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Eaten in the remote northland of the upper St. John River Valley, ployes are buckwheat pancakes. Cooks make one by pouring a circle of thin batter onto a hot griddle, cooking it very briefly and never flipping it. The underside turns crisp. The top stays soft and develops countless little holes. It becomes porous enough to absorb substantial amounts of butter and maple syrup. At dinner, people use ployes to sop up the last of the gravy from a plate of pot roast.
A well-made ploye looks like an elegant crepe and might function fine in that role. But in Maine’s Aroostook County ployes are earthy fare and a symbol of cultural identity. People here think of them with great affection as the daily bread of lumberjacks and as ordinary people’s sustenance. Traditionally, they were made by farm wives who had minimum resources to feed large families. Acadians use the buckwheat pancakes as flatbread. They serve stacks of them alongside supper or breakfast. Old-timers eat ployes spread with cretons, a coarse-ground pork hash sweetened with onions.
Ployes are mostly the province of home cooks. But a handful of restaurants along the International Boundary make a point of honoring an Acadian culinary heritage that also includes rappie pie (potato casserole), ham-based boiled dinner, and the much-maligned but occasionally transcendent poutine (fried potatoes and cheese curds smothered with gravy).
A curious variation of the ploye is the ployeboy, currently available only a few days in August when served by the American Legion at the annual Muskie Derby and Ploye Festival. That takes place in August in Fort Kent at the end of Route 1 in northernmost Maine. Ployeboys took shape during the 2008 Festival when the American Legion ran out of ingredients to make doughboys and used ployes instead, dipping a soft buckwheat pancake into the fry kettle just long enough for it to curl at the edges and turn crisp. Brushed with butter then sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar, the soft pancake becomes a wavy buckwheat sugar cookie. Each year, the Festival features ploye eating contests and hosts the creation (and serving) of the world’s largest ploye.