James Hadley Chase and American Pancakes

The first time I ever read a book by James Hadley Chase, the brilliant author of American noir genre crime novels spanning from 1939’s ‘No Orchids for Miss Blandish‘ to 1984’s ‘Hit Them Where it Hurts‘, I was all of thirteen and was immediately hooked.

Recently finding a list of his books online, I remembered many of the titles having read most of them. I adored the stylish book covers almost as much as the delicious ‘hit me hard and leave me standing ‘ style of writing.

You can see why:

You've Got it Coming 1955The Handome Flawed Hero and the Beautiful Woman

You’ve Got it Coming – 1955
The Handsome, flawed hero & the beautiful, coniving woman

Strictly for Cash - 1951

Strictly for Cash – 1951

Tiger by The Tail

Tiger by The Tail – 1954

These books have it all: Gangsters, blackmailers, kidnappers,  cops, illicit affairs, treachery, fraud and of course murderers. Handsome but flawed heroes who just want to get rich quick and who also happen to have a weakness for beautiful but treacherous women. The private investigator who needs to earn a few bucks and has a knack for sniffing out a dirty criminal, or two.  The stories tumble along at engrossing, breakneck speed and always with a zinger of a  twist-in-the-tail ending.  What’s not to love?

All this makes for a fabulous read. Once started, I couldn’t put these books down.   I firmly believe that the first stirrings of my love affair with America began all those years ago, lost as I was in the settings, the characters and the plots of my James Hadley Chase novels.

Interestingly, I was shocked to discover many years later that James Hadley Chase was in fact an Englishman who had only visited America a few times and never actually lived there. He wrote his books based mostly on his research through maps and a slang dictionary.

Aside from the great plots, I was fascinated by the descriptions of American diners where the detective would invariably find himself sitting at the counter ordering coffee and ham and eggs.  Or steak and eggs.  With pancakes.  Not forgetting the maple syrup.

As a teenager living in 70s Britain this was unheard of.  I was reading these books at a time when we didn’t even know if we would have electricity that day, or night,  thanks to all the strikes that were taking place at the time.  Things were pretty austere in 70s Britain and to have ham or steak for breakfast was unthinkable, never mind with pancakes too.

Traditional English crepe-like pancakes, smothered in lemon and sugar, were a treat saved for Pancake Day (Shrove Tuesday) in February,  but I wondered about the ‘short stack’ of American pancakes that I read about in these stories, the ones topped with whipped butter and maple syrup dripping down their sides.

Dear reader, I wanted those pancakes.  I dreamed of going to an American diner one-day and ordering them, with ham and eggs and hearing the waitress say,

“How do you like your eggs Honey?  Over-easy or sunny-side up?”

How often do long-held desires buried deep within our hearts come to pass if we want them badly enough?  My ambition might not have seemed like much but I didn’t stop dreaming.

Yet, it was purely by chance that I met my American G.I.  We were both eighteen when we met. He was in the military, newly posted to England and I was astounded when he told me was from California.  I jumped when he offered to take me back ‘home’ to visit his family a year after we met.

Did I get to sit at a counter of an American diner and order pancakes?  You bet.  Did I order my eggs sunny-side up? No. Over-easy as it happens. And yes, the waitress called me ‘Honey’.

I was living the dream.

Many years later, widowed  then remarried with three kids in tow, we often used to visit Los Angeles where the grandparents lived.  My then father-in-law enjoyed taking us out to breakfast to a little hole-in-the-wall diner on Sunset Strip, which looked like nothing from the outside, but time-warped us into a different dimension on the inside.

The LA sky, bright-blue not a cloud in sight and short-sleeved warmth disappeared once inside. It was like stepping into a club late at night, lit only by dim, orange lamps hanging above round tables surrounded by brown, semi-circular leatherette booths. Ceiling fans hummed softly.

On the walls were black and white photographs signed by movie stars like Bette Davis, Sammy Davis Junior and Marlon Brando while soft blues crooned from the overhead speakers.   The waitresses wore frilly, gingham checked aprons,  flat, white shoes and took no flack.I was instantly transported to a scene straight out of one of James Hadley Chase’s books.

There, sitting in the shadows in a corner of the room in a booth all to himself, was my detective. Wearing a shabby suit, trilby hat perched over one eye and cigarette dangling from his lower lip, he pretended to read the newspaper.  But I could see that he was keeping an eye on the beautiful but treacherous woman and the poor sap sitting next to her in a nearby booth: it was only a matter of time before one of them slipped up.

