Why Christmas Always Reminds me of Blueberry Pancakes


This Christmas foodie adventure started in the back of a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Once all the wrapped and tightly taped gift boxes and bags were inside the car, I climbed in the back seat behind grandpa Lee and grandma Vember, and away we went. It was early one Christmas Eve morning in the 1990s.

My grandparents lived in the small textile mill community of Caroleen in Rutherford County, North Carolina. Some years I’d stay with them for a few days during my Christmas break from school, and this year I’d spent a short time with them prior to the holiday. Every year on Christmas Eve we’d gather with my mom and dad at our house in the Gaston County community of Alexis for dinner, gifts, goodies and time together. Grandpa was also known to go shopping for gifts on Christmas Eve itself—he was calm, cool and collected enough to do such a thing—and I accompanied him at least a couple times. Grandma and grandpa would spend the night in my room, which meant I slept in our third bedroom on a different side of the house. The change of venue for that one night each year always produced a magical quality for me.

But this isn’t a story about the usual Christmas experiences of my youth. Rather, it’s the memory of one exceptional year when our Christmas Eve journey from grandma and grandpa’s house had a special stop on the way to mom and dad’s.

I always remember my grandma as one who enjoyed eating breakfast in restaurants. She didn’t eat eggs, grits, bacon and toast at home when she helped make it for grandpa and me. But get her in a restaurant and it was a different story. So it’s no surprise that we stopped for breakfast at The Pancake House in Shelby, North Carolina—coincidentally less than a mile from where my wife and I now live—on the way to mom and dad’s this particular Christmas Eve.

What honestly is a mystery is why I ordered a massive stack of Pancake House blueberry pancakes that day. I was known for, as the Southerners say, “having eyes bigger than my belly.” I often tried to eat more food than I could actually hold as a child. (I’m so sorry, Mom!) And it won’t surprise my close friends to read that I’d order blueberries. If anything, I’m over-known for my love of blueberries. Yet, I’ve always been one to prefer my pancakes with only butter and hot, hot syrup, which The Pancake House serves quite well!

So, the blueberry pancakes arrive, and I remember grandpa, grandma and me gawking and fawning at how they were hanging off the plate in front of me. I ate pancakes, and I ate pancakes. Then I ate some more pancakes. (If you’re familiar with the movie or book “Matilda,” perhaps imagine a situation figuratively similar to Bruce Bogtrotter eating the massive chocolate cake, but far less repulsive!) The blueberry pancakes were incredibly delicious. Grandpa finished his breakfast—what it was, I don’t remember exactly—and then he took bites of my remaining pancakes.

We couldn’t finish them.

We tried anyways, and a sizeable portion remained.

We were stuffed, and my mom is known for her Christmas goodies, so I don’t think we took them with us. I may be wrong, but I don’t think we took leftovers, which would in no way happen now. I’ve developed firm beliefs in not wasting any food if at all possible.

For years, we talked about the size of those pancakes and how grandpa and I couldn’t finish them together. It became food legend in our family, and I don’t think it will ever leave any of us.

My grandpa and grandma Quinn have passed on now. Grandpa died in 2013, and grandma passed away this year (October 2017). But they’ve supplied me with an estate of so many fond memories, including treating me to those blueberry pancakes.

On one recent morning, I had a hankering for blueberry pancakes. Maybe it was something grandpa and grandma put into my head from Heaven. So I got up and went for an extra long walk in my neighborhood to prepare myself, took a shower, got dressed and drove a mile up the road to The Pancake House. I sat down in a booth by myself, imagined grandma and grandpa side by side across from me, and I ordered a plate of two blueberry pancakes, a side of sausage links and coffee when the server arrived at my table.

For a half hour, I sat there slowly indulging in the pancakes and the memory of my childhood visit to the very same restaurant. This time, the pancakes didn’t seem quite as large, but then again I’ve grown much larger myself in the years since that adventurous day years ago. And somehow I remember the blueberries being cooked into the pancakes before, while these pancakes had a tasty blueberry compote on top. But with all of the differences between the memory of the past and the reality of the present, I still know grandpa and grandma were enjoying the Christmastime breakfast with me.

