On a recent visit to my hometown, I spent a lot of time talking to family and old friends. The conversations always started with current events, catching up on all the things that are important right now. Who just had surgery and which grandkids are in college and how did that new puppy get himself wrapped around the flagpole at 3:00 in the morning. Again.
It was wonderful to hear about everyone’s lives and to tell some stories of my own. It is this collective sharing that imprints daily events on our minds and can, over time, turn them into legend.
We all share the same stories and the best ones get shared more and more because, well, they’re the best. This repetition results in the most interesting stories becoming increasingly homogeneous. Everyone remembers the same details because that’s the way it’s always been told. People who weren’t even born when the legend started can repeat the details as though they were there.
There is no hard and fast formula for when a conversation moves from current events to repetition of legends but if you are in the middle of it, you know. It’s as if everyone looks at each other, shrugs and says, “Well, I guess that’s all I know. Let’s get out the photo albums.” Sometimes quite literally.
This is where it can get tricky. You and your family all sit down to look at photo albums. You all know the stories, the family legends. You can repeat them on demand. Why not enhance them with old pictures, see those cute, chubby cheeks and strawberry curls that have hardened and faded with adulthood? You recognize yourself and your older brother ... and that’s Cousin Tom and Uncle Phil. This must have been the camping trip to Clear Lake, the one where you hooked the giant pike while everyone else was packing up and trying to leave. You just had to have one more cast.
Wait a minute. Who’s that little blonde girl with the blue swimsuit and bright yellow galoshes? That’s got to be Cousin Karen; she used to live in those galoshes in the summer. She wasn’t on that trip, was she? Wasn’t she at music camp downstate? Yes, she was. That’s why Uncle Phil had to leave early, to go pick her up. And aren’t those birch trees in the background? I don’t remember any birch trees at Clear Lake; it was mostly red and white pines. Well, where was this, then? The conversation slowly devolves into chaos and everything you knew or thought you knew is called into question. The legends are laid bare.
In the last 10 years, social media has added a new wrinkle to this process. We can start to develop personal digital memories from information gleaned about a friend or relation on social media. Sometimes this information doesn’t make sense in the vacuum of the internet so we tend to build our own information around it until it seems plausible. When we read, “I’m done with this idiot!” followed by a dozen angry face emojis, we automatically go to the extreme case scenario. Cousin Lauren has finally gotten smart and is dumping that freeloader Marcus, and more power to her. We repeat this story to ourselves, each time embellishing it a little. Of course Marcus was cheating on her with his boss. They were probably embezzling company slush funds and robbing banks to hide the embezzlement.
That must have been what happened. Poor Cousin Lauren.
It’s a little embarrassing when you find out, months later, that she was just incredibly annoyed with her bank’s customer service representative. Good thing you didn’t share your bank-robber-infidelity theory with her.
Another fun thing social media does is remind us of things. Six years ago, you shared this, isn’t this a great memory? Yes, I suppose it is. Except I have no recollection of it.
This happened to me recently with a menu item from eight years ago. I worked at a funky little cafe in northern Minnesota and when I was developing a menu, I used to post descriptions of items I was working on. Kind of a public trial by fire. If an item got enough likes, it stayed. If it got a lot of “This sounds weird” or “Probably not my cup of tea” or “Really????” it was back to the drawing board.
The item I was reminded of was an open-faced fried herring sandwich with pickled ramps and herbed pannukakku. I have absolutely no recollection of ever making this dish. But since the internet doesn’t lie and there are the words, right in front of me, I must have at least prepared a sample. It must not have been very popular; I would have remembered if I had actually put it on the menu.
What I did remember was how much I love pannukakku. Not a savory, herbed version but the original sweet, custardy Finnish baked pancake. It is a perfect vehicle for the bounty of summer fruit available to us in northern Michigan. It is a treat for brunch or as a light dessert following a meal of heavy grilled meats and vegetables, simple to prepare and luxurious in its silkiness. I hope that it becomes a part of your culinary repertoire. And I hope that next time I don’t need social media to remind me of what I like.
¼ c. unsalted butter
1 c. milk
¼ c. butter
1 c. flour
1 t. salt
¼ t. ground cardamom or
1 t.vanilla extract (if desired)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place butter in an 8- or 9-inch cake pan or a 10-inch cast iron skillet and heat in the oven until melted but not brown. Mix remaining ingredients in a food processor or blender until very smooth and free from lumps. Pour custard mixture onto the melted butter in the pan and place in the oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes until the custard has set (a toothpick will come out cleanly when the middle is poked) and the top is a medium golden brown. Cut and serve immediately with fresh fruit, fruit sauce or preserves (if you can find lingonberry jam, it is an excellent accompaniment). You can also let the pannukkaku cool and serve chilled or at room temperature.
Blueberry lemon sauce
2 c. blueberries (fresh or frozen)
½ c. sugar
Juice and zest from 1 medium lemon
½ c. water, divided
1 T. cornstarch
Pinch of salt
Combine blueberries, sugar, lemon juice and zest and ¼ cup water in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 5-7 minutes until mixture is quite juicy. Mix cornstarch with remaining ¼ cup water until smooth and slowly pour mixture into sauce, whisking as you pour. Continue to cook, stirring, until sauce thickens, about 1-2 minutes. If it gets too thick, thin with a little more water. Add salt, stir, and taste. Serve atop your pannukakku.