Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hotcakes at 9,000 feet

I posted this story August 2000 on, about two weeks after returning home from a family backpacking trips up the Middle Fork San Joaquin River. We were going to celebrate the 30th anniversary of a family backpacking trip to Mt. Whitney, but couldn't travel about the 10,000-foot elevation mark due to my mother's health.

A few weeks ago, I cooked hotcakes and bacon over a campfire in the Ansel Adams Wilderness. During the four-day backpacking trip, the two hotcake breakfasts tasted much better than freeze-dried scrambled eggs and homemade granola cereal. These golden brown wheat cakes brought back fond memories of childhood camping vacations and weekend backpacking trips in the Sierra Nevada.

Hotcakes became a weekend event at in the Karoly house early in my parent’s life together. Although Mom was the principle cook in the family, Saturday mornings served as a time for us five siblings to help Dad measure flour and milk into a bowl and to crack a couple eggs. While he mixed the batter, Dad said, “Limps do not affect the flavor.” We heard his gentle reminder not to over mix the hotcake batter each Saturday.

One sibling made syrup from brown sugar and water, while others got the dishes out and set the table. With a glass of Donald Duck orange juice in front each of seven place settings, Dad grilled golden hotcakes on a aluminum griddle that’s reportedly cast from the block of an old Ford V8. At mealtime, a platter of hotcakes and a plate of bacon strips or sausage patties sat ready to nourish the Karolys once more.

Whether it was Saturday morning breakfast or camping trips to places like Buck Meadow in the Sierra National Forest or the Cottonwood Lakes near Mt. Whitney, hotcakes have been a Karoly tradition since my father started making them for his growing family sometime in the 1950s. Since then, Dad has served hotcakes on every camping and backpacking trip. Hotcakes will forever bring back memories of the pressed steel backpacking griddle that Dad inherited from my grandfather and family breakfasts in California's great snowy range.


Nothing hits the spot like hotcakes that are smothered with brown sugar syrup, especially if they’re made from scratch. Scratch hotcakes are superior to many of the prepared mixes on the market today. This recipe is adapted from an early edition of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. Except for the addition of buttermilk, this is the recipe I’ve known my whole life.

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1/3 cup dry buttermilk blend (see note)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup water
1 egg
2 Tbsp. cooking oil or melted bacon grease

At home. Stir together flour, sugar, dry buttermilk blend, baking powder, soda and salt. Place hotcake mix into a suitable container. Pack the egg and oil.

For backpacking trips, we place the whole egg inside the dry mix. The theory goes like this: Should the egg break, remove the shell, add water and mix. I’ll have to test it one-day -- we've never broken an egg in my memory.

In camp. Light a campfire and burn until you have a bed of hot coals. (Hotcakes can be cooked over a campstove if desired.)

Pour mix into a bowl. Crack the egg into the dry mixture. Add the water and mix with a wire whip just until the batter is blended. Add the oil or bacon grease and mix again just until the batter is blended. The batter will be slightly lumpy.

When the coals are ready, spread them under a lightly greased cast iron skillet or griddle and heat just until it smokes. For each hotcake, pour about 1/4 cup of batter onto the hot griddle or skillet. Turn when each hotcake’s surface is bubbly and the edges are slightly dry. Cook until golden brown. Serve with butter and brown sugar syrup (recipe follows).

This recipe makes about eight 4-inch hotcakes and can be easily doubled for larger groups.

Buttermilk note: I use Saco Cultured Buttermilk Blend, which is sold in a 12-oz. container. Call Saco Foods toll-free at 1-800-373-7226 or email for information about their products. Substitute 1-1/3 cups cultured buttermilk for the dry buttermilk and water if desired.


This formula for this recipe is two parts sugar to one-part water. It produces syrup that’s superior to bottled syrups. After eating hotcakes smothered in brown sugar syrup for nearby half a century, nothing beats it, except genuine maple syrup.

1 cup boiling water
2 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon imitation maple flavor

Add brown sugar to boiling water and cook until dissolved. Remove from heat. Add maple flavor and mix. For milder syrup, substitute 1 cup granulated sugar for 1-cup brown sugar.

Makes about two cups.

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