by Chris Clemens
Birkitt Mills in Penn Yan, NY is located right in the middle of the Finger Lakes Region. Since their humble beginnings in 1797 they have grown to become one of the largest manufacturers of buckwheat products in the entire world. Operating sixteen hours a day for five days out of the week, their headquarters in downtown Penn Yan lay claim to being the ‘Buckwheat Capital of America’ and also to setting a pretty cool world record honored by the folks at Guinness World Records.
Birkett Mills is responsible for building a 28 foot in diameter metal pancake griddle that was used to cook the world’s largest buckwheat pancake on September 27, 1987. Such a task requires the largest tools and that meant mixing batter in a cement mixer, using a crane to flip the flapjack and having to place the entire thing on a bed of hot coals.
The entire affair took place during the 12th Annual Buckwheat Harvest Festival (which doesn’t appear to happen anymore) with a parade, tours of the mill and buckwheat pancakes all for a $6 admission ticket. 15 gallons of cooking oil, 2,000 pounds of buckwheat and 2,000 gallons of water were required to feed the 5,000 people who each got an opportunity to take a bite of the record setting flapjack. After a 2 foot by 3 foot pat of butter was spread and covered in 15 gallons of maple syrup, the record breaking buckwheat pancake was divided into 7,200 pieces and sold for a $1.00 a serving.
Previously, the record for largest pancake had been held by three guys in England who made one in March of the same year that measured 25 foot in diameter. Theirs surpassed the previous record holder of St. Albans, VT who had created a 20 foot concoction in 1984. None of the previous record holders could hold a buckwheat filled ladle to the 1.7 million calories that Birkett Mills laid out that year at the Yates County Fair.
It also appears that the same year, a buckwheat hull craze began and pillow makers from around the world started buying up local buckwheat to stuff their special pillows that were sold on late night infomercials. As if largest pancake contests around the world weren’t enough to jump start production, it would appear that the all-natural pillow craze helped boost demand. Today, the griddle remains upright at the Birkett Mills headquarters for you and the family to stop by and take photos with.
Chris Clemens is the Founder/Publisher of Exploring Upstate. From his hometown in Rochester, he spends as much time as possible connecting with the history, culture, and places that make Upstate New York a land of discovery. Follow him on Twitter at @cpclemens