Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Importance of Baking Powder or, How I Brought Aunt Jemima to Georgia

As one of my gifts to my host family I brought them real New England maple syrup (okay, it wasn't Aunt Jemima, but that was such a good title I couldn't pass it up). And for the past 2 weeks they have been offering it to me to put in my tea. When I got here I tried explaining pancakes, but to no avail. Do you know how hard it is to describe pancakes? I tried saying blini (Russian crepes), but fluffier and I think that made things more confusing. I agreed over the weekend to make pancakes, but I wasn't there for most of the weekend, and when I came back the family had plans to go to the birthday dinner of Lela's father.

Then, the day came when we were definitely going to make these fabled pancakes!  I had been very smart and wrote out the recipe ahead of time, because the internet hasn't been working. However, I wrote the amount in imperial measurements, not metric. A lot of the process went as thus:
Me: How much is in this cup? (holding up a coffee cup)
Maka (their English speaking cousin): About 150.
Me: 150 what?
Maka: Yes, 150.
Me: No, 150 of what?
Maka: Grams.
Me Thinking: Grams?!?! Aren't there a lot of grams in things?? (looking up grams the conversion measurements page in my date book) Yep. There are .0353 grams in one ounce. And I need three cups of flour... 8 oz in one cup... 24 oz... Okay... 24 oz... Dammit, math is hard! They're still staring at me. How much flour do I need?!?!?
Me: Uh, yeah, that cup will work. Sure.

Once the measurements were figured out, the hardest part was trying to explain "baking powder." On a good day, I barely know what baking powder does. I know that it's not baking soda. And then I think of how baking soda is used to make refrigerators not smell bad. And then I get distracted by wondering why people would eat baking soda, considering its olfactory negating properties- it just can't be good for the insides, ya'know? Theeeeen I start thinking about why people eat liver. I mean, that's the part of the body that filters out all the bad things. To eat that part just seems silly. And then I realize there was a whole reason I got on this train of thought and get fed up with the whole shebang.

So baking powder, I now know, is a chemical compound that releases carbon dioxide, which gives baked goods a light fluffy texture (i.e.- pancakes). They don't seem to have baking powder in Georgia. Or at least, based on my hand gestures, my host family had no idea what I was talking about. And no, if you look up "baking" and "powder" in the Georgian to English dictionary, it does not adequately explain "baking powder." So we had to get a little inventive. First we tried yeast. It was... not successful. Then we added baking soda, which Lela produced out of a cabinet half way through the batch. The only thing with baking soda is that you need vinegar to activate it... So I was saying, "No, no, pancakes are supposed to be sweet." But looking at the pathetic lump of silver dollar pancakes on the plate made me think it couldn't get much worse. So we added the baking soda and vinegar- a very tiny amount- and let the Fates take over from there. The pancakes, as they were cooking, looked like perfectly normal, American pancakes. But sitting at the table chowing down on what I used to refer to as the sustenance of the gods (working in a diner will do that to you), I was a tad disappointed. They weren't so much fluffy as they were yeasty. Definitely not up to snuff with Ernie's Lunch. But the syrup was good and helped mask the taste.

And the family's reaction?

They looked pleased. And they said the pancakes were good, but... I suspect they just thought it was all a bit weird. I mean, I made a big deal about it and in the end they said they were like blini (which I tried explaining! I think something got lost in translation).

Despite this whole ordeal, at least now they understand what maple syrup is for. Except while we were eating they asked me if it's supposed to be used for anything else...


  1. Sounds like trying to explain vegetarianism to San Franciscans ;)

  2. Wow what's your address there ill ship you some baking powder these people need to know what a GOOD pancake is.

  3. I was looking for a definition of baking powder in google,and I found your blog,first I thought you were georgian and then read the whole thing and understood that I was wrong,I live in Tbilisi,Georgia and you seem to be interesting!I can tell you about the main things in Georgia and culture

    Contact me on facebook if you're interested

    Mariam Janashia