Birth of a Cabin (and sourdough pancakes with Dick Proenneke)

by admin | May 22, 2018 | Food & Drink, Nature & Wildlife

We can hardly contain ourselves. This fall, we’ll release a 50th Anniversary edition of One Man’s Wilderness (with foreword by Nick Offerman, no less!) If you haven’t read this classic, here’s a taste:

Birth of a Cabin — May 22nd.

Up with the sun at four to watch the sunrise and the sight of the awakening land. It seems a shame for eyes to be shut when such things are going on, especially in this big country. I don’t want to miss anything. A heavy white frost twinkled almost as if many of its crystals were suspended in the air. New ice, like a thin pane of glass, sealed the previously open water along the edge of the lake. The peaks, awash in the warm yellow light, contrasted sharply with their slopes still in shadow.

Soon I had a fire snapping in the stove, and shortly afterward could no longer see my breath inside the cabin. A pan of water was heating alongside the kettle. That business of breaking a hole in the ice and washing up out there sounds better than it feels. I prefer warm water and soap. Does a better job, too.

Thick bacon sliced from the slab sizzled in the black skillet. I poured off some of the fat and put it aside to cool. Time now to put the finishing touches to the sourdough batter. As I uncovered it I could smell the fermentation. I gave it a good stirring, then sprinkled half a teaspoonful of baking soda on top, scattered a pinch of salt, and dripped in a tablespoon of bacon fat. When these additions were gently folded into the batter, it seemed to come alive. I let it stand for a few minutes while bacon strips were laid on a piece of paper towel and excess fat was drained from the pan. Then I dropped one wooden spoonful of batter, hissing onto the skillet. When bubbles appear all over, it’s time to flip.

Brown, thin, and light—nothing quite like a stack of sourdough hotcakes cooked over a wood fire in the early morning. I smeared each layer with butter and honey and topped the heap with lean bacon slices. While I ate I peered out the window at a good-looking caribou bedded down on the upper benches. Now that’s a breakfast with atmosphere!

From One Man’s Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey, 50th Anniversary Edition, by Sam Keith from the journals of Dick Proenneke. The 50th Anniversary collector’s edition includes color photographs throughout—some not printed in the book for over twenty years. Introduction by Nick Offerman. For more, read First Wilderness: My Quest in the Territory of Alaska, Sam Keith’s prequel, a manuscript which was lost for decades.

Dick can be seen making biscuits and pancakes in Bob Swerer Production’s PBS documentary Alone In The Wilderness II. Here is snippet from

We don’t have Dick’s recipe but Ruth Allman’s Alaska Sourdough pancakes are famous in Alaska and divine:


2 cups sourdough starter, fed and active (method)
2 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons vegetable oil or melted butter
1 egg
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda


Place the sourdough in a medium-to-large sized bowl.

Add all ingredients except the baking soda, and stir well.

Dilute the baking soda into roughly ⅛ cup warm water, and fold gently into the batter.

Heat griddle to medium, and plop the batter (should be foamy after adding baking soda) ⅓ cup at a time onto it.

Flip after a few minutes. Serve hot with toppings of your choice.

“Somehow Proenneke understood that his simple efforts; build shelter, stay warm, find/hunt food, observe nature, respect life, would be well worth documenting, and boy howdy was he right. If you like hearing a TV chef walk you through a recipe for enchiladas, just wait until you consume the creation of a log home in this volume, from the ground up.”

Nick Offerman