|A variety of buckwheat
in full bloom.
Photo: fishermansdaughter, flickr
"According to millers, the consumption of buckwheat has fallen off not less than 30 percent in the last five years," the paper reported in 1910. "Where once the mounds of well-browned flapjacks, flanked by the molasses jug, reigned supreme at the breakfast table, now the patent breakfast foods alone are to be seen."
Corn flakes weren't the only culprit in buckwheat pancakes' disappearance from the American table: As new chemical fertilizers facilitated the farming of wheat, most growers abandoned the substitute crop. Buckwheat fields -- which occupied more than 1 million acres of U.S. land when the Times printed its buckwheat lament -- accounted for just 50,000 acres in 1964, when the USDA last bothered to count.
A few of those buckwheat farmers, no doubt, lived near Preston County, which pinned its economic hopes on the plant during the Depression. "It was an easy crop, something the farmers could grow," festival secretary Darla Kuhn explains. "You wonder why Preston County was the one to do it."
Buckwheat ultimately failed to improve local farmers' fortunes, but the community's festival celebrating its possibilities remains a major date on the Preston County calendar. Since 1938, when area residents first gathered for sack races, rolling-pin throws and women-only hog calling and nail-driving contests, festival goers have congregated annually to feast on plates of freshly-ground whole-hog sausage, applesauce, milk and buckwheat cakes.
"We'll serve over 15,000 meals," Kuhn says. "People will stand in line."
While buckwheat is a staple crop in Asia, where eaters routinely devour groats and soba noodles, Kuhn doesn't think the crop has much of a domestic future. Buckwheat's popular with organic growers, but Kuhn isn't sure many American eaters share their enthusiasm.
"It has a bitter flavor," Kuhn says of buckwheat flour. "It's definitely an acquired taste."
What do you think of buckwheat? Are you a fan of the healthy grain? Tell us in the comments.