Ichabod Crane, the wimpy and opportunistic schoolteacher from Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” is an undeniably unlikeable character. He is so unlikeable, in fact, that you barely even feel a twinge of sadness over his fate at the story’s end. Despite all of this, though, I admit that I’ve always liked him for one reason: his insatiable and all-consuming hunger. In the same way that I feel a kindred (if worrisome) connection to Roald Dahl’s food-greedy Augustus Gloop, who nearly meets his death dunking his face into a chocolate pond, and John Kennedy Toole’s slothful and gluttonous Ignatius J. Riley, whose love of hotdogs is practically romantic, I understand Ichabod Crain’s ardent love of eating.
There is nary a thought that goes through Ichabod’s mind that doesn’t involve food. When he walks by his neighbor’s farm it isn’t livestock that he sees, but “every roasting-pig running about with a pudding in his belly, and an apple in his mouth; the pigeons […]snugly put to bed in a comfortable pie, and tucked in with a coverlet of crust; geese swimming in their own gravy; and the ducks pairing cosily in dishes, like snug married couples, with a decent competency of onion sauce. In the porkers he saw carved out the future sleek side of bacon, and juicy relishing ham; not a turkey but he beheld daintily trussed up, with its gizzard under its wing, and, peradventure, a necklace of savory sausages.”
Ichabod’s love and longing for Katrina Van Tassel is based solely on the fact that her family eats well. His desire for her is so bound up in hunger that he looks at her as if she herself were a meal–”plump as a partridge; ripe and melting and rosy cheeked as one of her father’s peaches.” It’s creepy. But I kind of get it. In one of my favorite autumnal literary passages, Ichabod is walking by a field of buckwheat and imagines its future as pancakes:
As Ichabod jogged slowly on his way, his eye, ever open to every symptom of culinary abundance, ranged with delight over the treasures of jolly autumn. On all sides he beheld vast store of apples; some hanging in oppressive opulence on the trees; some gathered into baskets and barrels for the market; others heaped up in rich piles for the cider-press. Farther on he beheld great fields of Indian corn, with its golden ears peeping from their leafy coverts, and holding out the promise of cakes and hasty pudding; and the yellow pumpkins lying beneath them, turning up their fair round bellies to the sun, and giving ample prospects of the most luxurious of pies; and anon he passed the fragrant buckwheat fields, breathing the odor of the beehive, and as he beheld them, soft anticipations stole over his mind of dainty slapjacks, well buttered, and garnished with honey or treacle, by the delicate little dimpled hand of Katrina Van Tassel.
Buckwheat was a staple of the American diet in the 18th and 19th Century, but its production took a huge hit in the 20th century, with the invention of nitrogen fertilizers. These fertilizers made the cultivation of wheat and maize much easier, and buckwheat lost popularity. I had never eaten a buckwheat anything until I was well into adulthood and working at a restaurant that served buckwheat waffles. The taste and texture were a revelation to me. These days I prefer a buckwheat pancake to one made completely with white flour. Here, there’s a mix of both white and buckwheat flour. Yogurt lightens the buckwheat’s denseness and brown butter brings out its nutty earthiness. These pancakes are great served with honey or maple syrup, butter and jelly, peanut butter and bananas, or as a more savory breakfast with creme fraiche and smoked salmon (I’ve tried it with all the toppings, for research). Despite the name, buckwheat doesn’t contain any wheat, and is actually related to rhubarb, sorrel, and knotweed, so if you are gluten intolerant, feel free to sub out the white flour and use 100% buckwheat, the pancake may be a little denser but it will still be delicious.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Brown Butter Buckwheat Pancakes
Makes 8-10 pancakes
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, browned, plus more for greasing skillet
2 eggs, separated
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 cup full fat Greek yogurt + 4 tablespoons water
1 tsp vanilla
¾ cup buckwheat flour
½ cup AP flour
1 TBS + 1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
Honey or Maple Syrup (or any of the above suggestions) for serving
Brown your butter and set it aside to cool (if you don’t know how to brown butter, here is a step-by-step tutorial). Separate your eggs and add the yolks to a large bowl. Add sugar to yolks and whisk until yolks are a creamy light yellow. Add yogurt and vanilla and whisk until combined. In a separate bowl, whisk together your buckwheat and all purpose flours, baking powder and salt. Whisk your dry ingredients into your yogurt/egg yolk mixture. In a separate bowl, whip your reserved egg whites until they reach stiff peaks. Gently fold them in to the batter until they are fully incorporated.
Pre-heat oven to 150F (for keeping finished pancakes warm while the others cook). Melt butter in a medium skillet (use a castiron if you have one) and scoop about ¼ cup of batter into the pan. Cook over medium heat until bubbles begin to form around the edge and in the middle of the pancake batter, flip and cook until bottom is crisp and brown. Repeat with remaining batter and serve with butter and honey or maple syrup (or the myriad other possibilities mentioned above)