Batter off Dead
Book 17 in the Pennsylvania Dutch Mysteries with Recipes series, 2009
For Liza Schwartz
The delicious recipes in this book are from Pancakes A to Z by Marie Simmons. She is the award-winning author of twenty cookbooks, most recently Sur La Table ’s Things Cooks Love (2008).
I am grateful to Jeff Freiert for suggesting the title for this book.
Minerva J. Jay was a glutton. There is no kinder way to describe a woman who wolfed down twenty-six pancakes at the Beechy Grove Mennonite Church Brotherhood all-you-can-eat fund-raising breakfast, and then complained when I cut her off after her seventeenth pork patty.
“Read the sign, Magdalena,” she said. “I can still eat, and I will.”
I favored Minerva with one of my infamous scowls. “The church needs a new roof much more than you need a larger dress.”
“Was that a put-down?”
“Of course, dear, and one for which you really ought to be thanking me.”
She dabbed at the corners of her mouth with an economy-pack napkin. “I beg your pardon?”
“Consider the obvious, Minerva. I’m eight and a half months pregnant, and I’m no spring chicken, which means my hormones are in all sorts of turmoil. Throw in the fact that this is a male child I’m carrying and that the father is a worldly physician of the Hebrew faith, whilst I am but a lowly Mennonite maid-well, no longer a maid, but not exactly a hoochie-mama, if you know what I mean.”
“Does anybody? Ever?”
“Please, dear, my point is that I should be bouncing off the walls, becoming a total basket case. Instead, here I am, standing on sore feet that I can barely see due to my swollen ankles. Did I mention that my varicose veins are throbbing; that I’m as constipated as a mummy, thanks to my hemorrhoids, which make my bowel movements as excruciatingly painful as passing cacti; or that my bladder is squashed flatter than that last pancake you gulped down, resulting in my having to pee every ten minutes? Of course I didn’t. And it would be entirely inappropriate for me to talk about my sleeping habits, but far be that from stopping me.”
“I mean, you try getting comfortable with a belly as big as mine. Oops.”
“Was that another put-down?”
“Inadvertent, to be sure. But if you were to apologize for your rude behavior, after being politely rebuffed for consuming enough to feed a small third-world country or two buckeye matrons of the Presbyterian persuasion; and donate two hundred dollars; plus change places with me so that I might feed the male child within who is ruining what happens to be-and this I’ve only recently discovered-a remarkably comely temple for the Holy Spirit, I’ll see to it that you get your eighteenth pork patty.”
“I’ll take your place in the serving line, and I’ll donate the money, but I’m not going to apologize.”
“You can argue until the cows come home, Magdalena, but-”
“I agreed to your terms.”
“So you did. Is this a trap?”
Minerva J. Jay was nobody’s fool, least of all mine. “Tell me, if this fund-raiser is being put on by the Brotherhood, what are you doing helping out? Even when you weren’t pregnant-despite being dressed in those horrible dowdy clothes of yours-there was no mistaking you for a man.”
“Thanks-I think. Anyway, the Brotherhood, as you can see, has gotten rather small, thanks to Reverend Fiddlegarber, who stole half the congregation when he-uh-”
“Was kicked out for being a fraud? Face it, Magdalena, the man was evil.”
“This just goes to show you that for a lot of people it’s not the facts that matter, but the personality. At any rate, as senior deaconess of the congregation, I see it as my duty to step up to the plate whenever there’s a need.”
“How terribly holy of you, Magdalena.”
“Hmm, do I detect a tinge of sarcasm? Well, never mind, dear. I choose to take the high road in order to expedite my breakfast. Just take this empty tray and hie thyself into the kitchen to fetch my hotcakes. And while you’re there, scrounge around in the fridge, will you, and see if you can find some real butter. Nora Ediger tends to hide it behind the half-and-half at large functions, because she thinks the hoi polloi can’t tell butter from margarine. But strictly speaking, seeing as how the butter was bought with church money, it belongs to all of us, and now that the crowd is waning, I’m thinking it’s time to haul out the good stuff-don’t you?”
“For your information, missy, I like butter as well as you!”
“But it’s full of trans fats.”
“And the cheap margarine you serve isn’t?”
“I’m sure it is, but you ate so many pancakes, Minerva, you couldn’t possibly have savored each one. Be honest, now, doesn’t it make sense to save what little real butter we have for those of us with more discriminating taste buds?”
“Is that yet another put-down?” With each word, her voice rose a billion decibels. “I’m telling you, Magdalena, it’s busybodies like you who’ll be the death of me!”
I gently rubbed the taut, stretched skin of the watermelon that hung suspended from my rib cage. “Please, dear, Little Jacob will hear you.”
“Who cares? Do you honestly think he can understand?”
“I do, and yes.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. If babies understood language, they wouldn’t babble nonsense for the first year and a half of their lives.”
“I’m only trying to look out for your health, Minerva-since it’s obvious that you don’t.” Uh-oh, I’d gone too far: with the exception of my husband, no adult likes to be babied.
“Hey, Little Jacob, can you hear me? Your mommy’s trying to kill me with oleo. Kill me, kill me, kill me!” Minerva J. Jay cupped her pudgy hands to her mouth, the better to be heard as she bellowed, “Listen up, everyone: Magdalena ’s trying to kill me!”
“Stop it,” I hissed. I undid my extra-large apron and threw it at her.
My name is Magdalena Portulaca Yoder and I am forty-eight years old. Normally my age would be none of your business, but since I am with child at this advanced age, and it is my first pregnancy, I may as well get every shred of sympathy I can garner. Also, and this is even less of your beeswax, this ever-expanding state of affairs was achieved entirely the old-fashioned way-no test tubes, no hormone shots, not even Viagra for my hubby.
Dr. Gabriel Rosen and I were experiencing a very troubled spot in our marriage when the improbable news of my conception was delivered by the impossibly beautiful Dr. Rashid. That was nearly eight months ago. The very troubled spot remains in our marriage, but fortunately she now lives across Hertzler Road and up a very long lane. I like to think that I’ve managed to sever at least one of the apron strings that tied her to my beloved husband, her son, but if that’s so, then said strings have the ability to grow back-somewhat like lizard tails.
My people were originally Amish, and most of them arrived in this country in 1738 aboard the Charming Nancy (The Descendants of Jacob Hochstetler erroneously sets the date at 1736). From that time until now, my direct forebears filtered up (or down, depending on your point of view) through the ranks of leniency, so that by the time I came along, my family was no longer Amish, but Old Order Mennonite.
Since the 1830s we have lived in Hernia, Pennsylvania, which, by the way, is located nowhere near Lancaster. We are located in the south-central part of the state, just about a horseshoe toss north of wild and woolly Maryland. There are only four businesses in this town of less than 2,500 souls: Miller ’s Feed Store, the blacksmith shop (run by One-Eyed John), Sam Yoder ’s Corner Market (where the words fresh produce are an oxymoron), and last, but far from least, the PennDutch Inn.