Amish Winter Breakfasts

Back on the farmette where I grew up, we used to have hearty breakfasts, especially on wintery mornings. Mem used to get up early in the mornings to get the fires burning, so that when everyone else got up, the house was warm. And that was important because those of us who slept upstairs slept without any heat and  our walls were not insulated. And man, if you don't think our bedrooms were cold, you have another guess coming. I remember one of my sisters once taking a thermometer up there, and it went as far down as the thermometer would go — 8 degrees. I don't actually remember if it was above or below zero, but it doesn't really matter when it's that cold. And when the winds howled around the house, it felt like they were blowing right through the upstairs.

We used to change into our nightgowns down by the fire, get warmed up, and then run for our beds. We had to share beds, so we'd huddle under a load of blankets and put our backs up against each other to get warm. Usually once our body heat permeated the layers of blankets, we'd be fairly warm. Except for our heads. Sometimes I would actually wear a wool scarf tied under my chin.

Under the snug covers, in the dark and cold upstairs, it seemed like morning came almost as soon as I went to bed. And now came the hard part. Getting up out of bed, walk on that freezing cold floor, to get downstairs by the warm stove. I used to say it was like having to jump into cold water first thing when you woke up.

On the coldest mornings, Mem would make the living room available to my sisters and me to get dressed by the stove, with the door closed for privacy. And then we'd pitch in to help with breakfast, which was a much bigger meal than our supper had been the night before.

Sometimes Mem would fry cornmeal mush, and we'd eat it with homemade canned applesauce. (The fried cornmeal mush is what most people call polenta.) Other times we'd have eggs and homefries. If it was soon after butchering time, we'd have scrapple, sausage, or ham with the eggs and homefries. And still other mornings we'd have pancakes with our own maple syrup. No matter what Mem served, we always had oatmeal besides. Datt loved his oatmeal, and he would eat that as the last part of his breakfast.

Of all the breakfasts, I liked Mem's pancakes the best. She'd fry them in butter on a cast iron skillet to a nice golden brown. They came out light and fluffy. With a light amount of butter melted into the pancake and the first-of-the season fancy (light) maple syrup, it was ambrosia.

Back when I was growing up, many of the women in my community fell for convenience foods. Many of them made pancakes from a mix. And sometimes Mem did that. But her best pancakes were the ones she made from scratch. She used to say she doesn't understand why people would use a mix, when it isn't much more work to make them from scratch. I agree with that sentiment. To this day, I make my pancakes from scratch. I make all kinds of pancakes: plain white pancakes, buttermilk pancakes, buckwheat pancakes, apple-cinnamon-pecan pancakes, blueberry pancakes… the list goes on. My latest favorite is buttermilk pancakes eaten with fresh berries. Mmmm.

I thought I'd share the recipe. If you try them, please let me know how you liked them. The recipe is deceptively simple, with only 6 ingredients in the batter.

Saloma's Buttermilk Pancakes

1 cup buttermilk

1 tsp. baking soda

Note: You can subsitute 1 cup of sweet milk for the buttermilk, but then use 2 tsp. of baking powder instead of the baking soda.

1 tsp. vanilla

2 eggs

1 cup sifted flour

pinch salt

Fresh berries for garnish

Dissolve the baking soda in the buttermilk. (If using sweek milk, you can just add the baking powder to the flour and skip this step). Add vanilla. Let sit while preparing the rest of the batter and heat the griddle to medium-low.

In a separate bowl, slightly beat the eggs. Add the buttermilk mixture and beat it again. Sift together the flour and salt and add to the batter. Stir only enough to mix the flour in. Let the batter sit five to ten minutes.

Fry the pancakes until they are golden brown on both sides. Butter the tops and add maple syrup and fresh berries and serve while hot. Makes four to five medium-sized pancakes.

Buttermilk pancake with maple syrup and fresh berries

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36 thoughts on “Amish Winter Breakfasts”

  1. Saloma, I love this post for the vivid imagery! Brrr…

    In the recipe, does “sweet milk” refer to regular fresh milk that hasn’t soured, or to milk that has been sweetened?


