Potato Pancakes are a part of my collective family food memory. It seems that food traditions are such a rich part of most families histories. Memories of being gathered together in the kitchen or around a table always seem to glow the brightest in our minds. I’m not sure how many generations of women in my family have been making these potato pancakes, but I do know it reaches back pretty far. I’ve personally watched my Mom, my Great Grandmother, as well as my paternal Grandmother all fill their largest cast iron skillets with huge batches of them. I can clearly remember the enticing smell of sizzling butter and onions drifting through our house. And how I would “set the table” extra slowly. Hoping for a “sample cake” as Mom stacked layers of them between waxed paper for the family meal. Now I smile when my own daughter tries the same thing.
But before we go any further permit me to clarify one thing. These are not Latkes. While I adore a good Latke, I do not have a Jewish heritage. If that’s the recipe you are looking for try this blog for Latke Making Tips. My ancestry is mainly German and Irish. Some members of my mother’s family immigrated very early (1700’s) to southwestern Virginia where they were farmers. My father’s family started farming in Henrico County Virginia in 1838 at Bolton Hoehns Estate. A small part of that land is still used today by our 7th generation farmers. I can remember both branches of my combined family making these. And they are different than the more familiar latkes. We always made potato pancakes from left over mashed potatoes, not freshly shredded potatoes. And we pan seared them in a small amount of butter and oil instead of frying them. Kind of griddled, more like you would a regular pancake. They came to the plate brown and crispy on the outside but still smooth and creamy in the middle. And they are still positively addictive today. I love a good leftover recipe. And this one totally transforms leftover mashed potatoes. My only problem seems to be ever making enough mashed potatoes to have left overs in the first place (tip- set aside some before serving!). Oh the potatoes my Grandmothers must have peeled!
I know this because we often enjoyed these for breakfast, sometimes with small pork chops. I’m just so certain those women were all ever so much tougher than me. Any one else feel that way about their own Grandma? Ever since I was I little girl, I have loved these. Although no one living seems to know their origin, I’m guessing it was a combination of what was on hand, cheap, and filling. My great grandfather could keep his family of 7 fed through the winter with an acre of land planted with potatoes. The Irish traditionally have Boxty Cakes which bear a resemblance but combine mashed potatoes with grated ones. And Germans have several variations of potato pancakes as well. This recipe for potato pancakes was commonly found on Virginia farm tables when I was growing up. Maybe this humble delicacy is due for a comeback?
So here’s my easy step by step recipe for Southern Potato Pancakes. They are such a fond part of our family’s traditional winter food. We make them in the morning to eat with eggs.
Or sometimes they were the center of the plate for a simple lunch alongside some a jar of pickles. I suggest the classic pairing of cabbage and potatoes for this. But I do confess to switching over to bok choy or napa cabbage because I prefer its mild flavor. I always loved childhood dinners where a large platter stacked with them appeared as our vegetable.
As an adult, I have seen many tempting versions of these mashed potato pancakes. Pinterest offers numerous versions using shredded cheese, Serrano ham, goat cheese, herbs, or bacon. They all look delicious. But what I crave is the simple perfection that I grew up eating. I’ve only changed a couple of things from how my great grandmother would have made them. I’ve added panko crumbs to the outside of the cakes for extra crispness. I’ve used clarified butter because it doesn’t spatter and browns better. And I added a little chives and parsley for a punch of color and flavor. But you can serve them any way you please. Just be sure to steal a sample one from the pan early to eat plain with salt. Or to split with your kids. It’s tradition after all.
And of course, now I cook them on my EVO. I think my great grandmother would have approved of my version. I know with her love of cast iron skillet cooking, she would have appreciated an EVO to keep all those hungry mouths fed! When I think of how that generation labored to put food on the table, I am humbled. And grateful. I hope that your 2016 tables and year are filled with the richness of family traditions, both old and new. Happy New Year all. And thanks Nana.
- 3 cups mashed potatoes, chilled
- One small onion, grated on box grater
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 2/3 cup all-purpose flour (you may need more or less, depending on how dry or wet your mashed potatoes are)
- 1/4 c buttermilk (again will depend somewhat on your potato consistency)
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs for rolling finished cakes
- butter clarified if possible, for pan-frying ( add a little canola oil if using regular
- small handful (about 4 T) of chopped flat leaf parsley and chives minced fine
- salt to taste
Combine all ingredients except panko in a large bowl and mix thoroughly. Scoop out using ice cream scoop or small bowl onto parchment or waxed paper. Chill at least 30 minutes or up to overnight. Press cool cakes into panko. Brush Evo Grill or cast iron pan with butter over medium heat. Add cakes and griddle about 4 minutes a side or until golden brown and hot. Sprinkle with sea salt and serve straight away or hold in warm oven.