A Meal in Memory of Grandma

housewife and cook

Food is more substance than just sustenance for me. For some people, cooking and eating are just necessary functions for life. For me, each meal’s preparation and consumption is an experience to relish and remember. Much credit for that goes to my maternal grandmother, Vember Christine Allred Quinn.

Grandma passed away on Oct. 20 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. She still continued to enjoy some of her favorite foods until the final weeks and days of her amazing 88-year life, even though she hadn’t been able to think through the process of making a meal herself in years.

I deeply miss Grandma Vember’s cooking, along with so many other things that made her a beautiful person. Meals at her house, especially at times like Thanksgiving, meant I got to sit around the table with her, Grandpa, Mom and Dad to eat and talk. Each one of us always sat in the same place, and my seat was to Grandma’s left, also next to Mom.


Grandma’s passing has had me thinking about the dishes and recipes of hers that I recall most fondly. So I’ve decided to put together a meal at Grandma’s house, and I’d like to invite you to join me for dinner. No reservation or transportation is necessary. Just continue reading and enjoy this simple yet special table of memories with me in the plates below. Here’s what’s on the menu.

FLANK STEAK: Grandma cooked the most flavorful, tender flank steak—and we just called it steak—I’ve ever consumed. My own is not nearly as tasty or chewable. Flank steak has a tendency to be tough in consistency. Not grandma’s. As I remember, hers had a light but very meaty quality to it, with a slightly soft, slightly crispy coating that had a hint of pepper in taste. This was my favorite main dish for grandma to prepare, and I’d still take a pan of flank steak now over any other more expensive cut of meat.

HOPPY TOAD BISCUITS: Perhaps my favorite food prepared by my grandmother was her biscuits. I can still picture the containers of ingredients in the bottom kitchen cabinet and her hands at work in the dough on the counter above. She’d nestle the biscuits close together and they’d join in the sided pan in the oven. When they hit the table, we’d break them apart, and they’d seemingly hop from the plate and into our mouths. They were small biscuits, shaped by the pan’s sides and their neighboring pieces of dough, with a slightly crisp outside and a soft but completely done middle. I’ve never eaten a biscuit like Grandma’s.

GREEN BEANS AND POTATOES: Some dishes are more about the memories attached than the unique recipe in which they originate. That’s how I feel about a pot of Grandma’s green beans and potatoes. In my mind, I can see the glass pot and lid that she always used for her green beans and potatoes. Neither the beans nor the potatoes were any sort of premium quality, and they weren’t seasoned in any creative way, to my knowledge. But the combination of a can of green beans and a can of whole potatoes introduced to me the realization that food can be both simple and fulfilling.

OLD DRY CAKE AND CHOCOLATE GRAVY: This is just a basic cake with butter, milk, eggs, sugar, flour and vanilla, but there’s nothing ordinary about its story in our family. Grandma made the cake once, before I’d ever tasted it myself, when Great Aunt Kathleen was eating with my grandparents and Mom. Grandpa asked her how she liked it, and Kathleen answered that it was a little dry. It’s since been known as the “Old Dry Cake.” Sometimes when she made it she’d cook a chocolate sauce (also known as chocolate gravy) and pour it over the hot cake, allowing it to run over and into the cake. I dare say you haven’t lived if you haven’t had chocolate gravy poured over “Old Dry Cake.”

If I could have Grandma make one meal right now, those dishes are exactly what I would request. They’re emblazoned on my heart, and their memories have influenced my interest in cooking and zeal for how I feed myself and my wife Molly. Thank you, Grandma. I think of you every time I step into the kitchen.

In Memory of Vember Christine Allred Quinn (Oct. 11, 1929-Oct. 20, 2017)

Matthew’s Three-Ingredient Biscuits


I’ve enjoyed some fantastic homemade biscuits in my life. With no disrespect to other great biscuit makers in my family, my grandma Vember’s were the best. It must have been the grandma love she handed her biscuits, affectionately known as “hoppy toad” biscuits, presumably because they were small and so good they quickly hopped off the pan.

