Remembrance of Crepes Past
Updated: Mar 26
(by Makella Brems)
A tradition is only established once its origins are buried by years of repeated practice, lost in memory somewhere between the address of one's childhood home and the plot details of To Kill A Mockingbird.
"Maybe it was when we moved to Paradise Lakes."
"Or maybe it was when Mimi gave us the Le Creuset pan."
I called my mother the other day to see if she could recall the first December morning she made what my family now refers to as the Christmas crepes.
“I can’t remember. Isn’t that funny?”
Neither could I. Christmas crepes were as much a fixture of our holiday as decorating the tree and opening presents. In fact, they were the only thing that could keep me from opening presents prematurely.
On that magical morning every year, I would wake up well before the sun, tiptoe into the living room, and stare longingly at the presents glowing under hundreds of red and white bulbs on the tree.
“No presents until we’ve had breakfast!” The sound of my mother’s voice in my head made me keep my distance. After two to or three circuits of “Mom. Mom!,” a healthy jump on my parents’ bed, and a lot of grumbling, my mother and father would shuffle down the hall and start the breakfast production. The Brems family holiday playlist was queued up: Twelve Days of Christmas (the Muppets version), Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree, and a whole lot of Ella Fitzgerald. Then we assumed our positions.
I manned the berry-rinsing and banana-peeling station. My father whipped the cream, and my mother ting-tinged and tap-tap-tapped measuring spoons against a metal mixing bowl. Pretty soon, the smell of sizzling butter directed my priorities away from presents and toward my stomach.
Where my mother considers herself sous-chef to my father at all other times of the year, on Christmas morning she commands the kitchen with confidence and grace. One hand pours creamy batter with a metal ladle, and the other smooths the batter over the pan with a wooden T tool.
“Let me try!” My mother handed me the tool and patiently watched as I stabbed and smushed the batter into a lumpy glob. Resigned back to my fruit station, I watched her pile perfect crepe after perfect crepe onto a porcelain plate. Appreciation of any craft comes from attempted re-creation.
The year after the housing market crashed, my parents and I found ourselves preparing for Christmas breakfast in my mother’s mom’s kitchen. Mimi, who hums jazzy bossanovas while cooking up the best batch of grits you’ll ever eat, and whose three favorite ingredients are “butter, butter, and butter,” can detect the instant an intruder has entered her territory. Within seconds of sensing a cereal bowl pulled from the cupboard, Mimi is there to supervise every move. Endless nightmarish scenarios played out in her mind as she would watch my mother and me—relative novices in the kitchen—fumble around with her prized kitchenware.
“Your grandma is going to get all flustered if we take over her kitchen," said Mom. "Let’s just do German pancakes this year.” While I love German pancakes, they are not Christmas crepes. I consented to the derailment of Christmas with a raised eyebrow.
Regrettably, no one remembered to give the milk a sniff test, a key procedure in any kitchen whose thrifty owner can still recall the ravages of the Great Depression. A gallon of sour milk and an unsavory pan of German pancakes later, my faith in the world order was restored. “Christmas crepes,” I declared. Sensing that fate would squander any attempted deviation, my mother brought down the pots and pans and began the ritual.
This year will be the first that I do not have my mother’s Christmas crepes. After graduating from college and moving from my family home in Arizona to an apartment with my boyfriend in New York City, a myriad of insurmountable logistical obstacles means that my parents and I will remain on opposite ends of the country this Christmas.
I’m not sure whether or not I want to try to recreate the tradition of the Christmas crepes. I fear that the familiarity of the affair will only highlight the ways that it is new and strange.
Still, I had my mother send the recipe. I tried to ignore the sadness in her voice when I asked for it. My request made the reality of separate Christmases concrete.
Now that we have our own place, my boyfriend and I have the exciting opportunity to spend our first Christmas together. I hope that the meals we make this Christmas, the soundtrack for our cooking, and the order in which we open our presents meld together with the events of many Christmases to come, until we, too, cannot remember when or where they first began.
Makella Brems is a recent graduate of Claremont McKenna College in California. She has since thrown her degree out the window, moved to New York City, and become a nanny. Her website is https://kellabnyc.com/.
1 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. water
1/4 t. salt
2 T. butter, melted
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and the eggs.
Gradually add in the milk and water, stirring to combine.
Add salt and butter; beat until smooth.
Heat a lightly oiled frying pan over medium high heat.
Pour or scoop the batter onto the pan, using approximately 1/4 cup for each crepe.
Tilt the pan with a circular motion (or use a T-shaped wooden crepe spreader) so that the batter coats the surface evenly.
Cook the crepe for about two minutes, until the bottom is lightly brown.
Loosen with a spatula, turn, and cook the other side.
Serve hot with whipped cream and fruit slices of your choice.
Maple syrup and berry preserves also go well with Christmas crepes.