How to Make Pancakes with Your Son’s Girlfriend Who is Probably Not Good Enough for Him

by Beth Buchanan



You open your phone again to read your son’s last text message. ‘We’re on the bus. Sent at 9:58 AM.’ She’s with him, your only son’s girlfriend. In fact, you’ve never met any of his girlfriends before. He’s informed you that she’s “a foodie”, so you plan to spend time with her in the kitchen. You’ll teach her how to cook one of his favourites — Irish pancakes. At no fault of her own, she’s American and needs to learn the difference. 

You give the kitchen a once over ensuring all necessary ingredients are in the cupboards, dishes out of the sink, the counters wiped down, everything organised with the right amount of intimidation. She doesn’t have to know that you’ve spent the last twenty-four hours hunched over in frenzied deep-cleaning of the house. A chime from the sitting room reminds you that it is time to collect them at the bus station. 

You arrive early to scrutinize their every movement as they disembark from the bus. Does he help her with her luggage? Does she let him? Are they smiling at each other when no one is looking? As they walk toward you, you note her modest black and white dress with black leggings. Nothing too trendy. It looks neither Irish nor American. Her handshake is firm in spite of her willowy frame.

On the drive to the house, the radio is off in order to maximise potential awkwardness. She handles the small talk well, and you watch him in the rear view mirror. His eyes flicker nervously between the mirror, her, and the view in front of him. He laughs at something she says, and it’s a new sound to you. 



Your son gives her the grand tour of house. They walk past the spot where he stepped on a glass Christmas ornament warranting a trip to A&E; past the kitchen table where he did his homework, his brow furrowed behind his glasses; past the faded red chair in the sitting room where he spent his most of free time ploughing through books. 

“Here is my room,” he says and you remember bringing him Lemsip and soup in bed, cleaning up the stains on his pyjamas and favourite blue sheets after he got sick, and tucking the extra fluffy blanket around him on those terrible winter nights. You wonder if she brought him soup when he had that nasty cold last month or if she knows exactly how long to steep his tea and the proper amount of honey. 

“And here is the guest room where you’ll be staying,” he continues, a few steps farther down the hall but not far enough for your liking. 

When they returned to the kitchen you hand her an apron and him a pair of gardening gloves. While she washes her hands, you put on a CD and instruct her to pull out several bowls from the cupboard as you line-up the other ingredients. Upon hearing the piano melody, her shoulders relax. 

“Have you heard the version of this song with a French horn instead of a piano?” She asks in a soft voice. 

“You enjoy Chopin?” 

“Etude Number 3 in E major is one of my favourites.”

“Music nerd!” Your son interjects from the other room causing her cheeks to pink. You shoo him outside to weed the garden.

She waits idly by your side, like a shadow, with her hands clasped in front of her. She seems hesitant to do anything unless instructed to do so. You want her to take some charge, but then again the thought of a stranger — a girl, HIS girl — coming in and taking command of your kitchen irritates you. 

You recite out loud the ingredients by memory. 

4 oz of plain flour 

Pinch of salt 

1 egg

Half pint of milk 

Small amount of butter (about two teaspoons, upon her further inquiry) 

As she dips the half measuring cup into the bag of flour, she asks you about the ounces, puzzled why we aren’t using metric. You tell her it's the recipe you’ve always used. She says nothing while scraping off the excess flour with a knife and overturning the cup into a sifter you’ve handed her. Small piles of flour now dot your once clean counter. She cracks the handle of the sifter in a clockwise motion and a shower of flour settles into a large bowl. Without being asked, she reaches for the salt and pours a small amount into her palm before dumping it in with the flour. You allow yourself a small smile at her display of confidence. She hits an egg flat on the counter, not the edge, and breaks it open into another small bowl and gently breaks up the yolk with a fork. Your son always scrambled it to death.

“Here’s a wooden spoon to make a well,” you say but she’s already dropped the egg into the well-less flour mixture.

“I’m a bit sceptical about the well method. It never seems to make a difference.” 

