Mitchell and his Pancakes:
the Comox Argus August 18, 1932
Perhaps it is because I am inherently depraved, perhaps it is because I have been coarsened by long contact with the reading public, perhaps it is because I don't mind telling the truth but, anyway, my memories of places are mostly gastronomical. I could identify almost any place in British Columbia by its food; Kamloops by Wings's lamb chops; Kelowna by its fried chicken of a low dump not far from the lake; Barkerville by its mutton stew; Paul Lake by Mrs. Scott's gooseberry pie; the Allison Pass by its fried trout, each precisely nine inches long; Hazelton by Mrs. Newick's six desserts at each meal; Qualicum by chump chops cooked on a stick over a beach fire, and so on. The list is almost endless, I could go on making your mouth water for several columns, but I doubt the results would be worth my efforts. All I want to convey at the moment is that I have just discovered a new specimen to add to my collection; a magnificent specimen this, all the more valuable since I happened on it unexpectedly, and wouldn't believe it at first because of an old and deep-rooted prejudice. I mean I have discovered pancakes.
Do not mistake me and turn away in disgust to read the more elevating comics and Dorothy Dix. These, my friend, are no ordinary pancakes, and they are worth a little of your time. As for me they will forever be connected in my mind with the Forbidden Plateau. I shall never see pancakes again, but I shall think of that magic land of lakes and heather up above Courtenay and, out of respect to the pancakes of the Forbidden Plateau, I shall never eat again the inferior ones which are breed in the heavy, deadening air of sea level. I feel pretty sure that such pancakes could not be made at sea level. I know positively that they could not be made by anyone except Mr. Mitchell of Courtenay, without whom, to cook and guide and tell stories around the camp fire, no one should think of venturing to the Forbidden Plateau.
I met Jack Mitchell and his pancakes simultaneously the other night.
We had come seventeen miles on a mountain trail, climbing 4,000 feet is
a big day for people like me. We were coming across an alpine meadow just
at dusk. Mount Albert Edward over our right shoulder, a white crescent
moon over our left. Two deer, grazing in the long, lush grass twenty yards
away, watched us contemptuously for awhile, and then walked slowly onto
the bush. It was just then that I saw the gleam of a camp fire through
the trees and an aroma seemed to float from it, a sweet, unearthly smell
like those airs of Paradise, which you may smell some day if you are not
earthly and depraved like me. We urged the pack horses on towards the
gleam and the smell. We hadn't eaten for a long, long time.
When we got closer, I could see a man crouching by the fire with a great iron griddle in his hand and by him a tin filled with some white stuff. This was Jack Mitchell, and he was preparing his magic. He heard the tinkle of our bell mare coming down the long hill from Croteau's camp, and he was making pancakes for us. I sat down feeling very disappointed, very tired and very empty. I felt that the sweet smell I had smelled across the meadows was a false and treacherous smell, for if there is anything I despise (and there are quite a lot) it is pancake. A pancake to me is a flat spiritless fellow, pale of face, stolid of disposition and with a heaviness about him which remains with me long after he has been eaten. To come seventeen miles by mountain trail, hanging on to the tail of a horse for support, to come up to the Forbidden Plateau and then to be greeted by a pasty-faced pancake, this seemed more than I could bear on a tired spirit and empty stomach.
Still, life must be sustained even on the Forbidden Plateau. By the light of the camp fire, in the chill thin mountain air, I ate one of Jack Mitchell's pancakes, gingerly as a man might tackle a strange Chinese dish. Then a strange thing happened. I can only say I ate twelve of Jack Mitchell's pancakes and would have eaten twelve more if it hadn't been for his beefsteaks, his fried trout and his bacon. And the next morning I did the same thing again. I fully expected to die, to perish on the rim of the Plateau, but I thought the pancakes were worth it. But instead I lived with a new fervor, a new gusto which carried me for miles over the Forbidden Plateau and will survive long enough, I hope, to carry me back there again some day.
I like to watch an artist at work. I mean a real artist, a painter, a carver or a teller of tales. Jack Mitchell is such an artist, but his pictures are painted in a frying pan, his poems are writ in flour. See how he mixes the batter, how he warms the pan to a sizzling heat, how he drops the batter with a deft twist of the spoon, how he turns the pancakes over with a single flip just at the right moment. Then taste the rich brown flavor of them, the airy lightness of them, the crispness of their outsides, the mealy goodness of their innards. Taste them but do not expect to find them anywhere else. They can be made, alas, only with the thin air of the Forbidden Plateau to raise them, with the crystal snow water of the little alpine lakes to moisten them, with the deft hand of Jack Mitchell to turn them, with long experience and ripe wisdom of Jack Mitchell to season them.
This, you see is no ordinary chef, no mere cooker of food or maker of camps. Jack is an artist and yet something more than an artist; a poet rather, I would say. Into his cooking goes more than mere skill. Something of the out-of-doors, something of what he has found out by forty years in the bush goes into it, the spirit of the Forbidden Plateau goes into it. You realize, as you sit about the camp fire, that when a seventy-foot log dropped on Jack Mitchell a few years ago the world almost lost a good fellow, but, what would have been infinitely worse, because such creatures are so scarce, it would have lost a superb cook. There are plenty of good fellows but not many men who can make pancakes. I mean pancakes what are pancakes.
Since the big log fell on Jack and dealt him injuries sufficient to kill
ten men, he can work in logging camps no more, and he cooks instead for
people who go up to the Forbidden Plateau. You shouldn't go there without
him or you will miss half the fun.. You will miss the pancakes and you
will also miss strange tales around the camp fire at night; of Jack Mitchell's
pet bull elk which lives in a certain meadow not far off and is almost
as tame as a dog; of the day Jack shot five cougar within half an hour;
old trapping days when Jack Mitchell and his partner had an Imperial quart
of pre-war rum hidden under the floor of each of the nine cabins, just
incase of emergencies, which seemed to happen every night; of the three-legged
deer which use to roam about these hills as spry as any of its four-legged
brothers; of the little caches of tea and sugar and jam which Jack has
strewn about the entire countryside in hollow trees so that he can always
get a meal when he wants it. Yes, assuredly you should let Jack Mitchell
of Courtenay guide you about the country and then you will miss none of