You didn't often find my father in the kitchen. But there were three things he did know how to make to perfection: pineapple sherbet, caramel popcorn and something we all called Houseboat Special. (Hamburger meat broken up and browned, with a can of mushrom soup added and the entire thing poured over toast.)
Grandpa and Dad at the cabin, late 40's
And his father, my grandfather, made only one thing: buckwheat pancakes. Which is what this post is all about.
Grandpa at the cabin, 1937
My grandfather owned some property and a cabin on Lake Huron's Saginaw Bay. It was prime wooded area with a great deal of marshland. I loved visiting the cabin; it was a child's delight with its double bunk beds, all kinds of wildlife, labrador retrievers to play with, the river to explore, a small pond with plenty of fish, marshland to paddle around and acres of forest to wander in.
The cabin, after two additions, 1989
Grandpa had canoes, duck boats, small outboard boats, (in later years an air boat), to use on the Rifle River and in the marshes. He was always into some project or other, but took time to help us search for beaver and muskrat lodges, black walnuts (which my mother loved), berries and grapes to make jams and even took us frog hunting; we all learned at a really young age to skin and prepare frog legs for our dinner.
My grandmother was quite an artist and she set up her easel in locations all over the property. My sister and I have some of her work, in watercolors and chalk, which we treasure greatly.
But what I remember most are my grandfather's buckwheat pancakes. He used a starter dough and made them every morning for breakfast along with side pork. To this day, I prefer side pork to bacon anytime I have pancakes, although it's not readily available in Florida markets. And bacon and side pork are not interchangeable. Fresh side pork is basically bacon without the curing and salt. It's thicker, takes longer to cook (sometimes we added a little water at first) and the rind is quite chewy. The aromas of side pork and bacon are entirely different.
Slowly, over the years as grandpa aged, the starter dough disappeared and my Mother developed a similar pancake recipe without the starter, which grandpa used the remainder of his life. It's nearly as good as the original and Grandpa thought so too.
I was really stumped on how to describe these to you so I asked my sister. The texture is not fluffy or cakey like most pancakes, but more dense. She thought I should describe them as a little like crepes, but thicker. The batter is definitely thinner than most pancake batter and the pancakes are about 5 inches across. Best to use the freshest buttermilk you can (which is a little thicker) and be sure to shake it well. I like them with buckwheat flour, which is the way my grandfather made them, but my sister uses only all purpose flour. She is the only one of us who still makes them and usually only when she has company at her Leland cabin. I don't make them anymore either but sure am happy to chow down on hers when I visit. And I made a batch for this post. Dad always liked to put brown sugar and butter on them; I like warm Michigan maple syrup.
Grandpa Smith's Buckwheat Pancakes
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
2 tablespoons crisco oil
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup hot water
Mix the first six ingredients. Mix the soda with the hot water and add to the flour mixture. The batter will be quite thin.
Cook on an oiled pancake griddle. When you see the bubbles appear in the pancakes, it's time to flip. Cook only about 3 more minutes.
The only photo I have of the three of us together.
Rifle River, 1960's