My obsession with American pancakes has never gone away and now, when my chicks are  gathered back in the nest,  I bring out the griddle and make a batch of these beauties. As much as I love Jamie Oliver and Deliah, I  do have to confess that my all-time favourite ever since I was given my first American cookbook in 1979 is the incomparable Betty Crocker.

Nothing beats her for homespun, comforting family meals, fabulous cake recipes and yes, American pancakes. Her recipe book has been well used, as you can see.

DSC07407Simple, tried, tested and true.

If you are interested, here is the recipe using American cup measurements.  For ease of conversion, 1 cup of liquid is 8 fluid ounces or 250 ml and 1 cup of flour is 4 1/2 ounces or 125 g:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup of all-purpose flour (plain)
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3 teaspoons baking power
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

You can also add any combination of fruit if you so desire such as 1/2 cup of  blueberries but I like mine plain! When I make these for my family I always double up on the ingredients and they make plenty for 6 adults.

What I love about this recipe is the simple method unlike others which I’ve come across.   The trick is to whisk the eggs together first (I use a hand-held electric mixer) until they are as light and fluffy as possible, full of bubbles like this:

Whisked, fluffy and pale eggs

Whisked, fluffy and pale eggs

Then all you do is to simply whisk in the other ingredients but only do so until the batter is just mixed in and barely smooth, don’t over whisk it!

Nice, smooth batter

Nice, smooth batter

I pour out three dollops of batter on the griddle, not too much.   When I used to make them in the States I used an electric griddle but I couldn’t find one here so I use one on the gas hob instead and it works just as well. You can always add a little milk as you go if you want to thin out your batter, but I find the thicker the batter the fluffier the pancakes!

Pancakes on the griddle

Pancakes on the griddle

As soon as the bubbles appear on one side and the edges start to firm up slightly you can flip them over.  Don’t press down on them, just let them rise for a couple of minutes and then transfer them to a hot plate.

Flipped pancakes

Flipped pancakes

That’s it!  Easy-peasy. Serve them up, top with maple syrup and butter if you wish and guaranteed you will be enjoying the fluffiest, yummiest American pancakes, maybe not in an American diner but certainly this side of Somerset!

Fluffy American Pancakes

Fluffy American Pancakes

So thank you James Hadley Chase for setting my imagination alight with your mind-grabbing stories. For the escape I longed for as I struggled to find my way in life and also for introducing me to American pancakes.  Who knew that one day I would be rustling up a batch in my English kitchen?  I certainly didn’t.

*******************************

Betty Crocker’s Cookbook New and Revised Edition Third Printing, 1980, Golden Press/New York, Western Publishing Company Inc., Racine, Wisconsin can still be purchased at Amazon at this link:http://www.amazon.com/Betty-Crockers-Cookbook-Ringbound-0307098001/dp/B00CPPNNQ6  Recipe found on page 197.

About Sherri Matthews

Sherri has been writing full time since 2011. Currently working on her memoir, 'Stranger in a White Dress', she has been published in a variety of national magazines, websites and three anthologies. Sherri raised her three, now adult children, in California for twenty years and today, lives in England’s West Country with her hubby, Aspie youngest, two cats, a grumpy bunny and a family of Chinese Button Quails. She keeps out of mischief blogging, gardening, walking by the sea and snapping endless photographs. Her garden robin muse vists regularly.
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37 Responses to James Hadley Chase and American Pancakes

  1. Dylan Hearn says:

    Mmmmm! Pancakes! I can’t resist bacon, pancakes and maple syrup. Divine!

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  2. tieshka says:

    Sherri, I love this post!! You know I am a pancake maker myself- would love to follow your recipe- but knowing my history of making pancakes from scratch I’ll have to stick with Bisquick. By the way being American I thought everyone ate a large breakfast, at least on the weekend, like us- but later learned that was not the case worldwide. I haven’t read any James Hadley Chase as of yet, but will add him to my list of authors to read once my blogging year is complete.

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    • Sherri says:

      We do love our ‘full English’ breakfasts here, which is bacon, sausage, eggs, baked beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, fried bread and lots of toast, at the weekends too, but I also love my American breakfasts 🙂 Love Bisquick too but can’t get it here.
      Be sure to read James Hadley Chase, you will love his books (when you have the time!)
      Thanks Tieshka 🙂

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  3. Genny says:

    Those pancakes look delicious! Thanks for sharing the recipe!

