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Grandma Velma's German pancake recipe is immortalized in a cherished home video

Left: Erin Rhode's mother, Kathy Rhode (left); Erin's maternal grandmother, Velma Freisleben Thein; and Erin's uncle, Bob Freisleben. Right: Bob Freisleben prepares specken dicken.
Erin Rhode
/
Collage by NPR
Left: Erin Rhode's mother, Kathy Rhode (left); Erin's maternal grandmother, Velma Freisleben Thein; and Erin's uncle, Bob Freisleben. Right: Bob Freisleben prepares specken dicken.

All Things We're Cooking is a series featuring family recipes from you, our readers and listeners, and the special stories behind them. We'll continue to share more of your kitchen gems throughout the holidays.

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When Erin Rhode's Grandma Velma died in August, she was tasked with putting together a video remembrance. Grandma Velma lived to be 93. There were countless photos taken throughout her life in Minnesota, but not nearly as many videos.

Still, Rhode unearthed a favorite family memory from 2010. That was the year when her Uncle Bob, who wasn't known for spending much time in the kitchen, decided he wanted to learn how to make specken dicken, the thick sausage-filled German pancakes the family eats every New Year's Day.

"I took video of this for some reason, like I think I knew at the time that this was a big family tradition and we want more than just the notecard," Rhode said. "I used so many of the clips in the video for her memorial because — her description of the batter, for example — 'It has to be thickly thin.' Not thin, not thick."

The video also showed Uncle Bob's mishap as he tried to thin the batter and ended up spilling it all over the counter just as Grandma Velma returned to the kitchen to discover the sloppy scene.

Rhode is fairly certain Uncle Bob hasn't attempted to make the graham flour pancakes since then, but the same can't be said for the rest of the family.

These days, the large gatherings aren't as common, but Grandma Velma's children still make specken dicken for their families and send photos of the final product to the family group chat.

Rhode, who lives in Plymouth, Minn., just west of Minneapolis, said it's helpful to have a few extra sets of hands in the kitchen to help slice the kielbasa sausage, form small patties with the ground sausage, make that "thickly thin" batter, and flip the pancakes on the griddle.

Extra mouths are also helpful because the recipe makes so much.

"It's never something I've made by myself because I couldn't possibly eat them [all]," Rhode said, although they do freeze well. "In fact, even when we make them just for the four of us ... my mom and dad, my sister and I, we end up having to freeze them."

If you make specken dicken and want to eat them like Grandma Velma did, you'll need to have a bottle of dark Karo corn syrup on the table, though Rhode said she (and many others in the family) prefer maple syrup.

"In a very logical, abstract sense, it just tastes like you put the sausage in the pancakes, but somehow it tastes better than that because it's all mixed together — and the syrup's on top of it," she said. "And the smell kind of reminds me of Grandma's kitchen, even if we make it to, you know, my mom's house."

Specken dicken

Recipe submitted by Erin Rhode
Plymouth, Minn.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups graham or rye flour
  • 6 cups white flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • buttermilk, to consistency (approximately 1.5 quarts)
  • 16 ounces pork sausage roll (Jimmy Dean or similar)
  • 1 smoked rope sausage or kielbasa (approximately 14 ounces, precooked)
  • Directions

    Slice the rope sausage/kielbasa into 1/2-inch thick discs. Cook the sausage roll into one large, thin patty. Slice the cooked sausage roll into 1-inch squares (about the same size as the kielbasa slices). Set the meat aside.

    Combine the flours, brown sugar, salt, and baking soda in a bowl. Mix in the eggs.

    Add buttermilk while stirring until the batter is the right "thickly thin" consistency where it pours smoothly but doesn't run. If you run out of buttermilk, you can finish with regular milk.

    Once the batter and meat are ready, it's time to prepare the specken dicken on the griddle. First, oil the pan. Next, arrange three or four rope sausage/kielbasa slices into a group on the griddle, leaving space between them. Repeat until your griddle is full, leaving ample space between the groups — each group of sausage will be one pancake. Pour approximately 1 cup of pancake batter centered over each group so that the sausage is completely covered. (Pancakes are about 4 inches in diameter, but use your best judgment.)

    While the pancake and rope sausage/kielbasa are frying together on the one side, take three or four pork roll sausage pieces and arrange them evenly on top of the pancake. When they're done on the first side, flip them over and cook the second side, baking both sets of sausage into the pancake.

    Serve warm with syrup (Karo extra dark or maple syrup, depending on your preference). If you don't have willing eaters immediately, pancakes can be kept warm in the oven (set to low) until you're ready to eat. Uneaten pancakes go in the refrigerator or freezer to be eaten cold later.

    Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.