Memories of Pancakes

Yesterday morning I got a Facetime call from my granddaughter Maya. She sat with her beautiful animated face front and center on the screen as she smiled broadly. She called to tell us that she was eating pancakes for breakfast. Maya usually eats “oaties with fairy chips,” a magical way her dad named the oatmeal with chocolate chips which she eats each day. This morning Maya was trying something new, a big step for a four-year-old who likes what she likes and doesn’t quickly appreciate new tastes. She sat with a piece of a pancake perched precariously on her fork and told us that now she likes pancakes! Hooray!

When Maya mentioned pancakes, a stream of memories came back to me from days long ago when our children were young, and I would make them pancakes with syrup. My pancakes were a hit or miss affair. They were far from the pancakes my mom, dad, and brothers used to eat when we went out on so many Sunday mornings to Bickford’s House of Pancakes at Wellington Circle, right on the border of Medford and Somerville. There the silver dollar pancakes were uniform, caramel-colored, and had swirly mounds of butter luxuriously melting into each perfect circle. We got to choose our syrup from an array of similarly colored viscous and sweet syrups placed before us on the table.

Four generations of pancake eaters

My pancake creations tended to be uneven and lopsided, either undercooked or burnt. Many pancakes were ruined when I flipped them too early and the batter would unceremoniously smear on the cooked side. Sometimes I would try my hand at pancakes supposed to look like Micky Mouse but instead, they resembled pancake monsters! Syrup is the answer to all pancake problems! By topping the pancakes with sticky supermarket brand syrup, the worst of the pancakes were tasty even when their look was at best forlorn. I would fry up these beauties and expedited serving them by tearing them into pieces before the children ate them. Who needs knives and forks anyway? My kids learned to eat pancakes with their fingers, dipping them into syrup and munching away. This was not IHOP pancake etiquette, but it passed for us in the comfort of our kitchen!

Fast forward a generation and onto more recent syrupy memories of pre-pandemic when grandchildren would come over for dinner or have breakfast with us. This bubbie didn’t make chicken soup, but either French toast or pancakes, both with ample syrup. The mixing of the ingredients, the inevitable buttery smoke that hung over the kitchen in clouds, the syrup bottle where I had painted a face on bottle-top;(“Look kids, the little syrup lady opens up her mouth and syrup pours out!”). These were the pancake memories that Maya helped evoke the other morning.

Admittedly, not all memories are sweet pancake memories. We all carry our share of memories, even food memories, that provoke tears and anxiety and bring us to a place we would rather forget.
My pancake memory might be someone else’s pancake nightmare. For today though, for this little post, let pancakes be front and center. Let us honor fleeting snapshots of sitting at kitchen tables or IHOP tables and what that does for creating food memories. Let those pancakes bring forth thoughts of sticky hands, washing up in the sink afterward, bibs and highchairs, car trips to The Pancake House, smoky kitchens, and love in whatever pancake shape it takes. For you, currently the parents of young children, remember that your time at the kitchen table with your children will be something that they will remember even when you are gray-haired. Make those meals count. Whether pancakes or soup or spaghetti, show your biggest syrupy smile. Be silly, have fun. Make your table time sacred time.

PS I’d love to hear some of your happy food memories from around your kitchen table. Feel free to post below (I love to read them!) or email me.

Leann Shamash is an educator and photographer. She is currently working on bringing attention to the wisdom and beauty of the elderly through her photographs and anticipates creating a book or a blog on the stories she is collecting.  You can read more of her blog posts at and view her photographs at