    1. Sweet milk refers to regular milk. Funny, David asked me that question and thought he was joking. On the farm we used to call anything that wasn’t sour or buttermilk “sweet milk.”

      Glad you liked the imagery. Yes, Brrrr. It was even more vivid when I was living it.

      Stay warm!

  2. Thank you for sharing this wonderful memories with us, and thanks for the recipe. We will have the pancakes for our family breakfast on Saturday. :-)
    Stay warm.

  3. Yes, why do we use mixes? I’ve made homemade once or twice when I ran out of mix. I will have to try this again. I make homemade waffles from scratch, and they use beaten, fluffy egg whites, which is a whole lot more complex, so I know it wouldn’t take a minute or two more to make them from scratch. Now the cast iron skillet part–I’ve never gotten the hang of keeping one seasoned; I tried it while a bride. Failed. I guess I should try that again, too, I do know the wonderful flavors! Thanks for the inspiration. We had cold bedrooms upstairs too until we got electric baseboard heat. I remember those mornings!

    1. Melodie, I now use a teflon skillet. You just want something that is going to give you that nice, golden brown.

      Aren’t you glad for central heat after sleeping with no heat. If nothing else, that taught me how not to take such things for granted.

  4. That’s funny about the sweet milk. I also use a recipe that my mom used. ( A little different from yours, but way better than a box!) That recipe also says sweet milk. Maybe it’s an old fashioned thing. It doesn’t use buttermilk, but has vinegar in it, which would sour it a bit.

    1. Hello Twila. Yes, vinegar or lemon juice can be used to “sour” milk. Isn’t it amazing how you can taste the difference whether it comes from a box or you make it from scratch? I sure notice the difference.

  5. Now you’ve gone and made me hungry for pancakes. I don’t think I’ve had any in almost two years. My grandmother used to make the most fabulous crepes. In Polish they are called nalesniki (pronounced na-le-shneaky) It took a long time before I could get mine to taste anything like hers. When I finally got it down pat, the kids would always fight for the ones that were the most “buttery”. If only, I could have 15 minutes with each grandmother to find out how one made her pound cake and the other made her pineapple upside down cake. I think they were “their own” recipes and they will never ever be able to be replicated.

    1. Kristine, you have in turn made me hungry for crepes. I love crepes, too. But I bet they are nothing like what your grandmother used to make.

      Isn’t it too bad when people don’t write down their recipes and they are lost? Or any other memories for that matter.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  6. Stunning. You are so consistent it amazes me. This was quite the blog to read while waiting for my lunch to finish cooking in my own cast iron skillet. It’s totally covered in snow here(16 inches), beautiful blue sky, but cold. I can’t imagine having an 8 degree bedroom. It makes me appreciate modern building codes with their new insulation requirements. I remember accounts of three sided log cabins as first shelters for settlers, and reading of snow sifting in on other log cabins.

    On a side note…if you happen to be an expert on cast iron cooking, how do you get a perfect fried egg on both sides? I’m going to google it, but if you have any tips I’d appreciate hearing them. Thanks.

    1. Hello Beth. The way I learned to fry a perfect egg is from my mother. And you can do this whether you use a cast iron frying pan or any other.

      The key to a good fried egg is to have even, consistent, moderate heat. Once the pan is moderately hot, I put in just enough butter so the pan won’t stick. (I do this even with Teflon because it’s crucial to getting the perfect egg.) I break the egg into the pan, add salt and pepper, and then I place a cover on the pan. Fry about three minutes, so that when you take the cover off the pan, the eggs have a nice, white coating over the top. This is like a combination of frying and poaching an egg. The white should be solid, and the yolk still soft. (you can also disturb the yolk before you add the salt and pepper if you want a “hard” egg.)

      Let me know of your success in getting the perfect fried eggs.

  7. Our breakfasts mostly were the same as yours, minus our own maple syrup. In Oregon sugar maples are hard to come by. :)

    We had an additional one, one that we all liked. Have you heard of/do you make ‘oyer dutch’? I have heard it called ‘Dutch Baby’.

    It involves whipped eggs with a small amount of flour and seasonings baked in cast iron. It was a good deal like an omelet, only more solid.

