Those of you have been subscribing to Crust for a while may remember that I have baked with a number of "Landrace" grains - typically, older more locally grown varieties that fell out of fashion after the war. They handle differently than regular hard red winter wheat, even the excellent organic grain used to make the white flour I use as a base for most of my baking.
Red Fife Wheat is thought to have originated in Turkey, after which it moved across the Black See to the Ukraine where Mennonite farmers grew it. Red Fife seeds were later shipped to Glasgow, where s friend sent a sample to a farmer named David Fife in Canada in 1842. 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. In 1999, Onoway, in my home province of Alberta farmer Kerry Smith began growing Red Fife and other historic varieties. Interestingly, Onoway is quite far North (Northeast of Edmonton) so the varietal does well in a short, intense growing season.
Red Fife is now grown throughout the U.S. and Canada: I purchased my Red Fife flour from a small family run mill in rural Minnesota.
This Saturday's Bake
This Saturday I am going to bake white sourdough batards using Red Fife flour. Let's see how it tastes!
I have tried baking with various additions - cheese, nuts, chocolate and raisins. The latter go very nicely with a sourdough loaf. Raisins are sweet, up to 72% sugar by weight, but something about their texture, or residual grape flavor makes them more suitable for sourdough bread than other sweet items.
Man has been producing raisins for a long time: the Phoenicians and Armenians produced grapes before the time of Christ and traded them throughout out the Mediterranean. And the method of production - drying on racks using warm air - hasn't changed a lot either. The grape skin, has a layer of wax - the cuticle - that makes it difficult to remove the water from the grape.
And, we live near ground zero for raisin production: about 185,000 acres are devoted to raisin grape growing in our state.
This Saturday's Bake
I will bake a raisin multi grain loaf, which uses a load of raisins (45% of the flour weight) and white and rye flour. I test baked this last week and the recipe turned out hearty loaves, pefect for slicing, toasting and serving with butter or jam.
I have written about rye in previous posts, noting that, if you are of East European, German or Scandinavian extraction, you know that rye breads come in many shapes, sizes and flavors. Quoting Wikipedia straight up: "It can be light or dark in color, depending on the type of flour used and the addition of coloring agents, and is typically denser than bread made from wheat flour. It is higher in fiber than white bread and is often darker in color and stronger in flavor. Rye bread has a low glycemic index, which means it does not cause a spike in blood sugar when compared to white bread." Rye bread tends to be denser, darker and more sour that white sourdough.
As a crop, rye has its origins in Asia Minor (Modern day Turkey), first cultivated in the Bronze age and spreading North and West and man migrated out from the fertile crescent. It grows well in poor soil and was known since Roman times as a poor man's food and was a staple in the Middle Ages.
Interestingly, the toxic effects of a fungus that grows on rye are considered by some historians as possible sources of bewitchment and its upsets (e.g. The Salem witch trials.) The Ergot fungus can provide one of the precursor chemicals for LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide). LSD is an especially efficient drug to produce and the doses required to go all Timothy Leary are miniscule: with 25 KG (about 55 lbs) of precursor chemicals you could generate 100 MM doses. I think I am in the wrong business.
This Saturday's Bake
I am going to bake an organic rye bread with 30% Fresh ground rye, 30% dark rye flour and 40% white flour (We need white flour to give the loaf structure - on its own, rye flour does not provide much gluten) . This rye is mild, moderately dense and does not have the deep sour flavor that some rye breads possess.
I like this quote from The Atlantic magazine about the flavor of rye bread.
Rye has a deep flavor, a flavor of the earth, a flavor full of character, a flat feel on the back of your tongue that gradually fills your whole mouth. And it should be chewy. Both crust and crumb should work your jaws. On a perfect day the crust should crackle. Other days it's just gonna help keep your jaws in shape.
Let's see if my rye bread can live up to this description.
Well, it is cool out. Winter is here and the water I have measured out for this week's bake is clocking in at 50 degrees (I bake in an unheated garage.) Our friendly yeast (Saccharomyces exiguus) and bacteria (Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis) slow right down when it gets this cool - I may have to fire up the terrarium heater I have installed in the fridge I use for proofing dough.
Funny, I grew up on the Canadian Prairies and feel colder here - we don't heat our drafty, uninsulated house much - than I recall ever feeling as a child.
This Week's Bake
For no particular reason, I am going to bake organic white sourdough this weekend - a solid stand by. I am working on the crust and crumb, trying to get the former crunchy and the latter open.
Your Canadian Baker