Recently, I’ve had her biscuits on my mind, and I’ve come to realize I’ll never make — or likely eat anywhere — biscuits like hers again. But I’ve had this nagging hankering for delicious homemade biscuits, and I’ve been on the hunt for a simple recipe that satisfies the craving when it hits.

My wife Molly makes delicious homemade biscuits that go great with a bacon-and-eggs breakfast, jam spreads or a drizzle of honey. But Molly will tell you that I have one complaint about those biscuits, mostly when I’m the one cooking them: I don’t like using shortening, also known as lard. It has an oilyness to it that just “burns my biscuits.” I don’t enjoy working in it with my hands, and I don’t enjoy cleaning the measuring cup that contains it. So, I’ve been searching for an ingredient replacement, and I think I’ve found it.

No one recipe has delivered exactly what I’m looking for, so I can tell you that this specific recipe is probably out there in some form, but I’ve created my own version of it as a mashup of pieces from others. The only required ingredients: Flour, Milk and Butter. Be patient with these biscuits. You’ll have to try them several times to arrive at just the right combination for your taste and your oven. And when you do, I expect you’ll be quite pleased.

These biscuits offer light, flaky layers and a savory, buttery taste to boot. They make great biscuits for sandwiching toppings like bacon, sausage and eggs. They’re great with jelly. I even love eating them plain, and because of the butter included in the recipe, there’s little need for slathering extra butter when they come out of the oven. See what you think, and let me know if you like them as much as I’ve come to.



2 Cups Self-Rising Flour

1/2 Cup Unsalted Butter (one stick, and it doesn’t actually have to be unsalted)

1/3 Cup Milk (you might have to test out this amount, depending on the consistency of your dough)

Yield: About 10 Biscuits


1. Cut your cold butter into cubes and toss them into your flour in a medium to large mixing bowl.

2. Use your hands, a pastry cutter or two forks to fold your butter into your flour.

3. Once your butter and flour are mixed, incorporate the milk slowly, until all three ingredients are blended well. You may need extra milk if your mixture is too dry, but you don’t want it to become too sticky either.

4. Form your dough into a large ball. Flour a flat surface and the outside of the ball.

5. Roll out your dough on the flat surface, then fold the dough over on itself and roll it out again. Repeat as many times as you like for more layers in your biscuit. You’ll see how many layers you want after your first time baking these biscuits. If you don’t want layers, roll out and don’t fold the dough.

6. Roll the dough to about an inch thick for thicker biscuits, or about a half inch for thinner biscuits.

7. Use a biscuit cutter or a circular cup to cut your biscuits. Flour the rim to keep from sticking. (You can also parcel out the dough in little balls and then flatten and form with your hands. I like a cutter to keep the biscuits more uniform in size.)

8. Place your biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet (You have butter in your biscuits to help with sticking).

9. (Optional) You can brush the tops of your biscuits with melted butter before putting them in the oven or midway through cooking for browner tops and an extra buttery flavor and texture.

10. Cook in a 450-degree oven for eight to 10 minutes, depending on the desired doneness.

More #FoodieScore Biscuits: Molly’s Three-Ingredient Biscuits

Chocolate Syrup Pound Cake

This delicious chocolate cake recipe came from a news story I did as a reporter for The Star. A couple in Shelby turned their grandmother Nell’s old home into Nell’s Farm House, a place for quiet, country lodging near Shelby and Gardner-Webb University. Included in your stay is access to some of Nell’s amazingly unique recipes, like this Chocolate Syrup Pound Cake.

I was very excited to make it, mainly because of the unique ingredient of chocolate syrup, as opposed to using the more traditional ingredient: cocoa. I wanted to see how it changed the flavor and texture. So how was it? The flavor is delicious, and the texture, dense. It is a pound cake after all. But let me tell you this – its chocolate-y taste does not need icing.


