When I wrote about George Kaser and his family’s difficult journey from Eastern Pennsylvania to the wilds of Ohio, I read a bit about what life was like in Pennsylvania and Ohio in those days. A history of Lehigh County in Pennsylvania described, among other things, what the pioneers ate. The author says the pioneers would be happy with rye bread and buckwheat cakes, and on very special occasions, wheat bread, along with their venison.
[NOTE: I have removed the recipe from this post and suggest you check out the better buckwheat pancake recipe I wrote about later, instead of the thinner one you will get from the originally posted recipe. This picture is the Better recipe.]
buckwheat pancakes with blueberry jam
My father, Paul Kaser, retained a love of buckwheat pancakes–was it a cultural memory from old Germany and the early pioneer days? (He liked all kinds of pancakes, as my sister remembered in this post.) And what is buckwheat anyhow? Is it good for us? Now that I’m thinking about them, I just have to make some buckwheat pancakes. But first…back to the research.
It turns out that buckwheat is a kind of Super Food. What? you ask? Why did they die so young if our ancestors ate healthy stuff? So glad you asked
They didn’t actually die at 40, as some would have you believe.
If you take into account that there were a lot of infant deaths, for various reasons, once a child got to five years old, his life expectancy was only a few years younger than the mid 20th century. We have had a spurt in old age extension in the past twenty years or so, so the difference is greater now, but I had plenty of ancestors who lived into their 80s and some into their 90s. I am not going into all the detail, because, fortunately, I found a wonderful blog that covers everyday life in the past,
and you can read his article with the details.
This interactive chart allows you to see the difference in life expectancy for people who survived to 5 years old or 20 years old as compared to the overall life expectancy from birth from the years 1850 to the present. (Unfortunately not the 18th and early 19th century that was the age of the pioneers.)
I looked at the age difference for women at 20 because there seemed also to be a high number of female deaths at childhood, particularly in the 1700’s. Although that is proven true by my list of ancestors (I haven’t calculated, but I’m guessing that 1/4 of the men married twice because the first wife died in childbirth), the difference of age at death expectation is not tremendous, according to the chart after 1850.
Back to our regularly scheduled programming
So–what is buckwheat? Well it isn’t a form of wheat. It isn’t even a grain. In fact, I was surprised to learn that the buckwheat groats (hulled seeds) come from a plant in the same family as rhubarb.
Is it a Super Food? Absolutely. Ranks right up there with blueberries and salmon and dark green greens, and acai. You can see the nutritional values here. It releases more usable protein than wheat flour. Buckwheat is packed with anti-oxidents. The buckwheat is a good source of fiber. AND it is gluten-free. Because it is a seed and not a grain, it lacks the ability to hold things together in baked goods, and is generally is combined with other flours. Rice flour if you’re eating gluten-free, or wheat flour if you can eat wheat.
Buckwheat groats. Click on photo to learn more.
What can you do with it?
You can grow buckwheat in your garden to keep bugs away from other plants. But you probably don’t want to try to harvest it for food. Let the bigger farmers do that.
buckwheat plant. Photo from Flickr. Click on photo for more information.
If you’ve ever eaten kashi– toasted buckwheat groats– and you know that you can use it like any grain–rice, quinoa, bulgur wheat and mix and match with a variety of vegetables or cook it alone as a cereal.
You can buy kashi untoasted as well, and grind your own flour, but if you’re using it whole, the flavor is better if you toast it.
I tried to buy some flour at my local Sprouts grocery store, but they only had a pancake mix which is half buckwheat flour and half wheat flour. By that time, I was definitely in the mood for some nutty, earthy buckwheat pancakes to make me think of my Dad–so I settled for the mix. But I’m sure other stores will have the flour, and if not, you can buy buckwheat flour on line.
Surfing for recipes, I came up with this amalgam, which I’ll try when I get my hands on some pure buckwheat flour. [And later I found that Arrowhead makes a gluten-free buckwheat flour as well as their pancake mix.]
But the Arrowhead Buckwheat Pancake Mix is pretty good, I must admit.
Don’t stop there.
David Lebovitz, in his delightful book The Sweet Life in Paris, gives us the recipe for a Breton Buckwheat Cake with Sea Salt. (Brittany being known for both harvesting sea salt and making buckwheat crepes.)
King Arthur website contains a whole section on baking with buckwheat, if you are not trying to go gluten free.
Emeril LaGasse gets in the act with a pudding made with buckwheat groats.
Amazon offers Volume Four of Cooking with Buckwheat Flour. But be forewarned people complain that the recipes combine the buckwheat flour with other flour, like wheat.