Goodness of local wheat

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Pete Flynn has been farming in West Chester for 25 years, growing tomatoes, sweet corn, eggplants, and the like, and selling the vegetables at his popular produce store on the property.

As his customers increasingly asked for all things local, he searched for local flour to stock, but found only flour that was locally ground, milled from wheat grown in the Midwest.

"Why not try and grow it myself?" he thought, inspired by the thought of adding another local, sustainable product to his mix. "I was getting bored with just vegetables."

So he invested $10,000 in a flour mill in 2009, and last August, he harvested his second crop: 30 acres of soft red wheat (best for pastry), four acres of hard red (best for bread), and three acres of hard white (a versatile all-purpose flour). He expects to produce about 1,200 pounds of wheat this year.

His customers can now buy his homegrown wheat ($2 for a 21/2-pound bag) on his shelves, and a few local bakeries and restaurants are discovering the joys of freshly harvested, freshly milled flour.

Most commercial flours are shipped from places such as Kansas and Montana and stored for months before sale. The difference in local wheat is the freshness, the specific varieties grown, and the magic of "terroir" - the combination of soil, microclimate, and geography. And Flynn does not bleach or bromate his flour, chemical processes that some consider harmful for health reasons.

Marie Connell, of MyHouse Cookies, was excited to discover Flynn's locally grown and milled flour.

Connell began experimenting with the soft red wheat pastry flour and produced, among other things, an apple pie laden with hand-cut local heirloom apples. The whole-wheat crust was hearty yet flaky, the apple filling juicy and not at all pasty under its blanket of caramelized streusel.

Connell was smitten with the results: "We'll use Pete's flour to make our whole-wheat apple pies, streusel, pumpkin bread, and graham crackers," she said. "Its bold, nutty flavor really enhances the product."

Michael "Challahman" Dolich, of Four Worlds Bakery, just ordered 10 more 50-pound bags of Flynn's hard red wheat berries to grind himself. (He mills it himself, grinding it as needed, to overcome the relatively short shelf life of about two weeks.)

"Before I started to use Flynn's grain, even I didn't like my whole-wheat bread," Dolich said. Not only is he pleased with the result, the response from his customers has been overwhelming: "The best whole-grain breads we've ever eaten!" said one. "I don't think I've ever tasted bread so rich," said another. "Kids love it for PB&J sandwiches," another customer told him.

"This is by far the best grain I've used and the best whole-wheat bread I've made since I started baking commercially seven years ago," he said.

The thick, dark, crusty wheat loaf dotted with white sesame seeds has a dense, nutty interior minus any hint of mealiness. The freshness of the grain produces a bread with a more intense, complex flavor than has thus far been available locally.

Ian Moroney, chef/owner of Pumpkin Restaurant, used Flynn's white whole-wheat flour to make pasta. "The pasta was a joy to eat. You could really taste the wheat. The flour is almost alive. Stick your nose in the bag; it really has an amazing aroma."

While Flynn is one of only a few farmers growing wheat locally today, it was actually an important cash crop during the colonial period of this region's history.

"In Pennsylvania, they were growing several kinds of wheat in the 18th century, especially in Lancaster County, the heart of the wheat belt," said culinary historian William Woys Weaver.

"Wheat was money and the basis of the colony's wealth. In colonial times, our wheat was critical to London bakeries that baked hard ship biscuits for the British Navy."

The settlement of the Midwest, the development of the railroads, and the hard Western wheat that came in from the Great Plains eventually led to the decline of wheat farming in the Eastern states.

Soft wheat thrives in our temperate, moist climate but growing hard wheat, especially modern varieties best suited to Western climates, is challenging here. Flynn has been able to grow the hard wheats using fungicides and pesticides that were not available during colonial times.

David Poorbaugh, president of McGeary Organics in Lancaster, grinds flour at the historic Annville Flouring Mill, some local flour, some from the Midwest. Both he and Weaver are searching out and propagating local heirloom bread wheats.

