Atikonak pancakes make a memorable camp breakfast

By V. Paul Reynolds

Atikonak River is a big, brawling waterway that is about 90 miles East of Labrador City. It is a mecca for fly fishermen. Salmon, lake trout, brook trout, white fish and pike make this river a diverse and most memorable sport fishery.

A fishing lodge called Riverkeep, complete with all the amenities of a topshelf Labrador fishing outfitter, is located on this magnificent river. Operated by the Murray family from Cape Elizabeth, Maine, the Riverkeep Lodge is there today for any angler with the price of admission.

A number of years ago, Riverkeep was owned by Matt and Ellen Libby from Maine’s fabled Libby Camps. On kind of a whim, Diane and I decided to accept a totally unexpected and exciting invitation from the Libbys to manage Riverkeep Lodge for a summer season. The Libbys knew that we had both cooked and labored for an elk outfitter in Western Colorado.

In late June, we, along with our English Setter Sally, stepped down from the Otter ferry airplane onto a float and onto the river’s edge. We were filled with a mixture of both anxiety and anticipation. We were about to share one of the most challenging and soulful outdoor adventures of our married life. We worked hard, very hard. And because of the extended daylight in Labrador that time of year, we always made time to fish in the late evenings after dishes were done and lunches were put up for client fishermen the following day.

Of the two of us, Diane worked the hardest, cooking, cooking and more cooking. She made fresh bread every day, as well as two pies, cookies and other assorted desserts. She thrived, not only on the demands of the daily cooking tasks, but on the expressions of genuine appreciation from the camp guests.

My job, along with cooking the bacon, starting generators, lugging wood and ordering weekly food and propane by float plane, was to tend to the needs of the guests. Upon their arrival, we would welcome them and explain the “ground rules.” The camp guests’ tipping rule for the fishing guides and cook went like this: “At the end of the week, for obvious reasons, the camp manager, accepts all the gratuities from the guests and divides the money evenly among guides and staff. Please do not tip guides or staff individually.”

As it turned out, Diane’s oatmeal-buttermilk pancakes sort of evolved as her “signature dish.” Pardon the sloppy metaphor, but the guests “flipped out” over these particular pancakes, served, of course, with New England maple syrup. One guest, whose name escapes me, but let’s call him Bill, insisted that his breakfast dish include Diane’s pancakes every day of the week. Now in a busy sporting camp kitchen with so many to serve, it would have been much more expeditious to open a bag of Krusteaz pancake mix and add an egg and some water. For Diane’s special pancakes, as you will soon see, are not exactly a simple concoction. Bill just had to have the oatmeal-buttermilk pancakes and Diane made sure he got them for seven consecutive days.

Now Bill, like most of the guests, was generous with his group gratuities at the end of the stay. When nobody was looking, however, Bill silently slipped Diane a personalized gratuity, a handsome tip that featured a likeness of Benjamin Franklin in the center, presumably out of appreciation for the pancakes. I learned about this only after we were airborne and homeward bound aboard a noisy old Otter floatplane somewhere over the vast Labrador tundra.

Here’s Diane’s popular recipe that was so well-received at the Riverkeep Lodge on the Atikonak River: 

Atikonak Oatmeal- Buttermilk Pancakes

1 and 1/4 cups oatmeal

2 eggs, slightly beaten

2 cups buttermilk

¼ cup melted shortening or vegetable oil

1 cup flour

1 tbs sugar

1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

1 cup blueberries (optional)

Combine oatmeal and all liquids. Let soak. Add in dry ingredients and mix batter. Makes 7- large pancakes.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide and host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. He has authored three books. Online purchase information is available at www.sportingjournal.com, Outdoor Books.

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