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    • Sherri says:

      Ha Ha!! Thanks Genny, I was quite proud at these and how they turned out I must admit but it only works if I use this Betty Crocker recipe. I’ve tried many others as you know but they just don’t turn out the same!
      PS Your card and little pressie is on the way, hopefully will arrive in time for your birthday 🙂 Much love & hugs xoxoxo

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  4. jennypellett says:

    Ha Ha! The only time I visited the States was way back BC (before children), when Husband and I went to New York. Forget the Empire State, Statue of Liberty, Broadway, the Rockefeller Centre – we just wanted to get to a typical diner and order pancakes and eggs over easy, which we did, by way of a big yellow taxi. Marvellous.

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  5. Rachel says:

    I am so with you on the pancakes and maple syrup, Sherri. Delicious! And your recipe looks so yummy I’m definitely going to give it a try.

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  6. Lesley Dawson says:

    Here’s someone else who will be having pancakes tomorrow. 😀 I must look out for books by that author, Sherri – they sound exactly what I would like … and the artwork is fantastic.

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    • Sherri says:

      You will love these books Lesley if this kind of ‘noir crime genre’ is your thing! The artwork is amazing isn’t it? We had so many of these wonderful books as paperbacks just floating around the house when I was growing up but sadly no longer. When I did my little bit of research for this post I was amazed at how popular JHC still is!
      Enjoy your pancakes 🙂

      Like

  7. Denise says:

    Oh, yummy. I really liked your evocation of America too. I was lucky enough to go twice to Chicago with my husband on business and we had wonderful breakfasts in a diner. And America is so wide open and diverse and bustling and big and unlike anything over here. It represents adventure to me in a way not possible here in the UK.

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    • Sherri says:

      Your time in Chicago sounds amazing and what a great memory of that time you had there with your husband. That is a place I have never been and would love to go. One of my all time favourite movies is The Blues Brothers which was based in Chicago. In fact, one of the most famous scenes takes place in a typical diner, the one with Aretha Franklin singing R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Gotta love that 🙂

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  8. Sherri,

    Looks fantastic. BTW, my gf found a recipe that’s half way between normal pancakes and Yorkshire pudding. The pancakes bake and shape themselves into a bowl, to hold fresh berries, whipped cream, maple syrup, or whatever.

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    • Sherri says:

      Ooh, that recipe sounds delicious, I’ve never heard of that, but anything halfway between pancakes and Yorkshire pudding has to be divine 🙂 Thanks for sharing and thanks so much for dropping by!

      Like

  9. Great photo of the pancakes! And I’ll have to try the Hadley Chase books; have never read him. Love a great suspense novel. Off to the library tomorrow! After breakfast, that is. 😉

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    • Sherri says:

      Thanks Susan! Yes, I was quite proud of that photo I must admit 😉 If you love suspense, then you will love these books, they are super and very gripping. You are right into the story from the very beginning and they take hold of you right up to the ending (which often is hinted at in the title, as a fab denouement!) Enjoy breakfast and your trip to the library 🙂

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  10. mvschulze says:

    Wonderful post, Sherri! I think I’ll make pancakes tomorrow…maybe even banana pancakes. Either way, I’ll be sure to get a lot of shocked looks from my wife and the dog. M
    ,

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  11. Steven says:

    I adore that sort of early-to-mid 20th century crime genre – and those covers are delectable! It’s hard to not judge a book by their cover when they’re so wonderfully done; I could forgive a naff story with sleeves like those.

    I too have ‘fond’ memories of the 70’s; 4 or 5 years old, seemingly always sitting around candles in the dark, trying to draw!! I did have and still do have similar fantasies about being in stylish 60’s/70’s America with its neon binding and snazzy diners – though I’m not sure the pancakes looked that impressive! 🙂

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    • Sherri says:

      Aww, thanks Steven 🙂 Yes, there is something so evocative about American diners, and btw, I love your description of them 🙂
      I loved your comment and I totally agree, with spectacular covers like this who can resist no matter how poor the story, ha!! However, in this case I can assure you that these stories really do capture the whole mid 20th century crime genre. They are definitely not PC that’s for sure 😉
      I hadn’t realised, until I did a little research for this post, and you might be interested to know, that James Hadley Chase was fascinated by the gangster movies of the 30s and 40s and these shaped his ideas for his stories. Also, his book ‘No Orchids for Miss Blandish’ was made into a film in 1948! Talk about ‘film noir’!
      As for the ’70s’, well, we of a certain age will always remember, the good, the bad and the ugly! Your memory sounds lovely and very good indeed 🙂

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  12. Of course loved this post and here I sit with a Betty Crocker cookbook and never tried the pancake recipe-for shame. I love the tip to whip the eggs up till there are bubbles-will do! As for the Author-my maiden name is Chase and can’t help but wonder if he is some way related to my Dad who had at least one illustrious writer in his heritage. Raised here in the States I still find my very favorite place to eat is a diner. Thank you once again for a thoroughly enjoyable post!