"We were able to get small, very small, amounts of heritage wheats grown in the 1700s and early 1800s . . . and have been cultivating it for three years, slowly building up enough wheat for farmers to start growing it for us," said Poorbaugh. "This year, we'll plant enough so that next year we can mill flour from heirloom wheat."

What did people in the region do before the 1850s, when hard wheat from the Great Plains became readily available?

"People baked their bread from soft wheat, but it was quite dense, suitable to tearing off and dunking in soup or smearing with apple butter," said Poorbaugh. "After all, before 1900, there was no such thing as sliced bread."

 


Where to Buy Local Wheat and Baked Products

Pete Flynn's flour

Pete's Produce Market, 1225 E. Street Rd., West Chester, open until Oct. 31, open again in April; 610-399-3711; www.petesproducefarm.com

Bread made with Pete Flynn's wheat

Four Worlds Bakery, 4634 Woodland Ave., 215-967-1458; www.fourworldsbakery.vpweb.com

MyHouse pies and cookies

Pete's Produce Market, 1225 E. Street Rd., West Chester, open until Oct. 31, open again in April; 610-399-3711; www.petesproducefarm.com

Wolff's Apple House, 81 South Pennell Rd. (Route 452), Media; 610-566-1680; www.wolffsapplehouse.com

Oakmont Farmers Market, 2419 W. Darby Rd., Havertown (Oakmont parking lot, 2 to 6 p.m. Wednesday until Nov. 24); www.oakmontfarmersmarket.org

Media Farmers Market, State and Gayley Streets, Media (Media Theater parking lot, 3 to 7 p.m. Thursday until Nov. 11); www.mediafarmersmarket.com

Swarthmore Co-op, 341 Dartmouth Ave., Swarthmore; www.swarthmore.coop

Weavers Way Co-op, 559 Carpenter Lane and 8424 Germantown Ave., 215-843-2350; www.weaversway.coop

Daisy Organic Flour

Fair Food Farmstand, Reading Terminal Market, 12th & Arch Streets, 215-627-2029; www.fairfoodphilly.org

Kimberton Whole Foods in four locations: Kimberton, Ottsville, Douglassville, and Downingtown; www.kimbertonwholefoods.com/stores.


Marie Connell's Heirloom Apple Pie With Whole Wheat Crust

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Whole Wheat Pastry Crust:

4 cups plus 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour (Marie uses Pete's red soft wheat pastry flour)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 stick plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut up

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons to 3/4 cup ice water

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Filling:

2 pounds apples, mixed tart and sweet, preferably local heirloom varieties, big and chunky wedges

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

Generous teaspoon of

cinnamon, Vietnamese preferred

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

Streusel Topping:

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

6 tablespoons light brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, preferably Vietnamese

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons unsalted

butter, melted and cooled

1. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or by hand) combine the dry ingredients: whole wheat flour, salt, and sugar. Add the butter and beat until the mixture resembles oatmeal. While the mixer is beating, pour in the ice water and lemon juice and beat only long enough for the dough to come together into a ball. (Add up to 2 tablespoons more water as needed.)

2. Transfer the dough to a plastic bag and shape it into a flattened rectangle. Chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour or in the freezer for 30 minutes until firm but still malleable before rolling out into a 9- or 10-inch pie shell.

3. Combine all the filling ingredients and reserve.

4. Combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a medium bowl and toss together to mix well. Pour the butter over top and mix lightly by hand to combine so that the mixture forms large crumbs.

Assembly and baking:

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. Spoon the apple filling into the pie crust, then sprinkle generously with a layer of the streusel.

3. Bake the pie about 1 hour on the bottom shelf of the oven (so the bottom pastry cooks through) or until the topping is nice and brown and the filling is bubbling. Test with a skewer or a knife to make sure the apples have softened. Bake 15 minutes longer if necessary.

4. Cool on a wire rack to room temperature before serving.

Per serving: 636 calories, 11 grams protein, 90 grams carbohydrates, 26 grams sugar, 29 grams fat, 73 milligrams cholesterol, 233 milligrams sodium, 12 grams dietary fiber.