    1. Oh, we had oya dutch often. For some reason Mem would make this for supper more than breakfast, though.

      I think what’s missing in the traditional oya dutch are veggies. Ours was pretty bland. I’ve been meaning to try making this with onions or shallots, peppers, and parsley or cilantro. I bet it would be good.

      Thank you for reminding me of oya dutch.

  8. Having young children sleep in a room that cold would be considered child abuse now in most of the U.S. (even though, of course, there are many U.S. urban and rural households that can’t afford heat). Good thing you had more than one person to a bed!

    1. Julie, I agree. It was a blessing in winter to share a bed with a sister. Two bodies generate more heat than one under those heavy covers.

      I don’t think I would have considered it abusive to have to sleep in the cold, but I am glad we all survived it.

  9. What memories you have evoked,Saloma! All the way from cold, frosty bedrooms to hearty breakfasts! Growing up in a rambling farmhouse w/ those rattley, drafty windows, uninsulated,,, it was so hard to get up in the mornings! And then going out to milk, etc really woke you up & worked up an appetite that made you appreciate those delicious meals! And it helped sustain you for those half- mile walks to meet the school bus. I like to think that’s what helped make me tuff!! Ha!
    I love my cast iron skillets! In fact I don’t own anything else so far as skillets. Some tips I have learned over the years: never wash in soapy water, only hot water. Don’t use the same pan to fry meat & then turn around & use it for eggs. You’ll have problems! I have 1 pan I use only for eggs & after 30 years it is very smooth & well seasoned. This particular one I hardly ever wash – I just wipe out real good w/ paper towel.
    And those hearty farmers breakfasts consisted of anything from oyer dutch w/ tomato gravy to fried corn mush to sausage to liver wurst to pancakes w/ real maple syrup (yum:)) to about anything imagineable in between. But no matter what we had, just like your dad liked his oatmeal, we had cooked graham. Sunday mornings it was oatmeal. Our pancakes were buckwheat. This lady rarely uses mixes. Why should I when the “scratch” is so much more flavorful & healthy for you?! Each to their own…all this talk @ good food makes me hungry!! Good day, my friend as you reminisce some more!

    1. Mary Ellen, I’m glad my post evoked memories for you. Lucky for me, I at least didn’t have to go out and milk cows before the crack of dawn.

      I agree with you about the care of cast iron skillets. Though, I have to say I now use other kinds of pans. We have a glass stovetop and they say cast iron pans can crack those.

      You reminded me of graham… yes we had that on occasion also… in place of oatmeal. And we sometimes had buckwheat pancakes. Did your mom ever make steamed graham pudding with graham flour and raisins? We often had that on Saturday nights in winter.

      Thanks for evoking my memories too.

  10. Yes! Saloma, we often had steamed graham pudding! I love it to this day! Now I have a question – what is the difference between graham & regar wheat flour??? And guess what- I fixed your pancakes for lunch! I was alone, so made 1/2 batch. What I couldn’t eat the cat enjoyed! But yes, it was very good- I think the vanilla adds a good flavor. Talking @ cold bedrooms, I am thankful for a warmer room to sleep in, although I still prefer it being cool rather than too warm. I think it is healthier for you. Hubby & I agree on the coolness of the bedroom, thank goodness! We feel more rested & sleep better. That being said– sweet dreams!

    1. Hello Mary Ellen. I think my sister said that graham flour is a coarser grind than regular whole wheat flour.

      I agree about sleeping in a cool bedroom. We have our heat turned off in there, and prefer it that way. Obviously heat does come from the other rooms, but the bedroom is not as warm as the rest of the house.

      Sweet dreams to you also.

  11. Nice story. If my memory serves me right I remember than farm ur talking about. I think I was there as a kid. I’m surprised it was that cold. I’ve been in my share of Amish homes, I was married to a lady whose parents grew up Amish. Most of my ex in laws sisters and brothers are still Amish. Of course when I was there I didn’t venture upstairs. But your right, the place to be is by the wood burner. I didn’t experience that I can remember, Amish pancakes. My mother in law Alma used to make me what she called an egg in a hole. Which was a buttered bread with a hole then crack an egg in it. She also used to give me Bonna soup. I really didn’t care for it. Although I didn’t grow up the same I can some what imagine.