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    • Sherri says:

      Yes, that whipping up the eggs first seems to be the trick. I’ve tried many different pancake recipes (not being able to get Bisquick here 😦 ) and always came back to good old Betty Crocker! I also love how simple this recipe is, not faffiing about, just chuck in everything together. Yum! Of course, I will always remember the wonderful breakfast I shared with you in April, with those hash browns and avocado, that was some breakfast 🙂 Not forgetting out ‘dinner’ of pancakes and bacon at IHOP 🙂
      As you can see my friend, we Brits absolutely go nuts for your American diners and always will!
      You never know, and yes, I do remember your maiden name being Chase!
      Thanks, as always, Diane, for your lovely comment and so glad you enjoyed reading this post 🙂 xo

      Like

  13. xbox2121 says:

    Good morning Sherri, The book covers you have show remind me of the time I was growing up. I never read back then but I can tell from the art work on them I was around.The pancakes most are talking about. I occasionally eat some of the frozen ones, don’t cook much more, the ones I get go in the microwave.

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    • Sherri says:

      And a very good morning to you Bob, or I should say afternoon as it is here now! Yes, those were different times that’s for sure. I just love the style of that entire era. Are you amazed how we Brits go crazy for your American pancakes and your American diners? Can’t get enough of them! Hope you are having a good day today – mine is, well, strange. Post explaining all to follow 🙂

      Like

  14. mumblypeg says:

    Oh what memories of those books and indeed the pancakes. Your dad introduced me to Hadley Chase when I was an impressionable teenager! Strange world.
    Now I am a fan of james Patterson and Lee Child’s hero Jack Reacher.
    Brilliant post in so many ways. Well done. Keep writing and cooking!
    Lots of Love
    xxxx

    Like

    • Sherri says:

      Ahh, of course, who else 😉 I knew you would enjoy this post, for so many reasons! Now you know why I was asking you if you had any James Hadley Chase books hidden away! Much love xoxoxo

      Like

  15. Pancakes are the ultimate comfort food. My daughters tell me some of their fondest memories are of me making them pancakes on Saturday morning.

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  16. Ste J says:

    I love the book covers! I got a few over in WA and I love the covers, they are something I would definitely be showing off on the bus. I would love an American to use British slang in a book about over here, ayup duck and all that haha.

    I had American pancakes for the first time last year, on the same trip, totally different to ours, I miss being over there and being in that mindset…yes you have thoroughly convinced me to go seek this guy out and revel in that great feeling.

    Like

    • Sherri says:

      Oh I’m so glad, I just had a feeling you would like the sound of these books! Now you know my love of American pancakes too 😉
      The book covers are fantastic aren’t they? Haha, showing off on a bus, love it! Somehow I don’t think ayup duck would go down as well in America as their slang does over here…doesn’t have the same ring to it somehow!!!
      Thanks so much for taking the time to come over and read this post Ste, let me know what you think if and when you read some of JHC. Think it’s time I did the same… 🙂

      Like

  17. Charli Mills says:

    This story is brilliant! Beautiful pancakes, too! It makes me think that perhaps we Americans and Brits have a secret yearning for on another. 🙂 I used to “practice” my British accent, read Ian Fleming (from about the same age you got started on Chase) and have tried to make scones. My scones don’t turn out as beautiful as your Betty Crocker pancakes. And that is the same book I have! For a northern Idaho version, try buttermilk in place of the milk. 😀 This pepped me up today. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sherri says:

      Oh Charli, I’m so glad you enjoyed this post, you can see why I just had to tell you about it! Snakes to pancakes, haha 🙂 Oh that is so funny, yes, I think we’ve swapped places! That’s hilarious! How ironic too that I was reading Chase only to discover much to my amazement that he was not American but English! And we have the same wonderful Betty Crocker book. Amazing 🙂 I have used buttermilk in the past and I do find they are much better with it but I’ll definitely think of it as the ‘Idaho’ touch from now on! Talking of which, do you use it in your scones? Works really well with those too. After all this, I think we definitely have to meet up in both places…pancakes for breakfast, scones and tea in the afternoon all polished with a bottle of Prosecco in the evening. Darn that sounds good 😀 Happy Writing my friend ❤

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      • Charli Mills says:

        That’s like the top Hickok historian and authority on old west guns is Joseph Rosa, who is also English. We were destined to be friends! Oh, yes, I love buttermilk in anything I bake…I love butter, too! I need a miniature Jersey and a butter churn. Looking forwrd to that day of sharing pancakes, scones and Prosecco! Happy writing to you, to! ❤

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