Michael Dolich's Whole Wheat Levain Bread

Makes 16 servings.

1/2 cup sourdough starter (see note)

2 cups water

1/4 cup whole rye flour (you may substitute more whole wheat for rye)

41/2 cups whole wheat flour

21/2-3 teaspoons salt

5 tablespoons toasted

sesame seeds, plus extra for topping, if desired

1. Have ready ripe sourdough starter. Combine starter, water, all the rye flour, and half the whole wheat flour. Mix until smooth, let sit for 20 to 30 minutes at room temperature.

2. Combine remaining whole wheat flour, salt, and sesame seeds. Add dry mix to the wet mix, mixing with spoon until you can use your hands to work into a firmer dough. It should come together quite quickly and should not need much kneading.

3. Allow the dough to rest about 2 hours at room temperature, but fold it once or twice during the rise to prevent a skin from forming. Form into oblong loaves; sprinkle with more sesame seeds if desired. Allow the breads to rise 2-4 hours, watching and noting their readiness.

4. Preheat the oven, preferably with a pizza stone, to 450 degrees. Score loaves as desired, put loaves in, and toss a handful of ice cubes into the oven to create steam. Reduce oven temperature to 425 after the first 10 minutes, lower if you are using bread pans. Rotate the loaves after the first 15 minutes if you have more than one loaf in the oven. (Bake time depends on size of the loaves and the heat of the oven.)

5. Test the inside middle temperature with an instant-read thermometer; the bread is ready when the internal temperature is between 180-200 degrees.

6. Allow the breads to cool at least an hour before slicing.

Note: Michael Dolich makes his crusty dark whole wheat bread with a levain, a French-style sourdough starter. He recommends referring to The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart (Ten Speed Press) for a recipe. But, if you call ahead to Four Worlds Bakery, Dolich will give you some of his own starter.

 

- From Michael Dolich of Four Worlds Bakery

Per serving: 150 calories, 6 grams protein, 29 grams carbohydrates, 0.2 gram sugar, 2 grams fat, no cholesterol, 365 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber.


Moroccan Sesame-Anise Bread

Makes 12 servings

1/4-ounce package (21/4

teaspoons) active dry yeast

11/4 cups lukewarm water

2 tablespoons honey

2 cups unbleached bread flour (preferably Daisy

organic bread flour)

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3/4 pound whole-wheat bread flour (preferably Daisy organic whole-wheat bread flour)

1 tablespoon anise seed

2 teaspoons fine sea salt

1/4 cup white sesame seeds

Semolina or cornmeal, for the baking pans

1 egg lightly beaten with 2 tablespoons water, for the egg wash

 

1. Prepare a sponge (soft dough) by combining the yeast, water, honey, and white bread flour in the bowl to a standing electric mixer (or mix by hand). Allow the mixture to rise at warm room temperature until doubled, about 1 hour.

2. Using the paddle attachment, beat in the olive oil, whole-wheat flour, anise seed, salt, and 2 tablespoons of the sesame seeds. Continue beating until the dough is smooth and elastic, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer the dough to a large oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rise at warm room temperature until doubled.

3. Punch down the dough, divide it into 6 portions, and form them into smooth rounds. Flatten each round and roll out to about 6 inches in diameter. Arrange the rounds on 2 large baking pans that have been sprinkled with semolina. Use scissors to snip the edges of the breads every inch or so to form a decorative border. Brush each bread round with the egg wash and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds.

4. Allow the breads to rise again at warm room temperature for 30 minutes, or until puffy.

5. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the breads are puffed in the center and lightly browned. Remove from the oven and cool before serving. Store in an open plastic bag at room temperature for up to 3 days or wrap well and store frozen up to 3 months.

 

- Adapted from Starting With Ingredients: Baking by Aliza Green,

Running Press, 2008

 

Per serving: 269 calories, 7 grams protein, 41 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar, 10 grams fat, 18 milligrams cholesterol, 330 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber.