Notes on Pancakes in Littleton, New Hampshire

It is entirely possible that Littleton, New Hampshire is the pancake capital of the Northeastern United States.

The Littleton Diner uses buckwheat from a gristmill down the street for their thin and gritty pancakes. Real maple syrup costs an extra 50 cents; after all, Littleton is eight and a half miles south of the Vermont State Line. The town nestles in the north-east cradle of Interstate-93. There is a Hampton Inn, a Walgreens, one human cemetery, one horse cemetery (where Maud and Mollie Wallace, Mrs. Eli Wallace’s horses, currently reside), and a railroad depot. The Ammonoosuc River flows soft and still below the babble of tourists ogling Chutters: The World’s Longest Candy Counter. Drowsy from the mountain air and rich food, fat old folks and grandchildren straddle the sidewalks. It is a sleepy town punctuated (or punctured) by the occasional skateboard punk or hobo. After a pancake dinner, you might want to waddle to Bishop’s Homemade Ice Cream. A scoop of maple nut does not cost more than any other, despite the long walk to proper sugaring grounds.

I think that dairy fat has really messed with my digestive system. One week into this road trip and several frozen custards, ice creams, cream pies, buttered toasts and pancakes later, I sense a disturbance in my natural equilibrium. I require a snap pea or carrot to correct this imbalance. Unfortunately, I have been forced to settle for a sorry plate of steamed vegetables at a pretentious restaurant in Skowhegan, Maine. Only now do I understand why nursing home residents need so much Metamucil.

A short drive from Littleton, on Sugar Hill, you will find Polly’s Pancake Parlor, recipient of a “James Beard Classic” award and favorite among Franconia’s bed and breakfasters. Besides its history, which, I assure you, is long and illustrious, all you need to know about Polly’s is that they grind their own flour—take that, Littleton Diner!—and if you visit on a weekend, you will wait for a space at the communal table. The dining room is rectangular and a little warped around the edges, like a ski-lodge not quite dried out, even in August. An order of pancakes includes a platter of maple sugar products—take that, Littleton Diner!—but a request for fake syrup, fruit syrup, and other blasphemies will be honored. The waitresses cook the pancakes and deliver them three at a time. They are small, perhaps three inches across, but filling. Six was enough, with a strip of bacon or three.

Robert Frost lived down the hill from Polly’s. Although the building existed during Frost’s residency, it was a shed for carriages and camp wood. The Frost family spent summers at their Franconia farm after Polly and Wilfred Dexter had turned the shed into a tea room. Yet, the very year that the Dexters started serving pancakes, 1938, marked the final Frost summer in Franconia. Perhaps Frost drove back from Ripton, Vermont. His visit, if it ever occurred, does not merit a mention in promotional materials.

If Frost never ate Polly’s, I imagine that he might have cooked his own pancakes in the cool late days of a Franconian summer. In 1982, William Matthews wrote, in “On the Porch at the Frost Place, Franconia, N.H.”: “So here the great man stood, fermenting malice and poems. . .” Frost would have eaten his pancakes on that porch, listening to the partridgeberry trees and sparrows thrushing and twittering. Everything would tremble in the turbulent effluvium of many leaves adjusting their tanned backs in the sunlight.

It is a place old enough to have buried cemeteries of years.

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