published Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Braly: Memories of a camp kitchen cook

Her name was Lee. I never knew her last name. We all just called her Lee, the camp cook at High Rocks, a summer camp I attended for years in Cedar Mountain, N.C.

She was a huge black woman who commanded her kitchen. Still today, I can picture her moving her large frame around the kitchen, stirring big pots with a long metal spoon, checking her ovens for desserts baking in pans big enough to feed an army.

And that’s what she was doing, week in, week out, all summer long. Boys came for the first six weeks; girls followed for the remaining five.

Lee’s no longer there. She died a while back. And High Rocks is a boys-only camp now. But camp alumni, I’m sure, remember the meals Lee would serve us.

She always had a large, white apron wrapped around her middle. She’d don a clean one before each meal, but by the time it was ready to serve, the apron would show telltale signs of what she had prepared. The day always started with a big breakfast: country sausage, cinnamon toast, baked apples, scrambled eggs, biscuits.

Lee never did anything on a small scale. And, boy, we would eat, never worrying about childhood obesity back then. Any calories we consumed were quickly used up horseback riding, swimming, playing tennis and hiking.

A recent issue of Fine Cooking brought back this memory of four decades ago. Every time I see a photo of a huge stack of pancakes, I think back to all those I ate at High Rocks. How Lee got up every morning to make pancakes, I’ll never know. She just never seemed to tire of it. God bless her for that.

Fine Cooking’s Classic Buttermilk Pancakes

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for serving

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups buttermilk

2 large eggs

Vegetable oil for the griddle

Pure maple syrup for serving

Heat the oven to 200 F. Melt the butter in a small bowl in the microwave or in a small saucepan on the stove, and set aside to cool briefly.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk the buttermilk and eggs. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Whisk gently until the dry ingredients are almost incorporated; stop before the batter is evenly moistened. Add the cooled melted butter and mix just until the batter is evenly moistened (there will be lumps). Let the batter rest while you heat the griddle.

Heat a griddle or a large skillet over medium heat (or set an electric griddle to 375 F) until drops of water briefly dance on the surface before evaporating. Lightly oil the griddle. Working in batches, pour 1/4 cup of the batter onto the griddle for each pancake, spacing them about 1 inch apart. The batter will be thick, so you may want to spread it out a bit. Let cook undisturbed until bubbles rise to the surface and the edges look dry, 1 to 2 minutes. Check the underside of each pancake to make sure it’s nicely browned; then flip. Cook until the second side is nicely browned, about 1 minute more. Transfer the pancakes to a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven while you repeat with the remaining batter. Serve hot with butter and maple syrup.

Email Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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