{Farm Aid 2013} Grains Brains Pancakes

Christina, Christine, Becky & Erika, in the Homegrown Skills Tent, before the gates opened at Farm Aid 2013 Concert at SPAC, Saratoga Springs, NY. Missing is Ms. Amy…

Editor’s Note: I am still over the moon, that Jennifer of Farm Aid’s Homegrown.Org reached out to From Scratch Club many moons ago about co-presenting the Skills Tent at this year’s Farm Aid Concert on September 21, at SPAC in my backyard, Saratoga Springs, NY. 

We assisted Jennifer in stocking the Skills Tent class schedule full of DIY Antics: such as cheesemaking, mushroom growing 101 and From Scratch Club’s own Makin’ Bacon (by the bacon guru Erika Tebbens, spots still available for her class at The Arts Center in Troy, NY) and Pancakes 101: Field to Griddle by Ms Amy (Amy is teaching a Crepes 101 class this month at The Arts Center, spots still available). In addition, we had a table of smaller project-demos happening all day with Christine, Becky & myself armed with heavy cream and mason jars! We met hundreds of amazing people who care about farming and food and who were interested in getting their hands dirty in a little DIY fun. 

The day was unbelievable, to much to say here, as I want to turn it over to Amy who’s has the floor today. This weekend I will be sharing our photo album of the most amazing day yet for From Scratch Club. Thank you Jennifer of Homegrown, thank you Farm Aid for what you do, and thank you Amy, Erika, Becky & Christine for sharing your DIY skills.


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Pancakes 101: Field to Griddle

That’s the name of a workshop I did at the Homegrown Skills Tent at Farm Aid. How surreal, I thought as the day approached. I get to make my favorite food at a really big concert. Maybe I’d make Willie Nelson a pancake.

That didn’t happen, but we had plenty of people – about 70 – sitting on straw bales and folding chairs, listening to the story of pancakes field to griddle.

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Organic grain farmer Thor Oechsner covered the field, and I stuck to the griddle. Using a Madonna style microphone for the first time was daunting, as was watching my hands quiver at the spatula.

But I do love pancakes, and to talk about them and flour is wicked fun, so by the end of our 30 minutes, my hands were flipping cakes without a shiver.

I got to grandstand about our long human history with grains, and how growing them let us do other things with our time than forage. Other things like have big concerts to draw attention to the way we’ve grown disconnected from those little beginnings of agriculture.

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Pancakes are such a perfect vehicle for talking about changes in food production. Eleven thousand years ago in the Fertile Crescent, barley and wheat were among the first domesticated plants. Flatcakes made from gruels of ground starches and water cooked on hot stones go even further back – like 30,000 years. To me they are the original fast food. They are also one of the first foods to be industrialized.

Aunt Jemima Pancake Flour was born in a flour glut in the late 1800s. Equipment like roller mills and mechanized harvesters amped up wheat production so much that farmers were not always making good money on grains. Flour became such a risky endeavor that a belly up mill looked good to newspaper editor Charles Rutt, who bought it to make pancake mix.

That first mix was made from wheat flour, corn flour, salt and baking soda. The name came from a popular song from a minstrel show. Rutt and his partner didn’t last as pancake flour manufacturers, though, and sold the business to another flour mill.

This next owner hired a real person to promote the mix at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. Nancy Green was a former slave who was known for both her storytelling and cooking skills when she took to the griddle in a flour barrel shaped booth. She was so popular that extra security was hired to guide crowds around her. The company left the fair with 50,000 orders for Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix.

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I am always amazed that people were so eager to buy something that seems to offer little advantages. Granted, this version of the mix had powdered milk. But still, you could add leavener and salt to flour at home, and not save miles and miles of time or hassle.

I think a big part of why this mix sold was the seller. Nancy Green told stories of the antebellum south, how her pancakes were so good that northerners, bent to scalp her master, changed their mind. Food that stops violence is mighty magic. That the magic has a lot of ugly racial twists is worrisome to me, but I remain fascinated with this piece of food history.

Thanks to Rachel Lodder for the photo.
Thanks to Rachel Lodder for the photo.

Thor Oechsner talked about crop rotations, growing grains in the humid Northeast, and how he opened his mill, Farmer Ground Flour.

I gave a little speech for gluten, noting its current place as winner of Most Evil Food Component in the wheel of dietary roulette.

The cakes I served were from Farmer Ground’s whole wheat pastry flour, and had some malted barley from Valley Malt, a pioneering micro-maltster in Hadley, Massachusetts. My vote was to let the pancakes speak for themselves, but other people thought that people would prefer to taste the cakes with maple. My friend Ethan gave a flask of syrup, which he made in the Catskills.

I’m grateful From Scratch Club got to sit under the Homegrown Skills Tent and show off how we do it ourselves. Christina, Becky H., Erika and Christine answered a zillion questions from curious people. Erika’s bacon class kicked off the afternoon of workshops. I wonder how many of the half a zillion people she told how to make bacon have given it a shot.

As for mixes, look here for my cornmeal rye pancake mix. And here is what you do when you want to be ready make pancakes.

Thanks to Rachel Lodder for the photo.
Thanks to Rachel Lodder for the photo.


  • 4 cups whole wheat flour, preferably pastry. Preferably Farmer Ground.
  • 1 TBSP plus 1 tsp baking powder, preferably Rumford.
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • Mix well with a whisk and store in a container with a tight fitting lid.

METHODS: Time to Make the Pancakes:

  • 1 cup mix
  • 1 TBSP yogurt
  • 1 egg
  • ¾ cup milk

Blend well and please, let sit for 10 minutes before using. This helps the flour absorb the moisture thoroughly. If the batter needs a little thinning, add some more milk.

Cook on a hot buttered griddle, flipping when the first side has little bubbles.

Variations: Feel free to fiddle with the types of flour you use. Sometimes, I like to add oats ground very finely, and cornmeal and rye. You could skip the wheat flour altogether, but I wouldn’t, because I love the flavor. Most days I just have whole wheat pancakes. Most every single day, at least once. I advise you do the same.


5 Comments Add yours

    1. Amy Halloran says:

      Thanks for spreading the word!

  1. kathleen moore says:


  2. Amy Halloran says:

    You could skip the egg and just add an extra 1/4 cup water. If you’d like, add some dried buttermilk powder.

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