    1. Steve, so interesting that you married into an Amish family.

      Not all Amish homes have an upstairs as cold as ours. In fact, most people have “registers” that allow the heat from downstairs to rise into the upstairs bedrooms. I always wanted my parents to have one put in, but they never did.

      Bonna supp. Ick. I DID grow up Amish, and I still don’t like it. All that mushy bread in hot milk.

      Take care, Steve.

  12. Saloma, the pancakes alone sound fantastic, but do you ever nowadays make the full meal (w/cornmeal mush, scrapple, etc)? For me, technology will never be fully evolved until we have figured out a way to teleport foods to arrive piping hot, even halfway around the world. Oh, if you have any way to do that, let me know :) Anyway, you basically described my favorite of all breakfasts.

  13. I can’t wait to try these. All of your recipes have been excellent, and we sometimes have pancakes for supper. Oya Dutch is a supper food in our neck of the woods, too. Big, hearty breakfasts were always lost on our family. I don’t know why, but none of us were big eaters first thing in the morning. To this day, a cup of yogurt and a cup of coffee is how I start the day.

    Thinking about the bedrooms without heat gave me a chill. It also reminded me of how once some old timers at church were having a small debate who had it hardest while growing up. When one lady told about the unheated bedrooms in the old drafty farmhouse, everyone else shut up. Ha! You survived with the best of them.

    1. Monica, I love your perspective. The story of the old timers had me laughing out loud.

      So glad you have enjoyed my recipes. I’ve enjoyed yours for sure.

      Blessings to you and your family.

  14. That phrase “sweet milk” appeared in many of the old recipes for baked goods in our house also. I think almost all recipes that called for milk had both a “sweet” and “sour” version so that nothing, not even sour milk, was wasted.

    I should have included that use of sweet and sour in my food section.

    Too soon old. Too late schmart. :-)

    1. Yes, the farm wives knew just how to make the most of what they had… be it sweet milk, sour milk, sweet cream, or sour cream. In our case we also had a use for the “thin” milk… that very skim milk at the bottom of the creamer can in which we used to put our milk to let the cream rise to the top. When we opened the spout at the bottom of the can, we’d let the thin milk pour into the slop bucket for the pigs.

      Oh, sweet (and sour) memories!

  15. Ah… this post brings back so many memories! I remember we also had Oya Dutch, but I didn’t remember what was the difference between that and plain Scrambled Eggs. I’m afraid I didn’t pay enough attention when Mom was cooking back then. :-( I seldom make pancakes since I’m alone, but I think I’ll have these for lunch! I also SELDOM use mixes! I see what looks like a really delicious cake or something on FB, look at the recipe and… it takes a mix! Nope! Another thought… I’ve often wondered what it is about eggs that can ruin the seasoning on a cast iron skillet. I obviously don’t do something right, so now I go for my Teflon pan.

    1. Hello Mary. So glad to bring back memories of Oya Dutch. It’s basically scrambled eggs, milk, flour, and salt and pepper. I don’t know the proportions any longer, because it’s been so long since I’ve made it.

      I never noticed that eggs ruin the seasoning on a cast iron skillet. I use teflon too, now.

  16. I love reading your posts. Since my dad was from a Mennonite background I can see why we did many things, such as last having oatmeal after fried eggs for breakfast, or fried mush and eggs for breakfast or for an evening meal in the winter after out picking corn in the cold! It all brings back good memories. We enjoyed fried scrapple too. I once bought a new iron skillet when newly married and could never get it seasoned so got rid of it, but now I’m glad to have the 2 my mom had all my childhood years. It’s funny how some things seemed so old fashioned back then and now we try to imitate them!

    1. Marilyn, I’m so glad you enjoy my posts. I enjoy writing them, especially when I have such appreciative readers!

      I like that this post evoked good memories for you.

      Lol, I think you’re right… what we laughed at in our childhood, we treasure when we are in our later years. I have a theory about iron skillets. I think they are not made with the same grade of iron, or not made in the same way as the old ones were. The only ones I’ve ever liked are the really old ones that I inherited from my mother and from David’s mother.

      I enjoyed your comments and I look forward to more exchanges.

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