Saturday, January 28, 2012

North Country Allure, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Simply Good Food

This is the family home of Almanzo Wilder. It's tucked up in Malone, New York and if you've read my North Country series, we mention Malone in Winter's End.

Like most North Country settlements, Malone is a sweet, small town.  It's about 40 minutes past Potsdam. Potsdam is where my heroine for Winter's End lived. There's a sweet hospital there that took great care of my son Seth when he got sick his freshman year in college, and I used that hospital setting for Kayla's background. It's not easy to get people to stay in the North Country. Winters are long, cold and windswept. Hockey is a favorite among many people. A very mixed demographic from well-to-do college professors to people struggling to put shoes on their feet makes for a great setting.

I fell in love with the North Country when I took Seth there to visit St. Lawrence University in Canton. Canton is where Rita ended up placing her "Main Street Bakery" in "Made to Order Family".  And Sarah Slocum, the heroine from "Waiting Out the Storm" had a sheep farm on a side road between Canton and Potsdam.

That's a Maremma puppy. Maremma's are great sheep guard dogs. Their pale color lets them blend into the flock. Pretty cool, right?

I love that these books are still available for sale HERE!

It's stark land in many cases. Above Lake Ontario, bordering Canada and with the Adirondack mountains flanking its eastern edge, it's a rugged place to live. Almanzo and his brother left there to try to find more hospitable farmland out west. He ended up in the Ozarks eventually, but he'd lived a very old-fashioned country farm life while on the outskirts of Malone.

You can read all about it in "Farmer Boy" available in most book stores and (of course!) on

Farmer Boy was one of my favorite Little House books because Laura used Almanzo's memories to script the book, and being a BOY, most of his memories were about food. Doesn't that just figure???

From gathering butternuts to planting corn, to finding berries, to mending harness, I loved everything I learned by reading this book! Unlike the struggling Ingalls family, the Wilders had an established farm, equipment, food, a larder, a system not only for survival but to prosper. And that was on somewhat unhospitable land.

Almanzo loved food, and he loved pancakes. I've put the recipe for Buckwheat Pancakes here:

Dry Ingredients: 
1 cup buckwheat flour
I cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder 

Wet Ingredients:
2 eggs, separated
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups buttermilk
Oil or butter to grease griddle 

Measuring cup and spoons
3 bowls
Large fork or eggbeater
Mixing spoon
Hot griddle

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix the egg yolks, oil, and buttermilk in a separate bowl. Pour the egg-yolk mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until thoroughly mixed. Set aside. Beat the egg whites in a third bowl until they are fluffy and form soft peaks. Stir half the egg whites into the pancake batter, then gently fold in the remaining egg whites until just blended. 

Lightly grease the hot griddle with a little oil or butter. Spoon batter onto the griddle into 5" rounds. When the pancakes begin to bubble and brown around the edges, turn them over and cook the other side for about a minute. 

Don't forget to make a "blanket cake," an extra-large pancake used to cover the pancakes and keep them warm after they're cooked. 

Recipe taken from The Little House Treasury by Carolyn Strom Collins and Christina Wyss Erikson.

Now, would Laura have used vegetable oil??? No. And her recipe might be quite different from this one, but I love buckwheat pancakes, so this one is worth a try, right? And in  all honesty, modern ingredients often produce a better outcome, so I'm okay if these aren't totally authentic, as long as they taste good!  According to Laura in The Long Winter, Almanzo liked his pancakes light and fluffy with plenty of molasses...

I agree on the first, but the second?  New York dark amber Maple syrup, all the way!

Hey, coffee's hot. Missy's got her hair in a bun and she's pretending to be Caroline Ingalls. Doesn't she look SWEET????


  1. Oh, my goodness. I learned something new today! Blanket cake??! I've never heard of doing that. Of course, my family eats the pancakes as they come off the griddle, fighting over who gets the next one. So there's no need to keep anything warm. :)

    And you know what that means. That means I get to either eat after they do. Or I eat standing up while I flip pancakes. And honestly, I'm not patient enough to wait, so I eat, flip, serve, eat. :)

  2. Well that's just fascinating history. I didn't know Almanzo was from that area. Love the series!!! Love the recipe. Thouh I am still yearning for Missy's sweet potato pancakes.

