By Tom Havran
It’s not just the ingredients, flavor or the visual appeal of the finished dish that make a food special; it’s the history behind it all.
In my family, a food’s history is usually a her-story due to the sturdy Czech and German women who’ve always been the primary keepers of culinary know-how. They’ve taught me the greatest cooking lesson I’ve learned: that it’s the remarkable stories behind the family recipes that imbue this simple food with its greatest savor.
The Havran fritters story begins with a cherished pan with the rare ability to produce fritters that bring folks together and gives everyone satisfaction.
The mystery of the coveted Havran fritter pan
The Havran fritters are basically just buttermilk pancake batter with stewed raisins mixed in. The magic happens when they are, as tradition dictates, subtly perfumed with lemon and fried in lard in a special, highly coveted, well-seasoned-from-generations-of-use cast iron fritter pan.
The special pan and the lard are the secret keys that unlock the remarkable mystery of a Havran fritter’s uniqueness. Together, they manage to settle the age old battle between people who love thin and crispy pancakes, versus those who prefer their cakes thick and tender. The pan and lard give the Havran fritter both a crispy brown exterior and moist, steaming, tender interior. So whatever your pancake proclivities are, you’re going to be happy.
Note: They don’t make the pans anymore, so a biscuit or cornbread skillet may have to stand in. (If you happen to spot an authentic original at a tag sale or antique shop, please buy it and send it my way, thanks!)
A family history
My great grandmother had to pack lightly for the crossover voyage from Germany, so she didn’t bring her old-world fritter pan. But as tradition relates, she did carry the fritter recipe with her. The story is always told as the fritters fry. In a haze of smoking oil and doughy-sweet aroma, to the sputtering sounds of the frying batter, I’ve imagined my great-grandmother clutching that precious recipe in her hands on board a creaking, pitching ship in icy North Atlantic waters. Not that it really went down that way of course, but that’s how my heart sees it.
The late 1800s brought Czech and German immigrants together in the Tama County, Iowa, communities of Vining, Chelsea, Dysart and Clutier. They began to intermarry — something that would’ve been highly unlikely in the old country. Maybe my German great grandmother melted the heart of her betrothed with fritters one snowy winter’s day long ago. Surely Grandma Minnie did the same to my Czech Grandpa Charles; conjuring a culinary, America-enabled desegregation, the implications of which are still resonating today.
I’m pretty sure that the Havran fritters recipe was one of the first recipes that my mom transcribed from grandma’s recipe file back in the 1950s, and one of many that she’s mastered and employed to win my dad’s (and us kids’) hearts. I really don’t think I’d be here today, writing about my family if it weren’t for all those humble, nourishing recipes.
Havran Raisin Fritters Recipe
Havran fritters are simple, don’t contain any rare or expensive ingredients and yield a lot of food with which to treat a large, hard-working family. They’re always served hot, crispy and tender right out of the pan, or stockpiled in an oven-warmed roaster because the cook simply will not be able to keep up with the demand. A bowl of sugar for dipping and rolling the steaming hot fritters is de rigueur. Since Havran fritters have made an appearance at every Christmas and New Year’s holiday get-together I can remember, I can guarantee they’ll bring your family together too.
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- ½ teaspoon lemon extract
- ¼ cup raisins
- 1 teaspoon melted butter
- 3/4 cup water
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
1. Combine buttermilk, eggs and lemon extract in a mixing bowl.
2. Simmer raisins uncovered with butter and water until plump and tender, remove from heat and allow to cool.
3. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
4. Add raisins and remaining stewing liquid to mixing bowl.
5. Add sifted dry ingredients and mix lightly until combined. As needed, add additional increments of either buttermilk or flour to produce a batter. Avoid over mixing.
6. Oil hot fritter pan and fill ¾ full with batter. Using a long toothpick, turn the fritters in the pan, checking with toothpick for doneness. Serve hot with granulated sugar.
- Boost the lemony flavor with grated fresh lemon zest.
- Substitute nutmeg spiced eggnog for the buttermilk.
- Roll the fritters in Snappy Sugar.
- Switch out the raisins for other add-ins and combinations: stewed dried cranberries and toasted walnuts, blueberries, apples and cinnamon, or chocolate chips.
- Try savory versions such as jalapeño and cheddar, cilantro and lime, cabbage and caraway or ham and Swiss.
What are some cherished historical recipes in your family?
About the author: Tom is communicator of natural living for Frontier, Simply Organic and Aura Cacia brands. In other words, he’s a very imaginative copywriter. A local boy, raised on a farm just down the road from the company’s headquarters in Norway, Tom enjoys drawing, plant hoarding, cooking and living the simple life in the beautiful state of Iowa.