Heritage Grains

Most Flavorful Breads, Very Beautiful Implements

I was not surprised when famed culinary host Guy Fieri of the Food Network’s hit TV show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” selected Richland’s Ethos Bakery to feature for an upcoming episode. Ethos founders Angela Kora and Scott Newell manage one of our areas most popular eateries and one trip inside their attractive space offers proof through aroma and flavor of some of the finest breads, soups, and pastries available anywhere in the region. Small wonder Angela and Scott and their talented team were accorded such an accolade. We at Palouse Heritage were especially pleased because we have long been supplying Ethos with heritage grains like Crimson Turkey wheat and Purple Egyptian barley which they mill on site for the freshest baked products possible.

Ethos Bakery & Café Culinary Treasures; Richland, Washington

Ethos Bakery & Café Culinary Treasures; Richland, Washington

I first learned about Ethos after meeting Angela at one of the annual “Grain Gatherings” sponsored by Washington State University at their Mt. Vernon Research Center north of Seattle. These convocations draw participants from across the country while others hail from Europe and Australia. It used to be that use of agrarian folksayings, recounting tales of Old and New World seasonal farm labors, and harvest work songs were the obscure domain of cultural historians and ethnologists, but burgeoning interest in such topics is evident in sustainability and food sovereignty movements here and throughout the world. At a recent Grain Gathering session, groups toured test plots of heritage White and Red Lammas wheats, Scots Bere barley, and Lincoln oats, and learned about methods and marketability of artisan breads, craft brews, and other specialty food and beverage products. Even names of event sponsors suggest Old World associations—the Bread Baking Guild, King Arthur Flour, and Wood Stone, a custom builder of stone hearth ovens.

Conference presenters shared lines by the sixteenth century agrarian poet Thomas Tusser, and showcased a “Harvest Heritage” exhibit of art based on rural themes by plein air French Impressionists, American Realists, the Russian Itinerants. American folk art was represented in the once familiar Harvest Star quilt design and nineteenth century steel engravings of field workers wielding sickles. A notable modern depiction of this ancient tool is the sculpted stone bas-relief roundel carved by an unidentified New Deal era sculptor in 1941 for the Adams County Courthouse in Ritzville, Washington. Agricultural folklorist and artist Eric Sloan considered the crescent-shaped sickle in all its variations over time to be the most beautiful implement ever crafted.

Grain Sheaf Bas-relief (1941), Adams County Courthouse; Ritzville, Washington

Grain Sheaf Bas-relief (1941), Adams County Courthouse; Ritzville, Washington

Simple ancient depictions of sickle-bearing field workers gave way in a blended gradualism to medieval and early modern images of scythe-swinging harvesters. The social contract that had long governed and guided enduring social systems changed little until the nineteenth century. Inventions sparked by the Industrial Revolution led to the gradual replacement of sickles and scythes with mechanical reapers. This advancement in agricultural technology greatly relieved the arduous labor of harvest fields, but also compounded pressures of urban growth throughout the great grain growing nations of Europe and the America.

The horse-powered reaper developed by American Cyrus McCormick in the 1830s featured a moveable bar of small sickle sections that effectively cut grain stalks which fell onto a platform for binding and threshing. Just like anyone can enjoy today at Ethos Bakery & Café, exceptionally flavored heritage grains like Crimson Turkey were routinely held back by families to mill at home for delicious breads and other baked goods. Community elder Donald Reich of Colfax, Washington, recently told me that he remembered his immigrant father driving all the way to the Pataha Mill near Pomeroy to get their wheat ground into flour. How convenient we can go to places like Ethos and experience what they knew to be a treasure. 

“Give Us This Day”: Daily Bread and A Home for Every Orphan

This past week brought another opportunity to travel west of the Cascades to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula as Sequim was the site of an amazing organization’s annual meeting. A Family for Every Orphan (AFFEO) has long been endorsed by our families and Palouse Heritage as one of the most consequential non-profit groups focused on strategic solutions for the global orphan crisis. AFFEO is a leader in the concept of “indigenous adoption” through which caring families in other countries are challenged and equipped to promote domestic adoption in places where orphans have traditionally been institutionalized and shunned by mainstream culture. With the cost of Americans adopting children from abroad routinely ranging from $15,000 to $25,000, the expense of indigenous adoption is often less than $1,000 with funds needed for home repair and orientation seminars. In this way, AFFEO has facilitated the placement of thousands of children since it was founded ten years ago by a dedicated group of young people, many of whom have served in America’s armed forces.

