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Buckwheat Cakes

The world's largest-ever buckwheat pancake was exactly 23 feet 9 inches across. The batter was made in a cement mix truck. It was made in Penn Yan, New York, home town.

I sing the song of buckwheat cakes. I ate them from the time I could gum semi-solid food. Still do, though they're rare here in the Old Pueblo. My daughter, Mary, tells me to try them at Keuken Dutch Restaurant, and I shall.

Buckwheat griddle cakes are an ancient food. Externally, the flat cake is dark brown - less yellow than buttermilk ones and flatter. The interior is a really ugly gray. It's hard to find good gray food.

Flavor and aroma make the cake. You sense strength and farm hardiness. The steam rises in little puffs to tense your nostrils. The hearty, high tensile texture exercises your jaws when chewing a mouthful. With Karo or homemade brown sugar syrup a stack of six plate-size buckwheat cakes leaves you feeling you've started the day strongly.

Why is buckwheat so different? Buckwheat is a hard berry masquerading as a grain. Extremely hardy, the plant grows easily in short harsh seasons. (There's even a western buckwheat in Arizona, though it's no longer harvested.)

Buckwheat is grown widely in northern states and in Canada, then ground in Penn Yan at the Birkett Mills. Most of the crop is sold in the Middle East where it is a traditional food of camel drivers and desert dwellers. Eastern U.S. urbanites savor groats and kasha as southerners do grits. Farmers know it as an extra cash crop that rebuilds their soil.

Buckwheat cakes were a staple breakfast in the farm and boardinghouse kitchens where I grew up. My immigrant Danish grandfather learned his trade young at the very mill which yet dominates my hometown's main street. He ate buckwheat cakes. My father grew up eating buckwheat cakes. I did. My sons did. They no longer do. The world changes. Buckwheat cakes will rise again.

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