After 60 years of buckwheat cakes, they keep on flipping

Classic cakes and more at Ohiopyle's Buckwheat Supper fundraiser

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Lester Bryner will be the first to tell you that buckwheat cakes are an acquired taste.

The dense, mottled brown cakes, thinner and heavier than traditional, golden-brown pancakes, have a certain tang to them, thanks to the amount of time the batter has been allowed to ferment.

"We practically lived on them during the winter years ago," Mr. Bryner said. "They really fill you up."

Mr. Bryner, 91, helped organize the first Buckwheat Supper fund-raiser in 1949 for the Ohiopyle-Stewart Volunteer Fire Company.

Today that annual tradition of old-fashioned food will continue as volunteers serve up buckwheat cakes for the public from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the fire hall and the community center in Ohiopyle, Fayette County.

"Half of the young people today probably don't know what a buckwheat cake tastes like," said Mr. Bryner. "This is an opportunity for them to try one."

The all-you-can-eat supper, a major fund-raiser for the fire company along with a multi-prize drawing, includes buckwheat cakes and pancakes, sausage, home-fried potatoes, applesauce, pickles, and coffee or milk. The cost is $8 for adults and $4 for children aged 4 to 12. There is no charge for children 3 and younger.

"That's a pretty good deal for a mighty fine meal," Mr. Bryner said with a smile Thursday evening at Kamps Personal Care Home in Markleysburg, Fayette County. "I'm planning to get over there if I can."

Mr. Bryner, a retired laborer who "did anything and everything I could do to get the job done" during his working career, has been in a wheelchair since he had a stroke. He's slim, has a full head of white hair and retains the firm handshake of a construction worker.

His do-it-all work ethic also marked his decades as a community volunteer, including his years as a volunteer firefighter. His responsibilities for the annual buckwheat supper ranged from picking up supplies from local farmers to cooking the sausage.

"It's a lot of fun, but it's also a lot of work," he said. "You have to get organized, start early and stick with it. And you need as many volunteers as you can get because there's a lot to do."

John "Junior" Williams, 73, president of the fire company, said more than 100 volunteers are needed to help serve more than 5,000 visitors who travel to the colorful Laurel Highlands every fall to consume thousands of buckwheat cakes and pancakes and thousands of pounds of sausage, potatoes and applesauce.

"We couldn't do it without all the volunteers, some of whom travel a good distance to be here," Mr. Williams said. In 2003, that included Bill and Annelise Carleton-Hug, who flew in from Bozeman, Mont.

The Hugs, who now live in California, Pa., have a weekend home near Ohiopyle. They said the suppers give volunteers and visitors an opportunity to catch up with one another.

"It's a sense of homecoming," Bill Hug said. "It's also a sense of community with everybody working together."

Fire Chief Dale Leonard said the suppers give visitors an opportunity to enjoy the tradition of "good old-fashioned food prepared the good, old-fashioned way. We use quality buckwheat and pancake flour, whole-hog sausage, fresh potatoes and preservative-free applesauce."

Mr. Leonard said that tradition began with Mr. Bryner, a World War II veteran of the South Pacific, and other servicemen and women who came home and volunteered their multiple skills to better their communities.

"We need more of that [spirit of volunteerism] today," he said.


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