German Decorative Plate (c. 1965), Palouse Heritage Collection

German Decorative Plate (c. 1965), Palouse Heritage Collection

AFFEO executive director Micala Siler, a graduate of West Point, is passionate about strategic interventions to place orphans in caring homes in countries where they presently reside. With approximately 10,000,000 orphans presently available for adoption worldwide, she described important AFFEO initiatives underway in eight target countries—Ukraine, Romania, Kyrgystan, Russia, Ghana, Uganda, Bangladesh, and India. As I listened to the various presentations made by Micala and other team members who had come at their own expense from various parts of the country and world, I marveled at how such a group of successful young people could gather with such a spirit of determination to make a positive difference in the lives of children they would never know.  

A Home for Every Orphan Board Meeting Table Spread (October, 2018)

A Home for Every Orphan Board Meeting Table Spread (October, 2018)

In recent years I have traveled to Kiev, Moscow, Singapore, and other places in order to better understand the global orphan crisis and promote adoption. When the AFFEO board first gathered together from their far flung travels in Sequim this past week, I was pleased to see a flavorful spread of artisan breads at their host’s welcoming table. Through mutual friends many on the AFFEO team know about our work with heritage grains, and in this day of war refugees on the Horn of Africa, Mediterranean boat people, Central American immigrant caravans, and other turmoil, I sometimes wonder how children and parents in these circumstances manage to survive. Of course some don’t. While attending the subsequent AFFEO presentations, I found myself drawn to the Fourth Petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). I recall reading some time ago that the last five words of that verse are a translation of a Greek term unique not only to the Bible, but in all of ancient literature. That we might be part of others’ “day-by-day” provisioning through whatever means available to us seems to be a task of utmost nobility. For these reasons, we are honored to donate a portion of all Palouse Heritage proceeds to AFFEO’s work.

Northwest Colonial Festival — Heritage Grains under the Big Top

The Northwest’s Olympic Peninsula is famous for hosting continental America’s only rain forest which averages about 150 inches of annual precipitation. That fact might make ocean-side grain culture there a hopeless prospect, but far from it on the dry and sunny north side of the Olympic Mountains. To the contrary, the imposing mountains shelter the vicinity of Sequim, Washington, from the region’s prevailing southwesterly winds to create a rain shadow effect causing only about fifteen inches of rain to fall in that area. The peculiar semi-arid climate combined with fertile landscape create ideal conditions for raising wheat, barley, and oats. Match the geography with the patriotic dream of Dan and Jan Abbot to build a full-scale replica of Mt. Vernon as a five star bed and breakfast and you get… the spectacular George Washington Inn.

Barley Field near Sequim on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula (2018)

Barley Field near Sequim on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula (2018)

The Abbots have been friends of Palouse Heritage since we first met several years ago at one of the WSU Grain Gathering conferences. Dan shares our interest in health and history and wanted to learn about the crops of America’s Colonial Era in order to provide a “living history” experience to visitors to the Inn. He might not have expected them to harvest the crop, but thought that establishing test plots with actual varieties that once grew at places like Mt. Vernon and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello would be a fascinating project. And so was launched a partnership between Dan, the WSU Bread Lab in nearby Burlington, and Palouse Heritage.

British Army Reenactors approach the George Washington Inn (Mt. Vernon)

British Army Reenactors approach the George Washington Inn (Mt. Vernon)

The third annual Northwest Colonial Festival was held at the Inn this past August with hundreds of visitors attending a series of special events and reenactor encampments of British regulars and American patriots. Along with demonstrations of tool making, cooking, printing, weaving, and other traditional crafts, the August sunshine brought the landrace grain plots to maturity. Many of the guests gathered under an enormous tent where longtime WSU senior agronomist Steve Lyon and I teamed up to tell about the various varieties and discuss the challenges and benefits of heritage grain production. Several once prominent early American grains like Virginia White and Red May also made their way to the Pacific Northwest by the late 1800s, and seeing bountiful stands again wave in the seaside breeze presents scenes worthy of a painting.

