blueberry pancakes of joy for everyone I knew.

Years passed. Brian and I started to think seriously about buying a B&B, and had all kinds of amazing and quasi-logical arguments for doing so. We justified it based on retirement investment options, the desire to experience a seasonal climate, wanting to get back to nature, running away from home. We discussed how great it will be to have an adventure and spend more time together, how he will be able to retire early (ha!), how much the dogs will like running around in the snow.

But I knew the truth: I wanted to make blueberry pancakes of joy. Every day.

The Reality

We found the perfect place, and made the move. After the initial fear, confusion, and exhaustion abated – I started thinking about blueberry pancakes. And I started making blueberry pancakes. And I discovered that making blueberry pancakes for a crowd really REALLY sucks. I mean, there probably isn’t anything that I hated more than making loads and loads of pancakes. They never cooked evenly, The blueberries got all weird. The batter turned an unappealing color. I kept burning them. This hurt my soul. How could I make blueberry pancakes of joy when I couldn’t even make blueberry pancakes of “meh.” So I abandoned pancakes, and started making blueberry muffins of marginal happiness. They were easy and people liked them. Win – win.

Hermione Gingold as the witch
Hermione Gingold as the blueberry pancake witch.

But the spectre of Hermione Gingold haunted the dark corners of my mind. “Whhhhhyyyyy oh whyyyyyyy did you buuuuuuyyy a B&B if you aren’t going to make people happy with bloooooo-berry pancakes?????” Ugh. So recently (like last weekend) I decided to give blueberry pancakes another shot. Full disclosure – I was forced to do so by a special request from a guest. And – it wasn’t so bad. I let loose all of my Virgo-ness and plotted and planned the pancakes into submission. They were great. They were – mostly – easy (because I kind of cheated). They made people happy. Even me.

So without further ado – the recipe for blueberry pancakes of joy.

Thanks for sticking with me through this one 🙂

The Happiest Blueberry Pancakes You Can Make Without Using a Spell (or Other Additives)

Makes 8-ish pancakes

2 cups Bisquick (or other complete baking mix)
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk (I always use whole milk)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon (or so) vanilla
As many blueberries as you want (see NOTE)

If you have an electric skillet / griddle, good for you – heat it up to “pancake” mode. If you don’t have an electric griddle, put your (non-stick surface, hopefully) version in a 250 oven to preheat. Or, if you are brave, you can use a regular non-stick pan. [Pro-tip: preheating is important to ensure that the cooking surface is evenly heated … especially if you are using a griddle set over burners.]

Put everything except the blueberries (read the NOTE below) in a bowl and whisk until blended. I usually beat the eggs first because I hate random pieces of egg showing up in baked goods.

Gently stir the prepared blueberries into the batter – just to mix.

For normal-sized pancakes, use @ 1/4 cup of batter per cake. Really, you can make them as big or as small as you want – just be sure to cook them through.

Get your cooking surface ready – either over the burners, or on the counter. Since you preheated your pan, you don’t need to blast it with heat from the start. Medium-high is the hottest you want to go.

Pour batter onto hot surface, when the edges are dry and pancake is bubbly, flip it over and cook the other side. It should only take a minute or two per pancake. If it is taking longer, your surface isn’t hot enough. If your pancakes are black … well, you know. [Pro tip: if you try to crowd the pancakes on the cooking surface, flipping them becomes very frustrating. Space them out, keep the cooked ones warm in a low oven.]

Repeat, eat, and be happy.

NOTE: Fresh blueberries are the easiest to work with (simply wash and DRY), but they are often quite large, so the batter:berry ratio is skewed. Frozen wild blueberries are better, but they are covered in a sugar syrup to keep them from getting super mushy. If you put them in the batter straight from the bag, you will not only add too much liquid (flat cakes), the pancakes will be an unappealing gray color.

SO… put the frozen wild blueberries in a colander and rinse well. Try to rinse until the water runs clear, but that probably won’t happen so just get close. Then, spread the berries out on several layers of paper towels to drain. You can’t really pat or roll them around to help … so just leave them for a few minutes before adding to the batter. And be careful or everything in your kitchen will end up looking like Violet Beauregard rolled around on it.

Quantity – you’ll have to eyeball it. I almost always have too many blueberries. Which is better than not enough. If you are using the frozen wild ones, 2-3 tablespoons of berries per pancake is a rough estimate.

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