March is synonymous with maple in my world. As a child, I would travel with my family from central Connecticut to the Berkshires one Sunday of the month and meet with friends at a small, family-owned sugarhouse called Gould’s Maple Sugarhouse. It was a fairly long way to go for breakfast, but the ritual was a highly anticipated event, as it marked the nearing end of winter. Everyone, including the adults, behaved like kids and every smell, taste, and sight was of maple syrup.
We’d place our name on the wait list and take to the hills behind the sugar house to hike past all the tapped trees holding buckets full of crystal clear sap. The adults would stroll while the kids would sprint ahead and back down to buy maple sugar candy from the gift shop, or stand along side the massive evaporator, fire and coals burning below to boil down the sap into thick amber syrup.
Between the warmth of the fire and the sweet maple vapor, you were almost hypnotized. Then, through the haze, you’d hear your party’s name called and finally…the sweetest reward — sitting down to a stack of pancakes drowned in liquid gold.
At some point, my Dad started tapping the trees around our own house. We’d all take turns boring the holes into the maple trees, then position the spigot and hang the buckets. Every day for a few weeks, the buckets would be emptied into a galvanized trough perched atop our wood stove. By the time it all cooked down into dark sticky syrup, we’d be lucky if we got a few pancake breakfasts out it. But it was worth the work and the wait.
Lately I’ve been savoring (okay, rationing) the small bottle of homemade syrup I brought home from a recent visit to see my parents. We stood around my brother’s evaporator for most of a chilly but beautiful day, stoking the fire, straining the sap, choking on the smoke, and laughing over shared stories. I haven’t figured out whether it’s the collective effort of making the syrup, or the carefree moments that I associate with waiting for it. Whichever it is, the satisfaction pours out as thick and sweet as the syrup itself.
Since it’s syrup season, I tinkered with a few ideas for new pancake recipes. But ultimately, I realized that all you really need to make a morning stick in your memory is to gather up family, friends, or both and sit down to some simple pancakes and maple syrup — real maple syrup. So below is my basic pancake recipe, along with a few add-ins to spruce them up when you’re in the mood.
My kids ask for pancakes so often that I keep an airtight container of the dry ingredients premixed and ready to go.
1 1/2 cups white flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
1 tablespoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/4 cup buttermilk or 1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons canola or melted coconut oil
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix 1 cup of the dry ingredients mixture with the wet ingredients in a bowl until combined. Don’t over mix!
Heat a pat of butter in a large skillet or griddle over med heat. Pour out batter to the size pancake you like. (I spoon out 1-2 tablespoons)
Flip the pancakes once the center starts to bubble. Cook for another minute.
Repeat with the remaining batter, adding a small amount of butter or cooking spray before each new batch. Lower the heat as needed.
Keep pancakes warm in a 200 degree oven. Serve with real maple syrup or with your favorite toppings!
Tried and True Add Ins
Stir these combinations into the batter to spice up your plain pancakes.
1/2 cup organic pumpkin puree
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Chocolate Chip Banana Pancakes
1 ripe banana, thinly sliced
1/3 cup mini chocolate chips
Berry Oat Pancakes
1/3 cup of quick cooking oats, blended in a clean coffee grinder to a medium grain
1/2 cup frozen mixed berries, slightly thawed
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger