Flour

“Tasting the Grain” at the 2018 Cascadia Grains Conference in Olympia

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In recent weeks with the slower pace at the farm during colder weather we’ve turned our attention to a series of special events featuring our Palouse Heritage grain flours. Having participated in every Cascadia Grains Conference that the Jefferson County Extension Service has held in Olympia for the past five years, we were honored again this past January to present at the “Taste the Grain” dinner held at historic Schmidt House. The mansion was built a century ago in Colonial Revival style for the founders of Olympia Brewing and was an ideal setting for us to sample the array of breads and brews provided by Rob Salvino at Seattle’s Damsel & Hopper Bakeshop, South Sound Community College Culinary Science chefs Kelly McLaughlin and Isaac Gillett, and Copperworks Distillery.

Puget Sound Community College “Palouse Heritage” Chefs

Puget Sound Community College “Palouse Heritage” Chefs

Since my task was simply to tell stories about the various heritage grains and heartily sample the many courses, I far and away had the most pleasant role for what was a wonderful evening. County extension personnel and conference organizers Lara Lewis and Aba Kiser skillfully handled the many logistics since we were spread across the state, and thanks to Rob, Kelly, and Isaac’s special talents the capacity crowd had an incredibly delicious menu. (Among the many guests was our special Palouse Colony Farm artist friend from Washington, D. C., Katherine Nelson. I will follow this post with another about her life and work.)

Below is the dinner menu we formulated for the evening, and for the first time we included a series of pairings featuring craft brews and distilled products. Of course we can’t guarantee that you’d find these offered on the bill of fare at famed The Spar in downtown Olympia during the periods specified, but there are historical reasons for these combinations.

 

 1. 1820s-1850s: Fur Trade and Frontier Era

Smoked beef brisket with blue cheese and lavender honey on rosemary crackers made with Palouse Heritage Sonoran Gold wheat flour / Paired with Top Rung’s My Dog Scout Stout

 

2. Pork Belly Crostini: Candied pork belly with leek strata, roasted tomato, and mascarpone on charred crostini made with Palouse Heritage Sonoran Gold wheat flour / Paired with Copperworks Whiskey

 

3. 1860s-1870s: Northwest Pioneering and Townbuilding

Salted maple, apple, and mascarpone galette made with Palouse Heritage Empire Orange and Crimson Turkey wheat flours / Paired with Fremont Brewing’s Universale Pale Ale

 

4. Chili Lime Prawns: Colossal prawns, arugula, chili, lime, chive, basalmic caviar and barley tuile using Palouse Heritage Purple Egyptian barley flour

 

5. 1890s-1910s: Waves of Immigrants and Golden Grains

Focaccia di Recco and crispy pancetta made with Palouse Heritage Crimson Turkey wheat flour, rosemary, Kalamata olives, sundried tomatoes, and 4 cheeses / Paired with Ghost Fish IPA

 

6. Gin and Tonic Tart: Lemon egg tart using Palouse Heritage Turkey Red wheat flour with gin and tonic simple syrup using Sandstone Stonecarver Gin

 

Thanks again Rob, Lara, Aba, Kelly, Isaac, and Olympia historian Don Prosper for such a marvelous event!

Country-Style Breads (Part 3)

This post is the third and final of a three-part series focusing on delicious, wholesome bread recipes that feature our landrace grains. These recipes and many others are included in our newly released updated edition of the Harvest Home Cookbook, available here in both print and eBook versions.

Braided Sweets

The restoration of landrace grains and availability today of identity-specific variety flours also makes possible the customization of time-honored recipes to flavor and texture preferences with consideration of new techniques. At Palouse Heritage we have worked for years to foster “flavorful authenticity” by providing an array of nutritious pre-hybridized landrace grain flours like Crimson Turkey hard red wheat, Sonoran Gold soft white, Yellow Breton soft red, and Purple Egyptian barley. These and other grains arrived from Eurasia during the earliest years of North American colonization to make possible a incredible continental cornucopia.

Blue Hill Restaurant Palouse Heritage Breads,   Rockefeller Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture; Tarrytown, New York

Blue Hill Restaurant Palouse Heritage Breads, Rockefeller Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture; Tarrytown, New York

Ancestral country-bread styles handed down through the ages were not necessarily meant to be unchangeable, fixed lists of ingredients and directions. Now in her hundredth year, spirited Vera Grove Rudd is the eldest member of our extended clan. She was raised at our Palouse Colony Farm and vividly recalls joining her mother to gather hops that grew profusely along the river in order to make a sourdough starter from the naturally occurring yeast that grew on the cones. I have recently learned that this practice was a folk remnant of common practice in medieval times. The hops still grow at the farm in abundance, but times change and Vera came to use store-bought active dry yeast for her country-style breads. As times change so can baking methods and availability of healthy ingredients. Rather like Van Gogh at work on his glowing harvest canvases or Thomas Hart Benton painting Midwest threshing scenes, distinct grain flours serve like paints to enable artisan bakers at home or elsewhere to follow long favored ways, as well as make marvelously new variations.

Although country-style breads have generally been made without eggs, dried fruit, or baked vegetables, these ingredients have long been included by experienced home cooks for special holiday breads. The following recipe from our extended family’s hundred-year-old matriarch, “Miss Vera,” brings to mind her stories of enjoying it every Friday evening when she was a girl living on the family’s Palouse River farm. Recipes like this were popular submission to the many school PTA, church, and social organizations loosely bound cookbook fundraisers. She noted that her mother gathered hop cones every summer for yeast that imparted a unique and wonderful flavor.


Braided Sweet Bread

  • 4 cups Palouse Heritage Crimson Turkey Flour
  • 3 ½ cups Palouse Heritage Sonoran Gold flour
  • ½ cup lukewarm water
  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 1 ½ cups lukewarm milk
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 3 eggs
  • ¼ cup soft butter
  • 2 ½ tablespoons shortening
  • crushed walnuts optional

 

Dissolve yeast in mixing bowl with ½ cup of water. Stir in milk, sugar, and salt. Add eggs, shortening, and half the blended flour. Stir with a spoon, add the rest of the flour, and mix by hand. Turn onto lightly floured board. Knead about 5 minutes until smooth and roll around in a greased bowl. Cover with damp cloth and let rise in a warm place 1 ½ to 2 hours until double in bulk. Punch down, round up, let rise again about 30 minutes until almost a double in volume. Divide dough into 6 parts, making six 14-inch long rolls. Braid 3 rolls loosely, fastening ends. Repeat for second braid. Place on 2 greased baking sheets, and cover with a damp cloth. Let rise 50-60 minutes until almost double in bulk. Heat oven to 425°. Brush braids with glaze of egg yolk and 2 tablespoons of water. May sprinkle with crushed walnuts. Bake 30-35 minutes.

Landrace Grains and Heirloom Fruit — Palouse Colony Farm and DeLong Ranch

Even after great holiday sales, we remain well supplied with our Palouse Heritage Sonoran Gold pastry flour as well as our long awaited Crimson Turkey bread flour, known back in the day as “Turkey Red” though it ancestral homeland is actually south Russia and Ukraine. Until this flavorful grain was introduced to the United States in the 1870s, virtually all bread in the country was made from soft white wheats and other grains more suited for making biscuits, pancakes, and flatbreads. Our crop yielded well and is already being used by several Northwest bakeries including Damsel and Hopper Bakeshop in Seattle, Ethos Bakery in Richland, and Culture Breads in Spokane.

Palouse Colony Heritage Grain and Transfering from Wheat Truck to Totes

Palouse Colony Heritage Grain and Transfering from Wheat Truck to Totes

Two venerable elders now in their nineties and familiar with Crimson Turkey were raised on farms near our Palouse Country hometown of Endicott. Don Schmick and Don Reich now reside in neighboring Colfax, and I recently asked them about it. “That’s the grain we saved for our own use!” Don Reich recalled. “There’s nothing in the world that makes a bread so satisfying as flour from that wheat.” Don Schmick related a similar story and said that his immigrant farmer father made a annual trip every fall south of the Palouse River to the Pataha Flour Mill east of Pomeroy where the family’s precious Crimson Turkey wheat was ground into flour for the family’s needs throughout the year. Both men remembered that their mothers especially favored mixing about two-thirds of the wheat flour with one-third rye flour to make a delicious tawny-colored loaf that didn’t last long.