You watch stunned as she reaches for the milk and slowly pours a steady stream into the bowl. She’s careful to not overbeat the batter, turning the spoon over with a flick of her wrist to fold the mixture. 

“I’ve never not used a well. That’s how my mother taught me,” you say. 

Her eyes never lose focus on the bowl as she explains, “I think the process is about slowly incorporating the liquid so the flour isn’t overwhelmed and not over-mixing the batter.” Then she switches to a fork to mimic the effects of a whisk. You have a whisk but she doesn’t ask for one, so you don’t see the point. 

“When the recipe says ‘to the consistency of single cream’, what does that mean?” she asks. 

“What does what mean?”

“Single cream. What is it?”

“Oh, do you not have it in the US?” 

“We have light, regular, heavy, whipping, but nope, no single.”

“Right, so then I guess single cream would be what you put into coffee. It’s lighter than double cream which is what I use for whipping or ganache.” 

She raises the fork out of the thin batter. An unbroken thread streams from the tines into the bowl where bubbles froth to the surface. “So it should look like this then?” 

“Perfect. Now we let this rest in the fridge for about half an hour,” and you move to turn up the Aga. “Cup of tea, dear?”

“Yes, please, with milk if you have it.”

Please and thank yous are abundant on her lips. She may be American, but at least she’s polite. 



When the batter is thoroughly rested, and you melt a few teaspoons of butter in the microwave. She whisks the batter with a fork until frothy once again. As you’re about to pour the melted butter into the bowl she yells, “Wait! Shouldn’t we let the butter cool a little?”

“Why’s that?”

“The batter is cold and might cause the butter to clump when we add it.” 

You laugh. You’ve made this recipe hundreds of times and know that the thousands of shards of butter in the batter are harmless and will melt in the pan. 

“That’s grand. The pan still needs time to get hot,” you say. Then you stick your head out the door, and call out to your son, “Come in, love, it’s about ready.” 

While your son cleans up from gardening, you watch her watch him, her gaze enamoured. You pour a dab of sunflower oil into the pan and swirl it around to coat the bottom. Then you glance up and see him watching her watching you and the hot pan. He’s grinning at her fascination with the pancake process. 

“Do either of you want to try and make the first one or shall I demonstrate?” 

“You show us how it’s done, Mum,” your son says.

You ladle a small about of batter into the small pan and tilt it to spread it evenly. The scent of buttery Sunday mornings with the family envelopes the kitchen.

“Watch the tiny bubbles. That’s when you know the top side is set. And now we’ll check the underside…,” and you lift one edge with a spatula and see that it’s golden brown. “And here’s the tricky bit.” You use the spatula to flip the entire pancake over. It catches on the edge of the pan. Every time, you think. “No worries! The first one is always a disaster, so the chef eats that!” You scoop it onto a plate. “Your turn,” as you pass your son the spatula. “Now my dear, while he does that, let me show you the toppings.” 

Her eyes never leave your hands as you roll a lemon on the counter under your palm before cutting it in half with a knife. A burst of citrus fills your nostrils when you give the lemon a good squeeze over the ruffled pancake. Then you sprinkle a teaspoon of sugar over it. 

“Give this a try,” and the fork slices effortlessly through the thin layers. After a swirl through a puddle of lemon juice and sugar, you present to her the fork. Yes, you want her to like it. 

She chews slowly, her eyes closed as if see the flavours in the dark. 

“Just like a crêpe,” she decides. 

“No, it’s not a crêpe. It’s an Irish pancake,” your son retorts, rolling his eyes. 

Unmoved by his rebuff, she cuts another triangle out of the pancake. She wordlessly offers the piece to him by holding up the fork near his mouth. He leans down, his hands occupied with the spatula and pan, and closes his lips around both the fork and pancake. Their eyes lock as he pulls away. He nods as he chews. “Yep. That’s a good pancake.”

“Would be fantastic with some Nutella,” she adds.

You remember you left the jar of Nutella that you purchased for his visit in the boot of the car, and run out to get it. From the open kitchen window you hear her ask, “So when is it my turn with the spatula?”