Tales of a second-grade sweet potato

Jan. 07, 2014 @ 10:49 AM

Mrs. Dawson, our music teacher, gave me the lead role in our second-grade play.
I played the part of a sweet potato.  I was completely engulfed in the costume Dad built for me from wire and yards and yards of orange cotton. My best friend, Lynette, had the supporting role of a stick of butter. She carried a knife that was as tall as we were, and together we danced and sang with buttery, carbohydrate abandon. 
Go ahead, I’ll wait while you get that picture in your mind.
The other night my parents took The Kid and me to dinner at Elmo’s Diner (776 9th St.).  I love their burgers and spinach salad, but my eyes kept drifting back to the specials menu.
I was quite intrigued by the sweet potato pancakes.  But there was cinnamon in them; which is usually a deal breaker (when I eat it, I enjoy it just fine, but for some reason I shy away).   
After glancing at my hungry, expectant family, I took the plunge and ordered the pancakes. They normally come with whipped cream, but I asked for butter and syrup. The waiter brought our plates, and I took my first bite.
I was instantly transported back to the auditorium of Central Elementary School. Once again I was a musical sweet potato. Only this time Lynette and I were joined by the song and dance men Maple Syrup and Crispy Bacon.
The pancakes were a revelation. They were awesome, astonishing and absolutely delicious. Fluffy and light, they had plenty of sweet potato flavor, and a whisper of spice. The maple syrup was perfect with them; not too sweet with a smoky, slightly bitter note.
Every other hotcake I’ve ever had faded into a misty fog.  They were literally the best pancakes I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat. 
On the way out to the car I decided I had to write about that fantastic meal — I turned right around and went back inside to beg for the recipe (and permission to share it). 
The manager on duty gave me the name of Cammie Brantley, the general manager and part owner of Elmo’s.  As soon as I got home, I wrote her an email.
Forty-eight hours later, on New Year’s Day (!), she got back with me, and generously gave both the recipe and permission.
The recipe she sent made about 4 gallons of batter, an appropriate amount for a busy restaurant, but for home cooks, not so much.  The Kid and I worked together to scale it down to 4 servings.  Doing this can be a tricky business, so if it comes out a bit thin, add a little more wheat flour; too thick, add another splash of milk until it’s just right.
Elmo’s Sweet Potato Pancakes
5 tablespoons butter
5 tablespoons margarine
3 eggs
1 & 1/2 cups + 1 & 1/2 tablespoons milk
11 1/4 ounces sweet potatoes in syrup (3/4 of a 15oz can), drained
1/3 teaspoon + 1 pinch nutmeg
1/3 teaspoon + 1 pinch cinnamon
1 & 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons + 3/4 teaspoons sugar
1 & 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Melt butter and margarine, and let cool slightly.  In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and milk then mix in butter.  Add dry ingredients (except for spices) and stir well until completely incorporated.  In a separate bowl, mash sweet potatoes with potato masher until totally smooth.  Mix cinnamon and nutmeg into potatoes.  Add to batter and beat or whisk until well mixed. 
Ladle onto well heated griddle or frying pan.  When bubbles appear around the edges, flip and cook until done. 
Serve hot with toppings of your choice (I highly recommend butter and maple syrup).
I made everyone at the table have a taste, so they could see what they were missing.  They all loved them, even The Kid, who has a deep and abiding Vermont-cultivated aversion to maple syrup.
And as a former sweet potato I’m convinced there could be no higher calling for me or my sunset colored brethren than to become part of those magnificent flapjacks.
Thanks for your time.
Debbie Matthews lives, writes and cooks in Durham. Her email address is momsequitur@gmail.com.