Joe navigating through a sea of Palouse Heritage wheat at DeLong Ranch (2017)

Joe navigating through a sea of Palouse Heritage wheat at DeLong Ranch (2017)

This past August we also returned to historic DeLong Ranch located several miles upstream from our Palouse Colony Farm and where we have worked for several years with neighbors Joe and Sarah DeLong to raise heritage grains. Joe’s ancestral connection to this scenic area is singular in significance to regional history as it is not only the oldest farm in the area, but also property that has been continuously farmed by the DeLong family since the late 1860s. Joe’s resourceful ancestor, also named Joseph DeLong, raised grain, extensive gardens, and livestock, and also planted an extensive orchard on fertile bottomland bordered by towering pines along the river. I have long been fascinated by the family’s remarkable saga and have written previously about it in previous blog posts and the book Palouse Country: A Land and Its People.

We’ve long been impressed by Joe and Sarah’s regard for the health of the soil and they have worked hard over the years to raise crops using natural rotation systems with minimum artificial inputs. The farm’s remote location also provides a rare glimpse into the “Palouse primeval.” Substantial virgin sod remains along both sides of the river that abounds with wildflowers in spring and summer and hosts deer, racoons, coyotes, eagles, and occasional meandering moose and elk. In addition to the landrace grains we raised this past year at Palouse Colony Farm, Joe and Sarah grew Red Walla Walla and Sonoran Gold wheats, and famed Purple Egyptian barley. Red Walla Walla is a rare soft red variety actually native to southern England that was traditionally used for biscuits, flatbreads, and for imparting a rich, tangy flavor to craft English wheat beers. 

An unexpected adventure during this summer’s DeLong harvest was a visit to his family’s ancient grove of plum trees that are clustered at the foot of a grassy bluff close to the river. I had noticed the ripe purplish red fruit while riding the combine with Joe near the fence-line that separates the trees from the field. He informed me that the trees likely harkened back to the senior Joe DeLong’s time and contained four distinct varieties faithfully recorded in old ranch records—Bulgarian, Hungarian, Egg, and Petite.

DeLong Heirloom Plum Trees

DeLong Heirloom Plum Trees

Grandma’s Plum Delight

Grandma’s Plum Delight

I mentioned seeing the trees at lunch time and Sara and Joe invited me to pick as many as I’d like since there were far more than their family could use. So armed with a large metal bucket from a nearby shed I ventured back to the spot in the hot afternoon and joined a herd of cows meandering through the plum trees. Indeed the trees were loaded with fruit and in no time my bucket was overflowing. I couldn’t tell a Bulgarian from a Petite but found that they all tasted wonderfully sweet. I had been staying in town with my sister and mother, and later that night when I reported on my discovery, Mom proceeded to tell me how to distinguish several kinds. The next day while I returned to the harvest field, she went to work making plum sauce as a topping for pancakes and breads, and also prepared “Plum Delight,” a crispy dessert with crumbly topping I remembered well from my youth. She agreed to provide me with her recipe which we share here with hopes it might grace your table sometime soon.


Plum Delight

Topping

  • ½  cup Palouse Heritage Sonora flour
  • ½ cup oats
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup melted margarine

Filling

  • 3 cups sliced plums
  • 1 tablespoon Palouse Heritage Sonora flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine plums, flour, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon together in a bowl and put into ungreased 1 1/2-quart baking dish. Combine all topping ingredients in another bowl. Mix until crumbly and distribute over the plums. Bake in 350 degree oven for 45 minutes or until crispy and golden brown on top.

Country-Style Breads (Part 1)

This post is the first of a three-part series focusing on delicious, wholesome bread recipes that feature our landrace grains. These recipes and many others are included in our newly released updated edition of the Harvest Home Cookbook, available here in both print and eBook versions.

Blended Rye Bread

Since time immemorial bakers worldwide have paired country-style breads with delicious soups, stews, and broths for the ultimate comfort foods. The recent renaissance in breadmaking at home and neighborhood bakeries have revived interest in traditional styles with names that reflect their global origins—English Farmer’s Bread, German Landbrot, French Pain de Campagne, Italian Pan Bigio, and Spanish Pan Campesino Rústico. Even within these styles is a wondrous culinary variation in shape, ingredient combinations, and baking techniques.

Palouse Heritage Country-Style Breads,   Ethos Bakery, Kennewick

Palouse Heritage Country-Style Breads, Ethos Bakery, Kennewick

Country-style breads stand apart from mass market brands that use highly refined, single identity flours and chemical additives. Instead, these favored working-class breads that have long graced tables of homes, inns, and popular restaurants are generally characterized by the use of  whole wheat flour (70-85%) in combination with a smaller amount (15-30%) of flour from another grain. Such blends, especially when working with whole grain flours and natural yeast leavening, yield denser, more nutritious loaves of lesser volume. In many European cultures the most commonly used secondary flour is rye which adds a satisfying tangy flavor. Other traditions prefer the mildness of oats (Scottish Harvest Struan), nutty barley (Ethiopian Habesha Dabo), and cornmeal (Boston Brown Bread). Country bread recipes also often include potato water or milk to hydrate the flour rather than plain water.

The recipe below is for a wonderful bread that has long sustained members of our family and friends who have regularly asked for the correct flour proportions. Weissmische is German for “blended white” flour and homemakers have long safeguarded the distinct ingredient combinations considered to be most appealing. Our elders traditionally served it as rundbrot, or in the shape of a “round bread” sun-wheel. Wheat-rye flour blends remain popular throughout Germany today where various regions take pride in distinctive ingredients and baking methods. This bread also makes our favorite toast which we often enjoy liberally spread with Mom’s homemade strawberry jam. 


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German Blended Rye Bread

 
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 ¼ tablespoons dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
 

Dissolve 2 ¼ tablespoons yeast in 6 ounces of warm water. Add 1 teaspoon of white sugar, mix, and let rise to top of cup. Mix yeast mixture with 3 cups of milk. Add rye and wheat flour and knead or use mixer for 10 minutes. Place dough in greased bowl and let rise until double, or about 1 hour. Remove from bowl, punch dough, and knead down. Shape into 3 loaves and bake in 3 greased loaf pans for 35 minutes at 375°.

Turkey Red Wheat Harvest 2017

This past week marked the beginning of our Palouse Heritage harvest as our first crop of organic Turkey Red bread wheat was cut at our partner Brad Bailie’s Lenwood Farms near Connell, Washington. We have been raising this legendary hard red bread grain for the past two years in order to carefully increase our seed stock, and finally this year we had enough for several acres of organic production at Brad’s farm since we needed space at our Palouse Colony Farm for the flavorful soft red variety English Squarehead, also known as Red Walla Walla, which historically was used for pastries, biscuits, and other flatbreads as well as for crafting nutritious Old World Hefeweizen cloudy brews.

Harvesting Organic Turkey Red Wheat;   Scene of the Great Yellow Jacket Harvest Battle

Harvesting Organic Turkey Red Wheat; Scene of the Great Yellow Jacket Harvest Battle

Turkey Red is the legendary grain long raised by our German ancestors in Eastern Europe where bread wheats had grown since time immemorial from the Great Hungarian Plain to the steppes of Russia and Ukraine. Prior to the introduction of Turkey Red to the Midwest in the 1870s, a winter variety sown in the fall, and its genetic spring-seeded cousin, Red Fife, an Eastern European relative that came to North American via Scotland, all wheat breads in early America and Canada were made from soft white flour sometimes mixture with low gluten milled rye, barley, or oats, or “thirded” combinations of these grains. The resulting baked goods were rather dense but still flavorful and served as the “staff of life” for countless families in eastern American and on the western frontier. Our elders here in the Northwest told us that their crops of Turkey Red as recent as the 1950s were too precious to sell like modern hybridized grains for national and world markets. Instead they held back sufficient quantities of Turkey Red to be milled at area flour mills in Colfax, St. John, and at tiny Pataha south of the Snake River near Pomeroy where historic Houser Mill has been substantially restored by the Van Vogt family with a portion of the main floor refurbished as a restaurant and museum.


"Our elders here in the Northwest told us that their crops of Turkey Red as recent as the 1950s were too precious to sell like modern hybridized grains for national and world markets."


Unexpected happenings often occur when commencing harvest and this year’s first round provided a couple interesting moments. After going a few dozen yards on our first round in Brad’s combine, I stepped behind the machine to blow on the ground and see if too much grain was being blown behind. Even the most advanced combine in this day of high tech threshing and electronic monitoring betrays some grain loss, but Brad’s John Deere was running very clean. I jumped back on and paused when entering the cab so we could check for any cracked grain going into the bulk tank where the grain is stored before unloading into a truck or in our case, large fabric totes capable of holding a ton. We had no sooner reached our arms back to retrieve a handful of grain that a wild onslaught of very angry yellow-jackets burst forth swirling around our heads! In an instant we received their stinging message of most likely disturbing a nest in the process of putting running augers and dumping grain into the bin, so we retreated back into the safety of the cab.

Marsh Hawk Stubble Nest

Marsh Hawk Stubble Nest

On the next pass around the field I noticed an enormous bird fly from the uncut grain we were approaching as the combine reel flailed along like a rapidly moving ferris-wheel. Brad immediately stopped the machine and said he it was one of several marsh hawks with whom he had shared his property. Brad is an advocate of natural growing systems and seeks to preserve native species, so was concerned that the hawk’s next was likely in the path of the combine’s next round. We descended the ladder and slowly approached the area in the uncut wheat from which the bird had taken flight. Sure enough there we found a trampled area about two feet in diameter with two white eggs resting in the center. Late July seems somewhat late for a hatch, but not being experts on marsh hawk habits we thought the eggs were likely still vital or they would not still be tended. So we returned to the machine and cut in a wide circle all around the next to keep it protected, and hoped no coyotes would find their way to the small golden sanctuary.

Later in the day I took a sample of the Turkey Red to the Connell Grain Growers substantial grain handling facility in Kennewick in order to get it tested for protein and moisture. The place is a massive complex located along the Columbia River and a several tractor-trailers filled with wheat were waiting in line to dump their loads in the elevator grates for storage in the adjacent concrete and metal silos. I was ably assisted by Kara Shibley, Angie Garcia, and Jose Carrea-Moya who shared my interest in heritage grains though our conversation was regularly interrupted by intercom calls and other office traffic attesting the incredible pace of harvest work inside such offices as well as out in the fields. The result came back in moments most satisfactorily, so we did it again with another sample and the numbers were identical—low 9.1% moisture, and very strong 13.5% protein—fully two percent higher than the average of modern hard red wheats then coming to the elevator. With that good news it was back to work and preparations to harvest our stands of soft red English Squarehead (aka Red Russian), Purple Egyptian hulless barley, and other grains scarcely seen in the region for over a century. The flavorful and nutritious adventure continues!

Jose Correa-Moya Testing Turkey Red Wheat for Moisture and Protein;   CHS Elevator; Pasco, Washington

Jose Correa-Moya Testing Turkey Red Wheat for Moisture and Protein; CHS Elevator; Pasco, Washington

 

 

Ancient Grains & Harvests (Part 4)

This blog post is part of a series that I (Richard) am writing about grain and agricultural themes in classic art. The research I am sharing here will contribute to a new book that will soon be published under the title Hallowed Harvests. You can read other posts in this series here.


Sacred Ways and Field Labors

Recent studies of earthenware ostracha from the fortress of Arad near the Dead Sea discovered in the 1960s date to approximately 600 BC during the reign of King Jehoiakim (II Kings 24) and reveal the prevalence of grain, flour, and bread deliveries along with wine and oil to the remotest desert reaches of the Kingdom of Judah. Written in ancient Hebrew using the Aramaic alphabet, these pottery shards served as vouchers presented to the commander to issue supplies from the fort’s storehouses. The Prophet Ezekiel served as a priest among the Jewish exiles to Babylon during this period and makes specific reference to wheat, emmer, barley, lentils, and other crops (e.g., 4:16, 5:16) in the context of early references to the “staff of bread,” which was life’s great sustainer in the ancient world. Basic units of common linear measurement owe their origin to grain; as the length of two barley kernels represented the Old Testament “finger-breadth” of three-tenths of an inch, twenty-four were an eight-inch “span,” and forty-eight a “cubit” of sixteen inches.

Anglican scholar-priest Rev. Philip Carrington (1892-1975), Metropolitan of Canada, undertook extensive study on the relationship between the first century arrangement of Mark’s gospel into a lectionary series that relates the ancient Jewish ritual year and Galilean lunar agricultural cycle to key events in the life of Christ. Carrington proposes that this sequence of Christ’s public Galilean ministry—the culmination of his life on earth, involving the Feeding of the Five Thousand, Seed-time and Harvest Parables, and other agrarian-related discourses and happenings significantly shaped the “Primitive Christian Calendar” that in turn gave rise to the Early Church’s liturgical calendar. 

In commentary on Mark’s culminating New Testament message of resurrection, Carrington writes of the “mystical and symbolical way of thought which was natural to men at that time, and found expression in art and poetry and ritual and drama and religion. In the springtime life returns from the underworld in leaves and grasses and flowers; when the harvest comes, it is cut down in the shape of fruit and grain; it dies, but it will come again. Such is the destiny of man. Old Nature, who is the mother of mankind, reflects on her many-coloured drama on the destiny of her divine son. Such is the truth that underlies the old way of thought.” Carrington concludes that the culture of the disciples was connected to the old festivals, and that their memories “would tend to arrange themselves in the order of the Calendar Year; and seeing that the Lord chose to express himself in these surroundings in the terms of the old agricultural and festal mysticism. And, if so, we may ourselves enter into the tradition and gain some understanding of it, not merely by literary and critical study along these lines, but by passing through the devotional course of the Christian Year, as it has come down to us in the Church.”

Agricultural laws that guided ancient Hebrew spiritual and civil life are described in the third century AD Mishnaic collection of oral traditions and include blessings for foods and landowner obligations to provide produce for the Levites of the temple, priests, and the poor. In a medieval commentary on Jewish piety, Hokhmat ha-Nefesh, Rabbi Elezar Ben Judah of Worms (c. 1126-1238) celebrated the Hebrew agrarian ideal: “God created the world so all should live in pleasantness, that all shall be equal, that one should not lord over the other, and that all may cultivate the land.” Faith-based perspectives on creation stewardship were expressed by 16th century French theologian John Calvin: “The custody of the garden was given in charge to Adam, to show that we possess the things which God has committed to our hands, on the condition that… we should take care of what remains. Let him who possesses a field, so partake of its yearly yield, that he may not suffer the ground to be injured by his negligence, but let him endeavor to hand it down to posterity as he received it, or even better cultivated.”

Correlation of Ancient Ritual and Agricultural Calendars with Crop Sequences,   GC: Gezer Calendar, HR: Hebrew Ritual, PC: Primitive Christian

Correlation of Ancient Ritual and Agricultural Calendars with Crop Sequences, GC: Gezer Calendar, HR: Hebrew Ritual, PC: Primitive Christian

