Sourdough Pancakes: The camping treat that everyone loves

Brown and buttery, these pancakes have those desirable crispy edges and are quite fluffy.Pancake1
Brown and buttery, these pancakes have those desirable crispy edges and are quite fluffy.Pancake1 /

Let me start out by saying my idea of roughing it is a hotel without room service.

As someone who was born and raised in Alaska, I grew up camping on the backroads and hidden parks all over the state. I stayed in tents and campers, motorhomes and log cabins. I roasted hot dogs over a camp fire and had s’mores marshmallows in my hair more times that I can count because I also had a big brother.

I’ve had bears rummage in campsites while I watched, and an intrepid squirrel took my corn nuts one time. I’ve had snacks stolen by sea gulls and hung out with mosquitoes so big they were considered the state bird.

Also, I loathe camping.

I like things like air conditioning, showers, and not being eaten by bears.

Which is why I was just as surprised as anyone when last month saw me at a campground in the middle of Alaska with no Wi-Fi, no electricity and no take out.

Complete with a campfire and a camp stove and a lot of bacon.

I did all this because I was promised Alaskan Sourdough Pancakes. With bacon.

Note to anyone reading this who is thinking about camping: bears love bacon. They love the smell, the grease, the bacon cooking, and the potential of leftovers.

On a totally unrelated subject, it just occurred to me that my teenage son might be a bear.

I only mention this in a story about pancakes because at around 3am the morning after the bacon (and pancakes) were enjoyed, three black bears visited the campsite who were quite obviously bacon aficionados and who were desperately searched for a smidgeon we may have left them.

This was apparently a momma bear and her two-year old twin cubs, although I personally think that by the time your children weigh over 285 pounds each, it might be time to cut the cord.

When this young family of fur discovered we had not left them any bacon bits, they let us know their frustration by swiping dad’s truck with massive paws, eating part of the picnic table and apparently swallowing several tubes of bubbles.

Somewhere in Whittier, Alaska, there are possibly bears farting bubbles right now.

But I digress. I do that a lot.

Now of course, the most important part of camping is the food. Because, well, #food. And this trip—complete with my mom, dad, brother, sister-in-law, their two teenagers, myself, my husband, our two teens, my uncle, an aunt, and three cousins and their three children—saw a variety of food in high demand.

With the possible exemption of the 7-year old, who survived on a diet consisting solely of peanut butter and honey sandwiches, although she sometimes went a little crazy and added cookies.

And the best part of camping is the traditional Sourdough Pancake breakfast my dad cooks over a camp stove. Which was the entire reason I was there.

Our first morning at the campsite saw my dad, a large, burly, grumpy curmudgeon who is the quintessential stereotype of an Alaskan Man (pretty sure he deliberately cultivates this), complete with a full bushy beard, red suspenders over a blue plaid shirt to hold up his jeans, and a loud barking voice that yells at everyone because he forgot his hearing aids again, make his special sourdough pancakes for everyone.

Because sourdough pancakes are an Alaskan staple.

Sourdough dates back to ancient Egypt–around 1500BC is when the first sourdough starter was thought to have been created. It’s an ancient form of leavening.

And although dad proudly uses the same sourdough starter he has had for years, I am fairly certain it’s not quite that old. But I may be wrong. It’s pretty old. I asked him exactly how old it was, and he said, “WHAT??”

See earlier paragraph regarding hearing aid.

Sourdough became really popular during the Alaska Gold Rush, when miners and trappers would keep their precious sourdough starter warm by sleeping with it nestled next to their bodies to keep it from freezing in the winter. These grizzled, husky Alaskans would cuddle all winter long with their precious sourdough starter.

And then they would eat it.

My dad assured me he has never felt the need to sleep with his starter.

Even today, Alaskans who have spent at least one winter in the frozen North are referred to as “Sourdoughs”– based on the tales of how protective those original settlers would be of their starter mix.

There’s some trivia for you right there that you probably could have lived your entire life happily not knowing.

But that first morning at the campsite (okay—the family actually had like three full campsites because #family), dad starts making these sourdough pancakes for the massive crowd that I am apparently related to.

Then my 17-year old son challenged his 16-year old cousin to a pancake eating contest.

Eighteen (yes—18) pancakes later, my son is declared the winner.

In contrast, I was full after two.

And these were amazing: crisp brown edges, chewy middles, unique sourdough taste that is a cross between fresh bread dough and happiness, lightly coated with sweet maple syrup seeping into the small valleys of pancake holes dotting the plate.

But seriously—WHO can eat 18 of these? Besides the bears. Who were disgusted they were not invited to begin with.

There’s just something about bacon crisping over a morning campfire, dad making sourdough pancakes for approximately 20 people in a cool morning, the smell of coffee wafting out from their motorhome, the trees rippling in the background that made me take a giant breath of clean, crisp mountain air, look around, and hug my dad and say, “Breakfast was awesome. Maybe camping isn’t so bad.”

And have my dad look lovingly into my eyes, spatula in hand, pancakes crisping on the grill, and shout, “WHAT?”