In my mind, all of summer is this Saturday morning, at my family’s farmhouse in Western Massachusetts. It’s 7:20, maybe 8:00 and I’m standing in dew soaked grass holding a cup of coffee. The air is thick and slow without the humidity that will creep in throughout the morning. The sun in warm, birds sing lazily and insects buzz as I walk out past the barn, ducking under the clothes line, and pass around the vegetable garden to the strawberries. I fill a bowl to the brim, eating almost as many as a I harvest.
This is a moment when possibilities are endless. The day stretches ahead of me filled with seemingly unconflicting opportunities to weed gardens, harvest green beans and deadhead roses. I can hike in the woods, swim in ponds, and bike for miles. The kitchen beckons with pancakes for breakfast, fresh garden lettuce and slightly warm cucumbers for lunch. I could marinate meat for grilling, juice plums for a granita, fry thick rounds of fresh zucchini dipped in egg and breadcrumbs.
Stepping back into the house, greeting my parents and turning on Ibrahim Ferrer who sings through breakfast, the opportunities fade and contract as plans are made, schedules set. The perfect possibility of the day ahead remains only until the last pancake has been eaten and the first mower starts up.
Strawberry Pancakes with Rhubarb Syrup
- 1 vanilla bean
- ½ cup whole milk
- 1½ cups buttermilk
- 2-3 sprigs lemon verbena or lemon balm*
- 1 bunch rhubarb, cut in 1/2” pieces. About 2 cups.
- 1½ cups real maple syrup
- 2 cup flour
- 4 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp cardamom
- 2 eggs, separated
- 4 tbs butter, melted and cooled slightly
- 1 pint strawberries, cut in a ¼” dice
*No lemon verbena or lemon balm? Add a tsp of lemon zest.
- Slice open vanilla bean and scrape seeds into small saucepan with milk, buttermilk. Add bean and bring to a bare simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat, add lemon verbena or lemon balm, and let steep 20 minutes. Strain out and discard solids.
- Combine maple syrup and rhubarb. Simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. Strain out solids and discard. Return syrup to medium heat and simmer to thicken.
- Whisk together flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and cardamom. Add strawberries and toss to combine.
- Whisk together egg yolks and butter.
- Whisk together infused milk and egg whites. Add egg yolks with butter and whisk to combine.
- Stir liquid into dry ingredients, just until incorporated. Lumps are fine. Let batter rest for 10 minutes.
- Warm 1 tbs vegetable oil in a skillet over med heat. Add batter by the 1/3 cupful. Cook until the bubbles that break the surface of the batter leave holes behind, rather than collapsing. If the bottom of the pancake brown too much before this happens, reduce heat. When the first few bubbles leave holes behind in the batter, flip the pancakes. Cook 1 minute longer. Serve pancakes topped with rhubarb syrup.