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End of the Road Recipes: Palatschinken

Fred Schumacher making palatschinken.

by Crystal Schlueter

This week’s topic is about pancakes across cultures. Just about every culture has a signature pancake recipe.

Our featured guest, Fred Schumacher, knows about many of them. Fred was born in a post WWII Austrian refugee camp, but now calls Greaney, MN home. He and his wife Leah are retired and enjoy visiting friends in the Ely area.

Fred’s favorite pastime is spending time with his grandchildren and enjoys cooking for them. He believes in the importance of passing traditions on to the next generation.

Fred says “I am a memory keeper in my family, as is my wife in her family. We retain stories to pass on.”

He refers to his son, Janos, as the family’s recipe keeper. His oldest granddaughter, Amara, has already become a skilled baker at the age of 16.

One of their family favorite recipes is palatschinken. Palatschinken is the Austrian and German plural term (palatschinke, singular) for rich, crepe-like pancakes.

These pancakes are popular throughout Southeastern, Eastern, and Central Europe, though they have origins in the Greco-Roman world. Fred says Greeks called them plakon while Romans used the term placenta, which was a thin round bread with cheese filling. They are also called palačinke in Croatian, palacinky in Slovak, palacsinta in Hungarian, naleśniki in Polish, and placinta in Romanian.

Fred says his family are German-Hungarian from Yugoslavia. Past generations moved around a lot, mostly due to conflict or violence. Every time they were displaced, they picked up new languages. Fred and his family moved to the U.S. when he was seven.

Due to having a multilingual family, he recalls get-togethers as having a lot of language switching. Fred speaks four languages fluently which include: German, Croatian, Spanish, and English. He can also read several other languages and scripts.

Aside from languages, his family also picked up new cuisines. His grandmother was a cook in a manor house in Austria-Hungary. She learned an array of Viennese dishes and palatschinken was one of them. Palatschinken is just one example of the many foods that made their way through a widened area.

According to Fred, “Our cooking is essentially Danubian, that is, if you go down the Danube River from its source to the Black Sea, these are the kinds of foods you’ll get. It is syncretic, a combination of many different cultures. Its centers would be Vienna, Budapest, Zagreb, Beograd, Bucharest, Sofia, with Prague, Ljubljana, and Sarajevo added.”

I would like to offer my sincere thanks to Fred and his wife Leah for sharing such a delicious recipe and the incredible, well-documented story behind it.

 

Palatschinken

Ingredients:

3 large eggs

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups milk

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Salted butter for greasing

Toppings as desired such as apricot preserves and yogurt (see notes)

Instructions:

In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, sugar, and vanilla. Add the milk and flour. Beat vigorously until smooth. Place an 8 inch crepe pan or shallow-rimmed skillet over medium heat. Take a stick of butter and rub it over the hot pan to lightly grease the surface. Lift the pan off of the heat and add about 1/3 cup of batter to the pan. Working quickly, swirl the batter around until it coats the bottom of the pan. Place back on the heat and cook until the pancake appears dry on the surface (about 30 seconds to 1 minute). Using a narrow spatula, quickly flip the pancake over and cook for another 10 seconds or until cooked through. Fill as desired and roll up jelly roll style. Yield: about 18 pancakes.

 

Notes:

I tested Fred’s recipe as written and found it to be spot on. The pancakes were deliciously tender and eggy. I would describe them as being the French toast of the pancake world. Fred says that he doesn’t usually measure. He just goes by feel. If the batter flows too slowly, it’s too thick. If the cooked pancake falls apart, the batter is too thin. His aunt put more eggs into the palatschinken than his mother did and he prefers to make them more like his aunt’s version. Butter works better than oil for greasing because it has a better flavor and makes the pancakes more crispy. Every region puts its own spin on these pancakes. Some are sweet while others are savory. Fred likes to roll them up with apricot preserves and yogurt. One of his granddaughters likes just plain preserves while the other likes to sprinkle sugar on hers. Fred’s wife Leah likes to roll hers with lightly sweetened ricotta or cottage cheese, sour cream, an egg, and a splash of lemon juice. She then places them into a casserole dish and thins the leftover filling with a bit of milk to spread on top and sprinkles it with a dash of nutmeg. The casserole gets baked at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Fred uses a 26 liter Austrian Weitling mixing bowl that once belonged to his grandmother. His cast iron palatschinken pan is another family heirloom and his ladle came from Austria approximately 70 years ago. He uses a spatula that resembles a letter opener. Fred says regular spatulas are too wide and tear the edges of the pancakes.

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