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 Students, Reporter Flip for Camp Pancakes

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A local reporter’s love of 6th Grade Camp and pancakes came together in a most delicious way Thursday morning. CBS News 8’s Jeff Zevely of “The Zevely Zone” visited Cuyamaca Outdoor School, home to the original 6th Grade Camp, to get to know the team that makes tens of thousands of pancakes a year for hungry students.

Zevely arrived before sunrise to meet cook Leon Bullock, who’s been manning the mixer and griddle for camp pancakes for 29 years.

“Leon Bullock and his kitchen crew are incredible,” said Zevely, who attended camp in 1981.

“I turned my back on the griddle for one minute and my pancakes started to burn. That's when I was told the food is never burned, but given extra flavor!

“6th grade camp remains one of my favorite memories from my childhood. Today, I was instantly swept back into time by the smell of those pancakes and  the laughter from students.”

Zevely’s camp pancakes report aired at 5:40 p.m. Thursday on Channel 8, and you can also watch it here. His features are also available online.

Pancakes are served twice a week at camp, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The twice-a-week pancake tradition has been going on at camp for about six years. Before that, pancakes were served once a week, with French toast served another day. With the expansion of camp, adding an additional 145 students per week, it just was not feasible to make that much French toast, according to Kimberly McAlexander, Child Nutrition Supervisor for Outdoor Education.

Bullock added that the kids seemed to like the pancakes more than the scrambled eggs. “They have a sweet taste and it fills them up,” he said. “They can eat all the pancakes they want, until we run out, and that's not too often.”

Bullock and the kitchen team make a lot of pancakes – tens of thousands per year. Here’s a rough by the numbers of how many pancakes the cooks make for one day, based on an average of 380 campers eating 2.5 pancakes: 950 pancakes for one breakfast. That’s 1,900 pancakes per week. Multiply that by 33 weeks of camp, and that’s 62,700 pancakes a school year.

All of that cooking requires an early start time: Bullock’s shift starts at 6 a.m., and pancakes start hitting the griddle by 6:30 a.m. in order to feed campers in two breakfast shifts, with the first group arriving to eat at 7 a.m. and the second at 7:45 a.m.

The pancakes are made from scratch, and the cooks follow a federal child nutrition guidelines recipe and modify it slightly so that the pancakes are whole-grain rich.

So what does it take to make a make a batch big enough for 400 campers? A typical recipe for 1,000 pancakes includes 1 gallon of rolled oats, 6½ gallons of flour, 3½ cups of baking powder, 12 tablespoons of salt, 7 cups of sugar, 20 quarts of milk, 1 gallon of liquid eggs (used instead of whole eggs to expedite the process), 2 quarts of oil, 1 cup of vanilla, and 2 gallons of buttermilk. Kids who have a food allergy are not left out: The cooks make batches of gluten-free, dairy-free, and / or egg-free pancakes on a weekly basis to accommodate students with special dietary needs. On Tuesdays, camp pancakes have rolled oats and on Thursdays they include a blend of whole wheat and all-purpose flours.

The pancake batter is always made a day ahead in order to let it rest, which results in a fluffier pancake, McAlexander said. The batter is mixed in a 1950s-era Hobart stand mixer that, legend has it, came from a Navy ship. The camp’s Hobart repair man said he had seen only one other mixer like it in his career repairing mixers.

Every year, about 11,000 school children attend 6th Grade Camp at Cuyamaca Outdoor School, but not all of San Diego County’s 6th-graders get the opportunity. To learn about how you can help more children attend 6th Grade Camp, visit the Outdoor Education Foundation website.