The Beauty of the Blintz in Summer, by Ellen Gray
When I was in 6th grade, my grandmother, lured by the tropical climate and a gaggle of widowed friends, moved to Florida. For a number of summers, I joined Mama Min in her high-rise Hollywood apartment, traveling via Eastern Airlines to the land of palm trees and coconut patties. Her kitchen was compact, with just enough room for a slim café table and two chairs. We spent many afternoons sitting out on the shaded balcony, avoiding the blazing sun. The sound of the ocean in the distance was punctuated by the click-click of my grandmother’s knitting needles. It was during these warm weather holidays that I learned the joy of casual dinners and the beauty of the blintz.
My grandmother had a penchant for summer suppers; platters of cool salads, some held together with dollops of mayonnaise, others spiked with vinegar and fresh dill. Iceberg lettuce lined her favorite oblong dishes, cradling roly-poly cherry tomatoes, paper-thin slices of cucumber, zig-zags of red and green peppers. Pitted black olives were my favorite, with an opening just wide enough to wear on your pinky finger. The salads were garnished with the tiniest sprays of fresh parsley and fine dustings of paprika. With mah-jong, canasta, and occasionally Bingo following closely on the heels of our evening meal, a quick supper was practical. It also bypassed the oven in favor of the stovetop.
Most mornings, my grandmother started her day with an ocean swim. Attired in a flouncy-skirted bathing suit, her silver hair tucked beneath a floral swim cap, we rode the elevator down to the first floor. Making our way to the rear of the building and the exit closest to the beach, we would map out a plan for dinner. In the throes of a Florida summer, though technically more dessert than dinner, cheese blintzes were the perfect meal.
The apartment building boasted a small supermarket with an expansive dairy aisle. Reflective of the tastes of the clientele, many of the shoppers were accustomed to preparing the occasional dairy meal, particularly if they were currently, or had formerly kept a Kosher household. My grandmother would fill her mini-shopping cart with pot cheese or farmer’s cheese, the drier counterparts of cottage cheese. She also added a small container of Breakstone sour cream and a half-pound package of Land O’Lakes butter.
Using a hand-held rotary beater, Mama Min mixed up an eggy batter enriched with a spoonful of sour cream. Butter sizzled in the bottom of a Revere Ware copper-lined skillet. I watched as my grandmother ladled a few scant tablespoons of batter into the pan, tilting it sideways to create a thin pancake. After a few minutes, she flipped the pancake over, cooking it for just a moment before turning it out onto a cookie sheet. She repeated the process until the batter was exhausted, then moved on to make the filling.
Armed with a red-handled potato masher, the farmer’s cheese or pot cheese was placed into a Pyrex bowl. Adding an egg yolk, a tablespoon of sugar, a few gratings of what was then called lemon rind, not zest, and a teaspoon of vanilla extract, the rich filling was divvied between the pancakes. Rolled up with their corners tucked in, the chubby pockets could barely contain their high cholesterol selves. Gently warmed in the skillet, the blintzes were served with a dish of sour cream and whatever fruit my grandmother happened to have on hand. The greatest treat was topping the blintzes with a sour cherry compote which was nothing more than canned cherries cooked down with sugar and lemon. It was heaven, comparable to eating cheesecake for dinner.
Many years later, I would learn that the recipe for the blintzes was a hybrid of two recipes; one from the Settlement Cookbook and one from Jennie Grossinger’s compendium. The idea of cheese blintzes for dinner might seem a bit scandalous, but in the midst of summer, when the ‘real feel’ weather report covers the television screen in bands of red, I’m tempted to forego the oven and embrace the stovetop. Sometimes the best relief for the dog days can be found in a portly pancake stuffed with rich cheese filling, blanketed in a generous spoonful of sour cherries.
Ellen Gray is a professional pie whisperer, lover of pocket foods, a half-Marathon runner and former restauranteur. Read more about her at No More Mr. Nice Pie and follow her on FB and on Instagram @nomoremrnicepie for pretty pictures, puns and pie-kus.