Ooo…That Smell. Freshly Milled Grains

(c)2012 Edmud Rek/Rekfotos

I recently met Sophie the lead miller, grain tester and bread baker for La Milanaise at a restaurant in Montreal. This impassioned young woman approaches milling organic grains like none other. In her test kitchen, she studies the properties of grains from the field to the oven. In a buzzing hot-spot in downtown Montreal, over small pates of house-cured meats and good French wine, she explained to me how she brings her bread to restaurants rather than eat theirs. It becomes a show-and-tell to the waiters and chefs how heritage grains react to moisture and the benefits to longer fermentation, making huge improvements to texture and flavor.

We spoke a little about her experience with gluten-free. Even though chickpea flour makes beautiful dough, Sophie believes the gluten-free trend is coming to an end and focus is now on ancient grains.

Some of these first cultivated crops have natural gluten levels and the uncanny ability to adapt to all types of growing conditions. She explains the plant naturally wants to survive, even thrive. She explains few of the heritage wheats can be planted both in spring and winter. It just adapts. Where the crossbred grains tend to show instabilities after seven years, which is not good for farmers who are trying to establish their crop. (Huge benefits here!)

As vital as gluten is for many bakers it still can be a source of extreme discomfort for individuals with celiac disease and should not be taken lightly. For them it certainly is not a trend but an un-welcomed medical condition and can be a difficult way of life. A life limited by their food choices and a blind trust that something labeled gluten-free, is exactly what it says.

Growing and eating more ancient grains is the final cog in the wheel to raising awareness of the good sustainable food movements. By now most of us understand the impact of poor animal husbandry, unappetizing caged chickens and feedlot cattle. It’s also clear to imagine the negative effect of fruits and vegetables sprayed with pesticides and herbicides effecting the natural habitat of bees, insects and contamination of ground water. What’s harder to see is is how modern wheat is bred to fit into the form of large scale farming. Ancient and heritage grains can offer everything this wheat cannot.

With heritage grains and a dedicated miller, the artisan baker is most happy. When we get our weekly flour delivery a wonderful mixture of smells of toasted grass and warm earth floats through the kitchen. At the market, my eyes light up when someone asks me about our cloth bags filled with Red Fife wheat. I’ll hold up the bag and say, “Here, smell!”

Heritage Grains. Why They Are Worth it.

copyright Edmund Rek/rekfotos.com

Unhulled Turkish bulgar wheat at the Slow Food Conference in Turin, Italy. One of the first cultivated wheats.

Heritage grains may be the final cog in the wheel of the good food and sustainable farming movements. These special grains were bountiful leading up to the 1900’s and vital to westward settlements in North America. They were grown for their adaptability, nutritional value, animal feed and fermented for spirits.

By the 1950’s the population transitioned from rural to urban communities, therefore changing the direction of food and farming. At the same time, micro-food communities were pushed aside by large agri-businesses and huge food chains monopolized hybridized wheat and limited the choices for the increasing number of the suburban consumers.

Striving for the quick and convenient, food became overly processed and shelf-life won out over nutrition. Slowly these older varieties of grains, and much of the food our grandparents and great grandparents ate, became harder and harder to find.

In the past 10-15 years, however, a new generation of farmers and advocates are finding ways to revitalize our food choices. Similar to the environmental movement of the 1970s, smart, dedicated individuals such as Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin offering insights for consumers and leading them away from foods grown on industrial farms. Huge online campaigns are forming (Top 20 local food advocates on Twitter link) where conscience eaters are demanding nutrient dense food grown by sustainable farms.

As a result, it is becoming easier to understand the cost of industrial farming. Fruits and vegetables growers who use pesticides, fungicides and herbicides disturb the natural habitat of bees and contaminate of ground water. Documentaries are exposing poor animal husbandry that result in unappetizing caged chickens and sick feedlot cattle. What’s harder to see is is how modern wheat was bred to fit the needs of large scale farming.

Heritage grains can offer everything that industrialized wheat cannot.

Our wholegrain flour is really a 100% whole grain FLOUR. Want to know more? Kall the kaptain.

1. Whole Grain Nutrition. The outer layer of the grain contain most of the nutrients and when freshly milled it has a wonderful taste and texture. (Enriched white flours are an indication that the good stuff has been removed.)

2. Sustainability. These older varieties adapt to their growing conditions. Seeds don’t have to be purchased from outside the farm they can be planted each year collected after harvest. Hybridized grains tend to lose vitality with a shorter life-cycle. Heritage grains are an asset that stays on the farm, year after year.

3. Diversity. Food mono-cultures dominated by a single seed species can inhibit long-term agricultural diversity. Growing buckwheat, rye, barley, durum and spelt can offer so much more than a single crop of dwarfed wheat. The soil benefits greatly with crop rotation and seed variety. Nutrients remain in the soil, which lends itself to organic farming and offer more variety in our diets.

Heritage grains connect us to a time were micro food communities were the only option, where you knew the person who grew your food, or you grew it yourself. We have the unique benefit of living in modern cities with modern conveniences that can offer connections to these special grains through a new breed of committed farmers. CIPM and K2Mill are our main grain suppliers. Look for heritage grains at farmers markets, through subscriptions to Community Supported Agriculture, food artisans and at farm-gate sales. Currently, we are using buckwheat, rye, durum, red fife wheat and spelt all grown and milled in Ontario.

(We will be creating a page to post your favorite whole grain recipes soon.)

Salone Del Gusto Slow Food Italy 2012

Turin, Italy is the home for the Slow Food Mother Earth Conference every two years.

We are back from the bi-annual Slow Food conference in Turin, Italy as Canadian delegates showcasing our crackers and shortbread made with Red Fife wheat (a once endangered grain). Along with other delegate farmers and artisan food producers representing Canada and the Slow Food Ark of Taste we soon discovered hundreds of other like minded dedicated people from all over the world committed to putting endangered foods and heritage traditions back into the mainstream.

There was so much to see and taste and visitors took advantage of every minute of the 6 day conference. The former Winter Olympic ice-skating arena was filled to capacity with international delegates representing North & South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. In the same complex, a former Fiat factory, housed two massive areas dedicated to foods from all over Italy and a mixture of small and large producers offering a never ending supply of food samples described in just as many banners and signs.

After visiting dozen and dozens of little booths a welcomed respite to the hustle and bustle could be found in a third area dedicated to taste workshops with real-time translators to explain the multiple courses of unique and hard to find foods, beverages and cooking traditions. Many were sold old out quickly, but we were able to attend several. Among our favorites were: Spanish cava, Italian Barolo, Scottish beer (only organic brewery in the country), Tibetan rice, Italian seafood and Italian heritage beef.

Each workshop began the same. First the headsets were handed out, the flight of wine glasses were filled and then the food was served. But not before hearing about the region the food came from, the history and tradition and the advocacy behind reintroducing these flavors.

For a first time visitor, the sheer vastness of the three areas: International Salone, Italian Salone and the Tasting Workshops could independently be the sole focus for the conference. There was so much to see and taste that it will keep many slow-minded people coming back.

Cheeses aged for three years from Gascony, France. All hand shaped and individually flavored with herbs and spirits. This booth drew quite a crowd.

Salt cod from Norway was close by our booth.

Tubors from around the Globe on display. There were 21 different types of millet.

Dawn Woodward, Canadian Delegate for Slow Food Terra Madre Turin, Italy, 2012

A beautiful display of global rices. Truly astounding to see these foods and the efforts made to grow and eat these ancient varieties.

Impressive to see an event on this grand scale and the use of cardboard chairs and wooden pallets as the bases for all of the tables for the hundreds of booths.