Three (Colonial) Musketeers

Three (Colonial) Musketeers

Early American Mediterranean Red Wheat Test Plot

Early American Mediterranean Red Wheat Test Plot

One of the winter wheats planted last fall, Mediterranean Red, yielded terrifically and represents a remarkable chapter in the history of American agriculture. Most folks are familiar with the story of Hessian troops from Germany being used as mercenaries to fight for the British during the Revolutionary War. Many agricultural historians believe that these soldiers brought more with them to the Colonies that love of schnapps and sauerkraut. It seems that a tiny pernicious pest that came to be known as the Hessian fly likely arrived with the hay and grain brought over to provision the soldiers livestock. This insect wrought enormous havoc on cereal grains that had long been raised in North America, and local news and correspondence of George Washington and other farmers from the era is full of news about the calamity that ensured which threatened the food supply. Fortunately for the new nation, enterprising “farmer improvers” introduced Mediterranean Red which seemed to have a natural resistance to infestation. Scientists today study the remarkable genetic diversity of landrace grains that developed in locales throughout the world for millennia and continue to exhibit valued traits for hardiness, yield, and flavor.

Bridget Baker,  Olympic Gold  (oil on canvas, wheat field near Sequim), Palouse Heritage Collection

Bridget Baker, Olympic Gold (oil on canvas, wheat field near Sequim), Palouse Heritage Collection

Hands to Harvest! “Bringing in the Sheaves” in 2018

Few words conjure up richer connotations of summertime, country life, and abundance than harvest. During the past three weeks we have commenced harvesting our Palouse Heritage grains and are pleased to report excellent quality and yield. Ever being interested in matters of origin, I decided to investigate the derivation of the word “harvest,” and learned that it is derived from German Herbst (autumn). That word in turn descends from a root shared by Latin carp- (“to gather”) and Greek karpos (“fruit”). “Harvest” in the sense of reaping grain and other crops came into vernacular use during the medieval era of Middle English.

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Palouse Heritage Yellow Breton Wheat Harvest near Connell, Washington (July, 2018)

Palouse Heritage Yellow Breton Wheat Harvest near Connell, Washington (July, 2018)

Likely due to the light color of a wheat kernel’s interior endosperm, the word “wheat” in many European languages meant “white,” as with Old English whete, Welsh gwenith, and German weizzi. The Latin term “gladiators,” hordearii, literally means “barley eaters” since they subsisted on high energy foods like barley, oatmeal, and legumes. Roman legionaries were routinely outfitted with sickles in order to procure their livelihood throughout the far flung empire, and probably used them more often that their weapons. The helical frieze on Trajan’s Column in Rome (c. 110 AD) features a dynamic group scene of soldiers in full uniform harvesting waist-high grain with prodigious heads.

These days we don’t need to rely on sickles and legionnaires to bring in the crop. Good friends like Brad Bailie of Lenwood Farms near Connell, Washington, raise bountiful crops of organic Palouse Heritage varieties like Crimson Turkey and Yellow Breton. The latter is a soft red variety native to the northern France where for generations it was used for the prized flour essential for flavorful crepes. Farther to the northeast in the vicinity of Endicott, Washington, our longtime friends Joe DeLong and Chuck Jordan are harvestings stands of Palouse Heritage Red Fife, a famous bread grain originally from Eastern Europe, Sonoran Gold wheat, and Scots Bere barley that has become one of the most sought-after craft brewing malt grains.

Although there are some variations in climate and soil across the inland Pacific Northwest, this fertile region lies within the great arc of the Columbia River’s “Big Bend” easily identified on any map. While reading through some old newspapers recently I encountered the following poem titled “The Big Bend” by Louis Todd that was published in 1900. Little else is known about Todd’s life, but his literary expressions here make it clear he greatly appreciated this land of harvest time “golden splendor.”

 

No other river to the ocean

   Will a tale like thine unfold,

Of the wealth seen in thy travels;

   Of the wealth thy borders hold;

For thy thoughts the grandeur bear,

   And thy breath the sweetness breathes,

Of the boundless fields and forests,

   Of the richly laden trees.

 

And there grows within thy roaring

   All the fairest of the vine;

Luscious fruits in clusters hanging

   From the north and southern clime.

