"I always knew my grandmother's buttermilk pancakes were special," says Christopher Hirsheimer. "I loved them, and I loved to help her in the kitchen. My first job was to separate the eggs for her. Then I'd whip up the whites into thick, billowy mounds. Finally, she would start heating the griddle and would test it by flicking water on it, and when little beads danced across the hot metal, it was time to begin. Standing at her post at the stove, she flipped batch after batch until our big hungry family was fed."
Lightly grease a cast-iron pan or griddle with vegetable oil, wiping off excess with a paper towel. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks into the buttermilk, then whisk in the butter. In another bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, then sift these dry ingredients into the buttermilk mixture. Lightly whisk together until the batter is just mixed (a few lumps won't hurt). In a clean mixing bowl, beat the egg whites with a whisk until soft peaks form. Use a rubber spatula to fold them into the batter. Don't overwork the batter; keep it light and fluffy.
Heat the griddle over medium-high heat until hot. (To test, flick a bit of water onto the pan; it'll bead up and dance if it's hot enough.) Pour about 1/4 cup of batter onto the griddle. Cook until little holes appear on the surface and the cooked side of the pancake is golden brown (lift the edge to check), about 1 minute on each side. Don't worry if the first one or two don't turn out well—that's normal. Continue making pancakes, regreasing the pan as needed. Stack pancakes on a plate, slather generously with butter, and pour on a few good glugs of real maple syrup. Makes 4 batches of 3 pancakes (4" in diameter).