American Country Life Movement leader Liberty Hyde Bailey elaborated on this ethic in his 1915 classic, The Holy Earth: “If God created the earth, so is the earth hallowed; and if it is hallowed, so must we deal with it devotedly and with care that we do not despoil it….. We are to consider it religiously: ‘Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.’ …I do not mean all this, for our modern world, in any vague or abstract way. If the earth is holy, then the things that grow out of the earth are also holy.” A landowner’s obligation as steward of the earth’s bounty also extended to the less fortunate. One of the earliest biblical references to gleaning (Leviticus 23:22) appears in instructions on the principal Hebrew feasts and ritual thank offering (Todah) of the first grain harvest sheaves to be waved and presented to the priests: “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner.” From these and related Mosaic references (e.g. Deuteronomy 24:19), Jewish laws developed that were fundamentally different than prevailing customs in Egypt, Greece, Rome, and elsewhere in the ancient Mediterranean world where such rights were not extended to the poor. These customs guided the process of gleaning, a practice that still continues in some rural areas of Syria, Lebanon, and elsewhere in the Middle East. (English “glean” is from Anglo-French glener, “to collect, gather,” a word derived from Latin glennāre which is probably of Celtic origin.)

Old Testament prohibitions of representational art influenced the rich expression of literary imagery in Hebrew literature. While Greek aesthetics were occupied with spatial unity and static forms of sculpture, the Hebrew mind understood God as the ideal so such literature often incorporates mixed metaphors for more tactile expressions of meaning, often in the context of agrarian experience that marked the seasons with times and festivals for planting, harvest, threshing, and winnowing. One of the finest examples is the c. 10th century BC story of Ruth which relates her rescue by a kinsman-redeemer, Boaz, after her travels to the land of her mother-in-law, Naomi, in the aftermath of famine in Israel. The author’s imagery is as much about Hebrew culture as theological doctrine, and forthrightly describes the women’s sojourn, fidelity, and redemption amidst opening scenes that follow the workers’ harvest: “And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, ‘Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, ‘Go, my daughter.’ So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of field belonging to Boaz...” (Ruth 2:2-3).

Crusader (Maciejowski) Bible (c. 1240s); illuminated vellum, 15 ⅓ x 11 ⅘ inches;   Left: Folio 6— An Ironic Turn of Events  (Genesis 42), with Joseph supplying his brothers with grain (top right);   Center: Folio 12— Gideon, Most Valiant of Men  (Judges 6), with Gideon threshing wheat (bottom left);   Right: Folio 17— Ruth Meets Boaz  (Ruth 2), with reapers cutting grain followed by Ruth gleaning (top right);   The Pierpont Morgan Library and Museum, New York

Crusader (Maciejowski) Bible (c. 1240s); illuminated vellum, 15 ⅓ x 11 ⅘ inches; Left: Folio 6—An Ironic Turn of Events (Genesis 42), with Joseph supplying his brothers with grain (top right); Center: Folio 12—Gideon, Most Valiant of Men (Judges 6), with Gideon threshing wheat (bottom left); Right: Folio 17—Ruth Meets Boaz (Ruth 2), with reapers cutting grain followed by Ruth gleaning (top right); The Pierpont Morgan Library and Museum, New York

Early Modern Woodcuts of Ruth and Boaz;   Left to right: Gerard de Jode (1585); Mattias Scheits and François Halma (1710);   Palouse Regional Studies Collection

Early Modern Woodcuts of Ruth and Boaz; Left to right: Gerard de Jode (1585); Mattias Scheits and François Halma (1710); Palouse Regional Studies Collection

Beneath the familiar tale rests a complex doubling motif in theme and between poor and rich, women and men, and threshing and waiting. The interplay is evident throughout the narrative and poetic couplets to amplify the contrast between destitution and bounty. The famine experienced by Naomi and her family was in Bethlehem—literally “House of Bread,” but her sons perish in Moab, the land of bounty. Divine deliverance is timeless and confounds human reason. Cereal provisions were an important indication of blessing. Wheat (hittim) and barley (s’orim) breads likely made up almost half of the Hebrew diet and was served in some form at virtually every meal that also may have featured parched or boiled grains in mixtures with fruits and in gruels. The ubiquity of wholesome grains in Ruth throughout the Bible speaks of their nutritional, intellectual, and spiritual significance in Hebrew culture. Harvest time happenings, familiar to most any inhabitant of Moab or Judah, provide the context for lessons on how God provides deliverance to the ordinary faithful in a world of injustice and chaos.

