This Saturday we are going to test drive flour made from another Landrace or heritage variety of wheat, White Sonora. Landrace refers to breeds of plants or animals that have local roots and that are well adapted to local conditions.
Landrace wheat varieties typically have lower yields that the hybrids planted at industrial scales, but often are more resistant to pest, and require less fertilizer and water. Industrial hybrids have much shorter stalks (to ease harvesting) but shorter stalks require more herbicides to kill weeds which can grow around the wheat. Landrace varieties have longer stalks that shade the surrounding earth, making it harder for weeds to take root.
White Sonora was brought to the Sonora Desert, which stretches from Arizona down into Mexico, crossing our rather porus Southern border, and West into California, by Jesuits in the 1600s. White Sonora had a strong influence in local cuisine, including the ability to make large flour tortillas, ones quite different that the small corn tortillas founds in much of Mexico. The wheat can withstand drought and grows well in poor soil, making it the go to crop for farmers throughout the Southwest in the 1700s. White Sonora was planted extensively in the Central Valley: by 1880, over 2.75 MM acres were being grown there, the largest concentration of wheat production in one area in the world at that time.
Interestingly, Norman Borlaug, the Nobel prize winning "father" of the green revolution, used White Sonora to breed one his first drought resistant wheats, which, when combined with heavy fertilizer and pesticide use and a lot of irrigation, radically improved yields and prevented the starvation of 100s of millions of people in the latter part of the 20th century.
Use of this wheat varietal began to decline in the early 1900s as newer fertilizer and irrigation driven hybrids were introduced to the region, promising farmers higher yields and bigger profits. White Sonora stopped being produced commercially in the 1950s.
Bolted (white) flour made from White Sonora has a delicate golden color, with a soft, sweet nutty taste.
This Saturday's Bake
I plan to bake white loaves (Likely Batards) made with White Sonora flour. Some sources recommend mixing it with some regular white flour, to compensate for its low gluten content (about 10%, vs 14% for regular flour)., so I am mixing it with 45% organic hard red winter wheat flour.
Let me know how it tastes!
Humble rye is a much honored and well loved grain, particularly in Northern and Eastern Europe and Russia (Russia, Belarus, Poland and the Ukraine are the world's largest producers of the grain.). Rye grows well in much poorer soils than those necessary for most cereal grains. Thus, it is an especially valuable crop in regions where the soil has sand or peat. Rye plants withstand cold better than other small grains do and will survive with snow cover that would otherwise result in winter-kill for winter wheat. These attributes meant that it became a staple both in Northern climes and for poorer people for many generations.
Rye flour is high in gliadin but low in glutenin (These are the two components of gluten), making it difficult to handle – shaping loaves is like working with cement. It also contains a higher proportion of soluble fiber.
Rye breads tend to be somewhat sour in taste, with a deep, slightly bitter flavor. Baking rye bread is its own world – you can do a week long course on baking with rye at the San Francisco Baking Institute – those of you with Northern European roots will know of the dozens of varieties of rye breads made there. I in now way consider myself a match for the grain. We'll see how things go this weekend! : )
By law, rye whiskey must be made from a mash containing at least 51% rye (The other ingredients are usually corn and malted barley). Rye is said to impart a spicy, fruity taste to the liquor. On the other hand, bourbon, made from a corn mash is sweeter and more full bodied. Canadian rye whiskey has no such legal requirement and is blended for flavor with God knows what additives (Damn Canadians!).
From Episode 20 of the Seinfield Show
JERRY: I want that rye, lady!
MABEL: Help! Someone help!
JERRY: Shut up, you old bag!
MABEL: Stop thief! Stop him! He's got my marble rye!
This Saturday’s Bake
I am going to bake an organic rye / spelt mix, with 30% fresh ground rye, 30% white spelt and 40% white flour. This is will be a light rye: the white flour will give it a more open crumb and make the dough easier to handle.
Red Fife – an “Heritage Grain” was North America’s preferred bread wheat in the 19th century, fathering many of our modern bread wheat varieties. It disappeared from production with the Great Depression and was re-introduced into Canada a little over decade ago, where it has drawn a slow, stedy, ardent cadre of artisan bakers.
A Little History
Red Fife is believed to have crossed several continents and the Atlantic before arriving in Canada, where it gained a foothold on the land of David Fife, hence its name. Red Fife is the first wheat to be named in Canada and has great agricultural influence there today, as many modern varieties of wheat are genetically related to this grain.
Red Fife wheat is thought to have originated in Turkey, after which it moved across the Black Sea to Ukraine where Mennonite farmers grew it. Red Fife seeds were later shipped to Glasgow, where a friend of David Fife sent a sample to Canada. Fife then grew the variety in Ontario and shared it with other farmers, calling the wheat Red Fife after its distinctive color. The Red Fife seed adapted to a great diversity of growing conditions across Canada and became the baking and milling industry standard for forty years, from the 1860s to the turn of the twentieth century.
For most of the twentieth century, Red Fife was grown in very small quantities in plant breeders’ seed collections. Interest in growing heritage wheat grew slowly in Canada and subsequently in the U.S.
Red Fife wheat has only three small awns at the top of the head. The straws can grow up to a height of 3–5 feet, depending on the nutrients available in the soil. Red Fife wheat is red or white in color. On Canada's west coast, Red Fife wheat is whiter in color, due to genetic interaction with mild environmental conditions. Red Fife grows as a spring wheat on the Prairies and can be grown both as a spring and winter wheat on the temperate west and east coasts and in Ontario.
But let's talk about flavor - some say that Red Fife has hints of spices in its taste, a little cinnamon. I don't know, I will let you be the judge of that - tell me what you think when you've tried it.
This Saturday's Bake
I will bake white sourdough using organic white Red Fife, sourced from a family run mill in rural Minnesota.
Barley's origins are likely in the Fertile Crescent, Western Asia and Northeast Africa; it was eaten by European peasants in the middle ages and is still consumed by Tibetans (I remember eating Tsampa - barley flour with hot tea and some butter, making a kind of porridge - while trekking in Nepal a long time ago. Tasted like cardboard.) It was one of the first grains to be domesticated by our ancestors in the Fertile Crescent. Jared Diamond, who I think is a bit of a windbag, argues that the availability of barley in Southwest Eurasia, along with other crops and animals, accounts for the way the prehistoric man spread the way he did.
Barley is best known as the base for beer and whiskey (single malt Scotch is typically made with malted barley). A couple of dozen cultivars of barley are grown today. Beer was one of the first things made by Neolithic hunters with the grain - evidence that the idea of drinking a lot and going out and killing things isn't new.
You may know the English folk song "John Barleycorn" that tells the tale of the eponymous hero suffering attacks, indignities and death mapping to the way barley is prepped for making beer and whiskey.
This Saturday's Bake
I will bake a sprouted purple barley sourdough for you this weekend, with fresh ground whol Khorasan, high extraction and white flour (all organic). I sprout the purple barley - and deep blue/red color - by keeping it damp for several days and then refrigerating it once the seeds sprout so that it is ready to add to the dough. It should add a nice color and crunch to the bread and a nutty flavor.
Your Canadian Baker