Sunday, October 20, 2013

Foragers' Favorite

Breakfast perfection
Autumn has come to New Jersey, making me realize that frost, and the end of growing season, is imminent. Now is the time to pluck the last tomatoes and corn, harvest apples, haul squashes into the root cellar, dig pungent horseradish roots, and gather sweet, abundant fall red raspberries. And of course it's also the season to forage mushrooms. Porcini are up. So are Hen-of-the-Woods, Sweet Tooth, Gypsy, Agaricus, Grayling, and many other delectable edibles.

The mushrooming club to which I belong, The New York Mycological Society, meets for a fall fling in a few weeks. We rent a house in the Catskill Mountains and fan out into the damp forests. Evenings are filled with culinary wonder - and learning. There are so many species out there!

And then comes morning. Every Catskill weekend for the past 5 years (And every July Chanterelle weekend too), I've prepared buckwheat pancakes for the group.

Buckwheat pancakes from my mother's family's recipe (see the index card from her collection, below) were a cold-weather staple of my childhood. The batter was always fermented in the same stone bowl. When I'd come home from school and see it on the kitchen counter, I knew the next several days would begin with delicious hot breakfasts. She'd serve those buckwheat cakes with molassas and maple syrup, bacon on the side, and she'd save leftover batter to use as a starter. Eventually the output became sourdough buckwheat. It was my first taste of sourdough; the experience destined to become a passion. 

Fast forward to 2002 and my diagnosis of Celiac Disease. Mom's buckwheat pancakes, I feared, were one more food I'd never eat again. But then I discovered that 100% buckwheat flour could make a batter that held together nicely. It did not need gluten. What I needed was to replace the taste of wheat with a parallel mouth experience. Enter unbolted buckwheat - flour that's ground to random amounts of fine-ness, then not sieved to be consistent. It's chewy and crunchy, but at the same time, smooth. Because the grains of buckwheat are broken in different amounts, unbolted buckwheat flour develops a long range of flavors as it ferments.

Mom's buckwheat pancakes - which are now gluten-free and also happen to be egg-free and dairy-free - are totally easy to make. Time does the work: you mix a batter with a bit of yeast and sugar and let it ferment overnight. In the morning, add brown sugar, oil and baking soda and fry away. (Recipe below)
Caramelized berries and melting butter ... YES!
The hard part is finding unbolted buckwheat flour. Shortly after discovering that I could make gluten-free buckwheat pancakes I learned that my unbolted flour source, an historic water-powered mill in Youngstown, Ohio, ground wheat and rye flours in the same room as buckwheat. When I Elissa-tested my batter it ran off the charts. I searched far and wide for substitutes and found none. Eventually I decided to grind the grain myself. Lucky for me it made a superior bread mix - Bold Buckwheat Premium - as well as terrific pancakes.

I've packaged freshly-ground, organic, unbolted buckwheat flour in half-pound re-sealable bags and sell these for $2.25. You can find them in the Accessories section of my website, or just click HERE.

The first time I made these cakes for my New York friends I was a bit intimidated. Buckwheat cakes are rustic food, and these were New Yorkers - foodies to boot. They not only loved the cakes, they demanded I make them for every weekend getaway. That's why I call them Foragers Favorite.

A note: Foragers Favorite Buckwheat Pancakes are superior when made with walnut oil, but any kind of oil, including melted butter, will work. I like to up the taste ante by tossing a few chopped walnuts in the griddle and then pouring the batter over them. The walnuts caramelize and soak up cooking oil and get wonderfully crunchy and tasty. And then there's those seasonal red raspberries. They're a perfect add-in for richly flavorful buckwheat.

Forager's Favorite Buckwheat Pancakes

yield: 10 - 12 cakes each @ 1 1/2 Oz. (40 grams)


1 1/4  cup coarse buckwheat flour
1 1/2 cup lukewarm (body temperature) water
1/2  tsp granulated sugar
3/4  tsp instant yeast
1/4  tsp salt
2  tsp dark brown sugar
1  tsp oil (walnut oil works best) or melted butter
1/4  tsp baking soda
oil, bacon fat or butter for griddle

You will also need:

A large stoneware, glass or stainless steel bowl
Stirring spoon
Measuring cups and spoons
Griddle or skillet


The night before you are going to make the pancakes, measure the water and place in a large bowl. Add sugar and yeast and stir well to dissolve both. Add and dissolve the salt. Add the buckwheat flour and stir until batter is smooth.

Let batter stand at room temperature overnight. Batter will swell - sometimes to the point of overflowing the bowl - then fall back.

In the morning, heat a griddle to medium, or just below the smoke point of whichever oil you are using. To the batter, add brown sugar, oil and soda and stir until well incorporated and batter is smooth. (It may be necessary to add water if the night was dry and the batter has lost some moisture).

Use a 1/4 cup measure to pour batter into cakes on a greased skillet. Add nuts or fruits ad lib. Fry until edges start to dry and the center bubbles, then flip and cook the other side. Serve warm, preferably with maple syrup and molasses.

Farmhouse style: My mother and father both swore that their parents claimed the best way to eat buckwheat pancakes was with beef brisket gravy. Mom never made them like this this for us, but supposedly this is the most authentic serving mode.

Have a great week, and happy (GF) dining!
Charles Luce


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