Turkey Red Wheat is a tall, winter hardy heritage grain, grown in the Great Plains. Heritage wheat refers to the varieties of wheat that were grown before the “Green Revolution”, which started in the 1940’s, when plant biologists developed hybrids to improve yields. This wheat variety has a unique, rich, and complex flavor and excellent baking qualities. Production methods used are nearly identical to those used for other hard winter wheat, with the exception of accommodating the significantly taller growth habit and later date of harvest.
This particular variety can be traced to Crimea between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov in the early 19th century and earlier to Turkey to the south of the Black Sea. Mennonite immigrants brought it to the United States in the early 1870s. It became the dominant hard red winter wheat in Kansas and much of the Great Plains bread basket and was the major hard winter variety in the 1920s. Significant acreage was planted in Kansas until the mid-1940s when it was replaced with modern higher-yielding cultivars. While being milled it smells "...fresh like a garden or tomatoes."
All modern wheat varieties are derived from crosses with a dwarf wheat from Japan and, therefore, grow to around only two feet tall. This development, which was duplicated in other crops such as rice and corn, tripled or even quadrupled yields – but at a cost. They require the increased use of fertilizers – some of runoff into local streams and rivers - and herbicides, which vary in toxicity and side effects. And, there is some research that hybridization changed the structure (and digestibility) of gluten in the wheat berry.
This Saturday’s Bake
I will make white sourdough loaves using organic Turkey Red white flour sourced from a family mill in rural Minnesota.
Your Canadian Baker