2 sticks butter

1/2 cup Crisco

3 cups sugar

3 large eggs

3 cups all purpose flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

Dash of salt

1 cup milk

1 tsp. vanilla

1 lb. can chocolate syrup


1. Cream the butter, Crisco and sugar. Beat well.

2. Add eggs, one at a time.

3. Add chocolate syrup and vanilla.

Choc syrup pound cake 1

4. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl.

5. Mix the dry mixture into the chocolate mixture, alternating with adding the milk.

6. Pour into a buttered and floured Bundt cake pan.

Choc syrup pound cake 3

7. Start in a cold oven. Bake at 325 for 1 1/2 hours. Do not open the door for one hour.

Choc syrup pound cake 4

Molly’s take: I love the different taste you get using chocolate syrup in this cake. It makes it a little richer and more chocolate-y than if you had used cocoa. I also love that, unlike most pound cake recipes, this one truly is delicious enough not to need icing or frosting. Definitely one I’ll try again! Maybe with a tall glass of milk…

Matthew’s take: A thick slice of this cake and a glass of milk is the perfect pairing for a delicious dessert or snack. I believe the chocolate syrup makes the cake more moist than cocoa does, and I think that moisture helped keep the cake from getting dry after a few days. But we also didn’t have to worry about the cake getting dry because it was so good that it didn’t sit around for long. If you want a solid cake that stands alone, try this recipe.

Molly’s Three-Ingredient Homemade Biscuits


Matthew’s grandma Quinn made delicious homemade biscuits. He can remember her spending long periods of time before meals mixing the ingredients by hand, cutting out the biscuits and baking them in the oven. Her biscuits were small, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

Homemade biscuits, like many other treats, do not exist in today’s kitchen.

Many people just aren’t interested in taking the time to make things like biscuits. They’d rather stop at the local fast food chicken joint and grab a box to go with dinner.

Not so at our house. Molly makes delicious biscuits that rival what you’d find at a Cracker Barrel or your favorite country restaurant. And they’re not THAT difficult to make. They don’t take that long to bake either.

Molly’s side of the family and my side of the family both have a history of cooking and baking. If your family does, too, or if you’d like to add a simple homemade touch to breakfast or dinner, try out this recipe.


2 cups self-rising flour

1/2 cup shortening

3/4 cup milk (some people use buttermilk; we prefer regular)

Step one:

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees, and blend your flour and shortening with two forks, with your bare hands or, the easiest route, in an electric stand mixer.

Step two:

Stir/blend in your milk.

Step three:

Form your biscuits and place on an ungreased pan.

Step four:

Bake for 10 minutes, or until golden brown.

Yield: Makes 9 average-sized biscuits.

Matthew’s Take: I love homemade biscuits, and I can eat them with any meal with many accompaniments. They’re delicious at breakfast with jelly on them. They’re delicious with lunch, or dinner with a meat and veggies meal. They’re delicious for dessert with an apple butter, a jelly, or even with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce on top. Molly’s biscuits are as good as any homemade biscuits I’ve ever eaten. They’re soft throughout, without being doughy inside or out. I look forward to the times when she makes these biscuits because I know they’re not the hardest thing to make and they are so versatile. They get an A+ for taste, an A+ for cost because the ingredients aren’t expensive and last for a while if you don’t make biscuits every day, and they get an A for presentation because what Southerner doesn’t get excited about a homemade biscuit?

Molly’s Take: I made these biscuits for a long time before I realized that the recipe should yield 9 regular-sized biscuits. I used to make six biscuits out of this one recipe! But you can (and should) make 9-10. This is my favorite way to make biscuits, because it’s simple, they cook into a beautiful golden brown color, and they taste like home. There’s just something better about a homemade biscuit. The other great thing about these is that they really are cheap to make. One bag of self-rising flour, a huge can of shortening and a gallon of milk (all purchased at your local Aldi, of course) will last you for a while, through many rounds of biscuit-making, and won’t cost that much. This is my best recipe for biscuits. And I’m sharing it with you!