It is a truth universally acknowledged that Neil Gaiman is a masterful storyteller. Just go with the Austenesque description, because if you argue with me, I am ready to throw-down and make you feel shame for disagreeing. (Well, not really, but you know what I mean…somewhat.)
Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I’m here to say that I recently finished reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane. In one sitting. Is it a big deal for me? Yes, because I normally take a while to read anything over 100 pages long. Even with children’s books, I tend to space them out so it takes one to two, maybe even three days to finish them. Rarely do I keep reading from beginning to end. Gaiman’s book is definitely one of the happy exceptions.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is, as some people may have already mentioned, an adult fairy tale. It is about a man reminiscing his time as a child on a lane where he encounters the very characters that turn his childhood into something fantastic. For the adult, it starts off with a funeral and a memory. For the child, it begins with the death of an opal miner and the meeting of one Lettie Hempstock, a strange girl who believes that the pond behind her house is in fact an ocean.
It becomes harder to describe or summarize the book because you really have to read it to get that sense of magic and fairy tale. Gaiman has pulled from mythology and folklore (something he has been doing for quite a while, if you’ve read his other stuff), and uses this knowledge to craft a fairy tale with equal parts magic, wonder, fear, and reality. It was easy to fall into his ocean, because his descriptions were just enough to enable the imagination to run rampant. Mine sure did.
Needless to say the book was fantastic.
One of the things that makes this particular Gaiman story many kinds of wonderful is his description of food. In The Ocean at the End of the Lane, the narrator remembers the food he’d had at the Hempstock Farm, and occasionally he mentions that these moments were the most lasting. The taste, the smell, the texture of the food are things that have occasionally prodded the narrator’s memory of a particular scene (whether it was burnt toast and a dead opal miner or jam and porridge and Old Mrs. Hempstock).
When I put the book down, one of the most prominent things I remembered was an earlier scene between the narrator and Lettie inside the farmhouse, and they were snacking on rolled-up pancakes with plum jam filling (evidently the narrator’s favorite flavor). Now, being mostly American, my image of pancakes tend to fall on…well, fluffy and round and not at all “rollable” in the way Lettie was doing it in the book. So I figure, maybe the book version of “pancake” is a cross between the American version of pancake and a crepe. Or maybe it is a crepe because of the super-thin consistency that had been described in the book.
Anyway, I did a search and realized that European pancakes are clearly not like American or Canadian pancakes at all. There isn’t a raising agent, and the batter is more runny than regular pancakes. They’re also pretty darn light, do not need butter, and consist of eggs, milk, some flour, and, if wanted, sugar. It’s literally the simplest batter to make. Flipping and rolling it, on the other hand, takes a bit more practice, but that’s a matter of technique, not recipe.
Still, even if your pancake (like mine) isn’t perfect, it’s definitely doable. I managed to find strawberry jam and raspberry champagne jam in the pantry to use as the inside filling (no plum, unfortunately), and I rolled and alternated between the two types of jam (the raspberry flavor was easily my and my sister’s favorite). Then I dusted the tops a bit with some powdered sugar. Next time I’ll try adding some lemon on top and a bit of ricotta cheese inside. My gosh, that would taste heavenly, I think.
For anyone interested in the recipe: I tweaked this batter recipe by adding a teaspoon of vanilla extract. You really should use a blender to smooth the mixture out, but if not, a few minutes whisking should also do it. Obviously, you can go without the filling, or you can put some in before you roll it out, or you can add the jam and/or filling on top. Probably the best part about these pancakes is that they’re so malleable to anyone’s imagination.
Whaddaya know, much like The Ocean at the End of the Lane!