The short four-chapter book’s timeless theme of redemption from deprivation and distress to promise of new life has inspired generations of believers, authors, and artists with styles ranging from the Baroque formalism of Barent Pietersz Fabritius to Marc Chagall’s richly flowing Surrealism. An early 14th century Jewish prayer book from Germany illustrates Ruth’s story in lush gold, red, and blue tones. Although the scene depicts the grain rakes, threshing flails, and clothing of medieval Europe, it faithfully depicts Boaz’s care and the blessing of the harvest. Thomas Rooke’s idealist 19th century interpretation shows the couple and Naomi as they might have appeared in the garb of ancient times, but other renderings like Jean-François Millet’s evocative Harvesters Resting (1850) are cast in settings of the artists’ lifetimes to suggest the ancient story’s abiding relevance.

Winter Sheaves and Celebration

Although holiday decorations and winter cold seem far removed from the affairs of summer harvest, in pre-industrial times life remained busy year-round as families needed to tend livestock and carry on other important chores. Considerable threshing of grain sheaves, for example, took place during winter as the brittle stalks that had been stored in barns since harvest were strewn about the covered threshing floor, or even on ice outside, to be struck with wooden flails in order to separate the golden kernels from the heads. To be sure, the winter time pace of labor was less intense than other seasons, and many agrarian traditions were associated with shortest days of the year.

Scandinavian farmers customarily saved the last harvest cuttings for the ceremonial “Yule Sheaf” (Norwegian Julenek, Swedish Julkarve) of oats or other grain which was suspended from a pole or barn roof during Christmas week and New Year as a blessing to the birds and goodwill offering for a favorable growing season. This tradition continued among some families in eighteenth century America as described in verse by Ohio poet Phoebe Cary’s “The Christmas Sheaf”:  

"And bid the children fetch," he said,
"The last ripe sheaf of wheat,
And set it on the roof o’erhead
That the birds may come and eat.

And this we do for His dear sake,
The Master kind and good,
Who of the loaves He blest and brake
Fed all the multitude."

As children we were always presented with a sack containing peanuts and an orange after the annual church Christmas program in our hometown of Endicott—a tradition that continues to this day. Only later did I learn that in ancient times oranges commonly symbolized the sun while acorns and other nuts were also given during the week of the winter solstice (December 21) to celebrate the return of longer days and life’s renewal. 

Suesspleena    Before and After Flipping

Suesspleena Before and After Flipping

Like families of many cultural backgrounds, ours has also long observed festive Christmas Eve dinners. A favorite entrée is the wide, paper thin Suesspleena egg batter pancakes and accompanying hot Schnitzel fruit soup of raisins, apples, peaches, and other flavorful “pieces” for which it is named, which is mixed with cream just before serving. When our beloved cousin Al first married into our clan many years ago, he led the procession around the holiday buffet and assumed the bowl of steaming brown was gravy, so proceeded to cover his mashed potatoes with it. We’ve never let him forget.

These pancakes remain an important part of Maslenitsa, Eastern Orthodoxy’s “Butter (or Crepe) Week,” celebrated now in the spring during Lent but observed in ancient times during mid-winter. Our German ancestors in Russia were known to stack them into layers spread with jam for a delicious treat, and the “4-3-2-1” recipe handed down to us remains a holiday staple. It calls for 4 eggs, 3 cups of milk, 2 cups of flour, and 1 tablespoon of sugar. We also add a dash of salt and fry them on a hot buttered skillet. Don’t worry if the first one or two are ruined as you gauge the proper temperature and master the flipping technique. After all, there is an old Russian saying that basically translates, “The first blina (pancake) is a disaster”!

We now LOVE making family Suesspleena meals using our Palouse Heritage Sonoran Gold flour. Not only is it more authentic than the modern flour you'd buy in the grocery store today, but it delivers a naturally sweet, nutty-tasting flavor. Delicious!