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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

Stacked
By B.A. Nilsson

Peaceful Valley Maple Farms

116 LaGrange Road, Johnstown, 762-0491. Serving an all-you-can-eat breakfast Sat-Sun 7:30-2 until the end of April. Cash only.

Cuisine: Pancakes, sausage, fritters, real maple syrup

Entrée price range: $6.50 (all-you-can-eat breakfast)

Ambiance: Adirondack

 

No single food item exemplifies the horrors of American packaging than pancakes. Except for waffles. But waffles became a horrible joke the day they showed up on supermarket shelves as frozen, toaster-bound bricks.

Pancakes, however, are offered as a powder to mix and serve, which is joke No. 1. The recipe for pancakes includes, at its simplest, flour, sugar, baking powder, milk, butter and an egg. Joke number two is crueler, giving still more evidence of how easily we can be duped. It’s the one played upon us in the name of “syrup.”

They’re called “pancake syrup,” these jars of caramel-colored corn sweetener, but the only thing they have in common with real maple syrup is viscosity. And they populate the supermarket shelves in such quantity as to prove that nothing inspires lowbrow America as effectively as low prices and relentless advertising. The Aunt Jemima brand even claims a ChefsBest™ Best Taste Award, which turns out to be nothing more than a rubber-stamp gesture from a somewhat disguised corporate entity.

But there’s a better reason to avoid those disgusting corn syrup products. Getting back in touch with the land. We are surrounded by maple trees, and therefore producers of real maple syrup. Last weekend, many of them participated in a statewide open-house weekend, which I stumbled on by accident because I took a neighbor’s advice and sought a pancake breakfast at Peaceful Valley Maple Farms.

And I’m suggesting you give it a try. You have only until the end of April. You’re going to wait in line. You’ll probably wait a bit until your food arrives. You might have to wait for refills. But it’s tremendous fun and the food is good and you’re sitting a scant few feet from where maple sap boils and boils away its water to leave the rich, unmistakable nectar behind.

Johnstown is a small Fulton County city once known, with neighboring Gloversville, as the center of the leather industry. Like so many upstate cities, it’s struggling for a new identity. And like so many, its commerce has bled to strip malls on an arterial, leaving a shell of a downtown.

But a significant downtown feature is Johnson Hall, built in 1763 by Sir William Johnson. It remains a historic site, well worth visiting, a stone’s throw from Peaceful Valley—but it won’t reopen for tourists until May. So make your way around the back of it and follow County Route 131A until you see the billows of smoke that mark the busy sugar house.

Steve and Kathy Savage run the operation. He’ll be found processing the syrup, while she’s at the door of the gift shop and restaurant, managing the crowd awaiting seats at the busy breakfast.

“When the sap is running well,” says Steve, “we process about 5,000 gallons of it a day.” Which yields about 125 gallons of syrup, sold under the Peaceful Valley name in the gift shop as well as in selected area retail stores. “We built a new sugar house and gift shop in 2004, and last year we put in the dining room.” Although it’s now being used only for the sap-intensive months of the year, the Savages will open for breakfast on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, “and we’re going to do something in the fall, though we’re not sure yet just when that’ll be.”

And the price will certainly go up, which only makes sense. Right now, this meal is the best bargain in the Mohawk Valley.

“If you get here between 7:30 and 8,” says Kathy, “you’ll probably get a seat pretty quickly. After that . . . ”

After that, join the crowd. Give Kathy your name and take a look around the place. You may see Steve feeding firewood to the boiler, or straining the latest batch. Or remain in the gift shop, where snacks are offered: cheese and crackers (local Palatine cheese) and some delicious corn fritters (when there’s time to make them and send them out) topped, of course, with syrup.

Each dining-room table sports a flask or two of syrup, which makes the anticipation of your food the more poignant. “Want some sausage gravy?” our server asked as she took our coffee order, and how could I not say yes? If you’re not familiar with the stuff, it’s a mucilaginous mixture of roux-thickened milk and sausage leavings, traditionally spooned over biscuits. When I realized that it was offered here as a pancake topping, I made nary a dent in the stuff.

Soon enough the platter of steaming pancakes emerged, part of a procession that included fat link sausages, fried eggs and home fries. And applesauce. As my party of six dug in, the table grew unusually quiet. I understood then what I’d been hearing since we sat: periodic dimming of sound as food reached the various parts of the room. Our meal was by no means an event of culinary fancification. This is homespun stuff, cooked by Steve’s mother with scullery help from his two sons. But as a social event it’s unbeatable.

When you stagger out, nab a jug of syrup. If you need a pancake recipe, let me know.

Look for other maple-syrup farms through the Web site nysmaple.com, which gives a by-county listing and contact information.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Several salubrious and timely events are scheduled this week at the Honest Weight Food Co-Op’s Community Room (484 Central Ave., Albany). “Living Gluten Free” is the subject of a workshop with Amy Pagano from 1 to 3 PM Saturday (March 8); the store’s plant buyer, Gayle Anderson, discusses “Starting Seeds” from noon to 2 PM Sunday (March 9); and “Eat Good Fats” will be the topic from 6 to 7 PM Wednesday (March 12). For more info, call the Co-Op at 482-2667. . . . Enjoy a Southern Italian dinner and wine tasting at Saratoga Rose Inn and Restaurant (4136 Rockwell St., Hadley) at 7 PM Saturday, March 15, an event featuring five courses paired with five wines and commentary by Janine Stowell of Opici Wine Co. Chef-owner Richard Ferrugio will be preparing leek and pancetta frittata, Sicilian pesto with mint and almonds, braised rabbit agrodolce and much more. Dinner is $70 per person, plus tax and tip, and seating is limited. Call 696-2861 for reservations. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (food at banilsson.com).



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