Tree Slice Pancakes and Celebrating Seasonal Changes
The gradual changing of the seasons is punctuated by clear, wonder-filled markers of passing time. The first frost, turning autumnal flowers into sparkling jewels and edging grass blades in tiny diamonds. The first freeze, creating ice bubbles at the edges of muddy puddles before they dissolve in the morning’s sun. And, of course, the first snow.
You can just picture it, can’t you? That rush of excitement on childhood mornings as you woke up to discover a world, transformed. That spine-tingling ozone smell hanging in the air. The crisp white blanket creating a landscape that is all texture and light. The anticipation glittering in your chest, promising a new season of outdoor play and festive celebrations: winter has arrived.
And with it comes a gentle stillness that settles on all of us. We can almost feel the energy of the trees settling down into the roots. We sense the hordes of nuts and seeds stowed away by wise little critters who have spent the last few months industriously working in preparation for this day. We think of the firewood pile out back and feel thankful for fall days spent carrying log rounds back to the trailer that will keep us warm through many more snows. These all mark a sudden cessation of autumn’s steady gathering.
It’s as though nature is breathing one big exhale, a sleepy sigh announcing that the world is going to rest, the trees are going to nap, the squirrels are going to snuggle in amongst the result of their frantic fall activities. Harvest season has officially ended and winter’s magic has descended. But unlike the earth and trees and squirrels, we don’t have to rest. We can pile on the snow clothes and run out the door with gleeful abandon to make the first snowmen, throw the first snowballs. We can dig out the skis and the skates and the mis-matched mittens and too-small snowboots to revel in the wonderland so graciously delivered to us. But first, we’re going to need some breakfast. Let’s make it a special one.
What better way to engage with seasonality than to mark the momentous natural occasions each year? Sure, we can set a date on a calendar and plan our festivities around that… but doesn’t it feel exciting to let it sneak up on you, to fall into a multitude of mini-celebrations with every beautiful change? This year I challenge you to make a bigger deal of the little shifts. Let yourself be filled with the wonder of the first snow the same way you were when you were a kid. And then, let your stomach be filled by these beautiful pancakes, made from ingredients you probably already have on hand and celebrating the harvest of grains you’ve already put away. Let their tree ring pattern remind you of yule logs and firewood and community: things to keep you warm on the long winter nights to come.
Tree Slice Pancakes:
These exceptionally fluffy and tasty pancakes are an ode to the things we’ve stockpiled for winter. Foraged flours, especially, take a lot of processing and work, so it’s fun to showcase them in a recipe like this that really lets them shine. I love using earthy and deep curly dock flour and sweet and nutty acorn flour in hearty winter dishes and these pancakes show off the best of both worlds. No worries if you weren’t quite as active a squirrel as me, though; store-bought substitutions work just as well. The finishing touch on these show-stopping pancakes is the addition of vanilla ponderosa extract, the flavor of sunlight on Ponderosa bark infused into one precious bottle. (But yeah, you totally could just use vanilla.)
I like to top my pancakes with golden syrup, a discovery I made while living in Canada. It tastes of caramel and sparkles like amber and is a bit thicker than maple syrup, which would also be delicious with these tree-inspired pancakes.
¼ c. all-purpose flour
¼ c. curly dock seed flour (or buckwheat flour)
1 tsp. Baking powder
½ Tbs. sugar
¾ c. all-purpose flour
¼ c. acorn flour (or whole grain flour)
2 tsp. Baking powder
¼ tsp. Salt
1 Tbs. sugar
1 c. milk
2 large eggs (or ½ c. applesauce)
4 Tbs. melted unsalted butter, plus extra for skillet (or vegan butter)
3 tsp. Ponderosa vanilla extract
In two separate bowls, mix the light mixture and the dark mixture.
Whisk together the ingredients for the wet mixture in a liquid measuring cup.
Pour ⅓ of the wet mixture into the dark mixture and the other ⅔ into the light mixture. Beat both until just combined. Transfer the mixtures to condiment squeeze bottles.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat and melt a little butter on it.
Working quickly, make a series of concentric rings in the skillet with the dark mixture, then add the light mixture on top and (very gently) spread to cover. When the bubbles at the edges pop and stay open, flip the pancake and cook on the other side. Cook until lightly browned and done through the middle.
Serve with butter and syrup and a dose of excitement.
Finally, one last story, just because it’s funny:
For those of us who grew up in wintery regions, those memories of our first time experiencing snow may feel distant and blurry - but there’s nothing quite like seeing someone’s awe-struck wonder in the face of this natural phenomenon for the first time, no matter the age. I remember in particular a lazy Saturday morning in my college dorms. Hungover students were slowly meandering into the common room in pajamas and robes, many with cups of hot coffee (or maybe some aspirin) in hand, observing the first snow with the combination of awe and resignment that comes after you’ve lived through a few central Canadian winters and know just what you’re in for. As we lazily flopped onto couches and armchairs, a door down the hall was burst open and an international student from Argentina came rushing out in his bright red basketball shorts. “It’s snowing! It’s snowing! I’ve never seen snow before!” he shouted as he rushed for the doors while the rest of us seasoned winter veterans looked on in amusement. We watched as he rushed out into the fluffy white world and hurled himself on the snow-covered grass. Almost as suddenly as he’d run out, he jumped up as if burned and came running back inside. “They told me it was cold, but I didn’t know it would HURT!” he exclaimed sheepishly to a room full of giggling Canadians (and me.) But oh, for a few moments there, I could see the distant glimmers of my own heart-pattering excitement waking up on a school morning to a world decked in white.
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