How on earth did America’s native people guess that if they bored holes in wintering trees, and gathered gallons of the almost tasteless liquid that dripped from it, and then boiled that for hours until only a thick, sticky liquid remained, they could create the most delicious amber syrup with a flavor unlike anything else? (Authorities say that maple syrup contains more than 90 distinct flavors in categories including milky, fruity, spicy, vanilla and burnt.)
Modern maple-syrup production isn’t all that “modern.” Sure, plastic sacks have replaced buckets in many areas. There’s more stainless steel, higher standards of cleanliness and purity, and advanced heating sources. But the basics are still tap, collect, boil, filter, bottle. Add nothing. Actually, the maple-sugaring process is about removing things: water, bugs, grit and impurities.
Plus Mother Nature’s still in charge: The most sap runs when there’s a nighttime freeze and a daytime thaw.
This recipe is a four-grain salute to maple syrup that everyone in the family will love.
Farmhouse Four-Grain Maple Pancakes
*1-1/2 cups regular (not instant) rolled oats
*3/4 cup buckwheat flour or flaxseed flour
*3/4 cup whole wheat flour
*3/4 cup coarse yellow cornmeal
*4 teaspoons baking powder
*1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
*1 teaspoon salt
*4-1/2 cups buttermilk (or your choice of milks, including soy, almond or others, plus 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice)
*1/4 cup pure maple syrup (for more “maple” zing, choose Grade B)
*2 eggs or 4 egg whites at room temperature
*1/3 cup vegetable oil
*butter for the skillet
1. Kid and Grown-up: Measure out each dry ingredient and, using a whisk, combine in a large bowl. In a second bowl, do the same with the wet ingredients: measure and whisk.
2. Kid and Grown-up: Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture. Use a wooden spoon to stir until just smooth. So that the oatmeal softens, let the mixture stand for at least 15 minutes. (See note.)
3. Grown-up: Warm plates keep these hearty pancakes hot at serving time; preheat an oven to low and place oven-proof plates inside. Heat the maple syrup for serving; use a microwave or saucer of hot water.
4. Grown-up: Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter just stops sizzling, ladle the batter into the skillet to form each pancake. After about 2 minutes, when bubbles appear on the surface and the edges begin to lift, flip the pancakes. Cook until the second side browns, about another 90 seconds.
5. Serve immediately with butter and maple syrup.
Note: You can refrigerate the finished batter the night before for quicker morning prep. Likewise, store a large jar of all the combined dry ingredients in the fridge or freezer. Then for every 2 cups of dried ingredients, measure out half of the amount listed for each wet ingredient.
Variation: Add very thin slices of banana just after ladling the pancakes into the skillet. They will caramelize when flipped, adding more deliciousness.