  3. Tina, do y'all have a Cracker Barrel around there? You should try them!

    1. One Cracker Barrel, but not close. I used to go to the one in Fredonia, NY all the time. Closed now I believe. Love it. Almost as good as Chik Fil A.

  4. Missy, do you have a recipe you haven't shared???? Girlfriend, give it up.

    I've never had sweet potato pancakes. And I know I've mentioned this before, but the pecan/banana pancakes I had at Shoney's in Nashville... Oh my stars, to die for.

    The North Country is distinctive. I've heard the the UP of Michigan and the upper reaches of Minnesota are similar in people and topography. While the climate can be harsh, the people are pretty amazing. And so close to the St. Lawrence River/seaway system. A lot to see and do there!

  5. Sure 'n this sounds like a delightful repast t go wi' the past. I do like breaking my fast with a wee bit o' history. Oops...sorry, I'm still thinking in brogue after reading your story!

    Hey Ruthy -- we have a sort of connection. Potsdam Univeristy ran it's Canadian branch of teacher's college out of my humble school board resource library -- well the building I was housed in. Alas, the library is no more and the uni branch has moved on to greener pastsures, but for a moment in time there, we were almost like ships passing in the night. LOL.

    I read all the Little House books EXCEPT Farmer's Boy because it was about a boy (ewwwwwww!) I grew up and read it when I was twelve though.

  6. I liked Farmer Boy because of the food - and no one was starving or going without! i didn't know where it was set though!

    1. Farmer Boy gave one of the best (in my opinion) overviews of real farm life in established areas. If you wanted to subsistence farm, everything you needed to know was in that book. Just marvelous!

  7. I SO aspired to be Caroline Ingalls when I grew up.
    As a child watching that, Mrs. Ingalls was the epitome of a perfect mother.

    I don't think I've ever had buckwheat pancakes.

    Here you go making me want breakfast food again. I almost bought waffles off the waffle truck today, but I resisted. Had a cookie instead. :)

    Ruthy, I loved loved loved your story.
    I've got a couple of Irish stories in my story idea file. Someday, if I live long enough, I'll get to them all.

    1. MARY!!!! I'm so glad you read it. I love Celtic stories, too. And the fun of make believe and fantasy. I figure if we write fiction, fantasy is just another form of that. As long as it's not too weird or sensual. I love good fantasy and science fiction. It makes the brain think in new and different directions.

      But romance??? :) I love me some good romance!

  8. Oh yes, Ruthy! I've wanted to visit the north country of New York State ever since I first read Farmer Boy. I love all the Little House books, but Farmer Boy and The Long Winter were always my favorites...

    ...and whenever I make pancakes, I always top them off with a blanket cake.

    My daughter is named after Caroline Ingalls - my dear husband's family thinks she's named after his grandmother, and my family thinks she's named after my grandmother's favorite aunt, but I know better :)

    We live about 4 hours from De Smet, South Dakota, where the Little House books from By the Shores of Silver Lake through These Happy Golden Years take place. Someday I'm going to go there over a long weekend. Someday soon!

    I have some buckwheat waiting to be used - this recipe might be tomorrow night's supper. Thanks!

  9. Jan, if you use it, tell us how it is, okay? I'm dying to know but I don't have time to try it this weekend.

    You know people will vacation just to stop by the various places depicted in the books. Get a taste for New Ulm, DeSmet, the Ozarks... What a brave, tough family. Every time I WHINE I remember how brave and bold my predecessors were. I'm a slug, comparatively!

    Jan, so sorry about your father-in-law. What a bittersweet trip. God bless and keep you all, honey.

  10. Interested in Almanzo Wilder? Read:

  11. This was probably my favorite Little House book and that's saying something! Getting my bones to Malone is on my to do list! I heard there's a little museum there. :) I'm with you on the pancakes Ruth, though I usually make mine for dinner.