Great fields of wheat in golden splendor,

   Waving like a mighty sea,

Holding safe their precious treasure

   ’Till the grain shall ripened be.

 

Where nature works with freest hand,

   Builds her greatest work of art,

Will the feeble life of man

   There most smoothly play its part.

Oh, leave the dreary course you travel,

   Spurn the rocky path you go,

Join again your life with Nature,

   Where the fragrant flowers grow.

 

Palouse Heritage Red Fife Wheat Harvest (July, 2018)

Palouse Heritage Red Fife Wheat Harvest (July, 2018)

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“One Dinner” with Palouse Heritage and the Inland Northwest Food Network

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Founder Teri McKenzie of the Inland Northwest Food Network is passionate about health and heritage! Since establishing the organization five years ago in the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene area, she has spearheaded dozens of events across the region to promote local agrarian economies through farm-to-table dinners, seed swaps, and cooking classes. Her friendship with my brother and Palouse Colony Farm co-founder, Don Scheuerman, led to a wonderful evening last month at Spokane’s acclaimed Ruin’s Restaurant for the Inland Northwest Food Network's monthly "One Dinner" featuring Palouse Heritage. We arrived right on time but were lucky to find a seat so were grateful we had made reservations. All the folks at our table were “Ruin’s Regulars” from the city who enjoyed hearing Don talk about life on the farm and the nutritional benefits of heritage grains.

Chef Tony Brown crafted an incredible menu of eight small plates paired with specialty drinks, which more than enough for the hearty appetites present around our table. Among my favorites were the farro risotto with white miso and crumbled cheese, Shaun Thompson-Duffy’s Culture Breads made with our Palouse Heritage Crimson Turkey wheat flour, and those incredible pulled pork sliders! My wife, Lois, raved about the braised beef and barley with sweet potato, and we both loved the rye bread pudding Tony devised with huckleberry curd and custard. Should have asked for that recipe! Since my German paternal grandmother made the most delicious rye bread while Norwegian maternal Grandma Peterson made every dessert possible out of huckleberries she loved to gather, I suppose I come by passion for Tony’s bread pudding naturally. Topping off our wondrous evening was Bellwether Brewing’s Smoked Palouse ESB made with our Scots Bere heritage barley malt.  

Something else we found interesting at our tables were colorful handouts listing “15 Reasons to Eat Locally Grown Grain.” Here are a few of the entries:

Local grains taste better. Farmers grow a diverse variety of wheat and other grains, and these products travel a more direct path from the field to your pantry. Without the conventional additives, local grains have more interesting flavor profiles and taste better.

Supporting local grains rebuild regional food systems and the regional economy. In addition to the on-farm jobs they support, local grains require processing, storage, and distribution. This means more regional-scale infrastructure and jobs in these facilities. It also paves the way to create other regional food infrastructure for products like meat, pickled and processed goods, and more.

Nothing makes truly “artisan” bread like truly artisan grains. Bakers using regional grains are constantly innovating to celebrate the diverse flavors and characteristics of local grains, creating a richer array of products.

 

You can cook it, bake it, and brew it.

Because the “staff of life” should be local too.

Bread is agriculture! And so is beer, cake, and granola.

 

Comparing Old and New Grain Varieties

This post will highlight some of the points I have presented at recent gatherings like the Spokane Farm & Food Expo and the WSU Grain Gathering at The Bread Lab in Mt. Vernon.

Richard and WSU/Mt. Vernon Agronomist Steve Lyon leading heritage grains field trip tour; Mt. Vernon, Washington (August 2017)

Richard and WSU/Mt. Vernon Agronomist Steve Lyon leading heritage grains field trip tour; Mt. Vernon, Washington (August 2017)

This past June my wife, Lois, and I led a tour of the Baltic countries which provided an opportunity to see first-hand American and European farming systems and to meet agronomists from abroad. Of course agriculture in any single nation is an exceedingly diverse enterprise, so meaningful comparisons invariably require considerable explanation and generalization. At the same time, trends in nutrition and crop production are evident in important studies conducted in places like the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Alarp. 

Savijäri Organic Grain and Livestock Farm Porvoo, Finland (2017)

Savijäri Organic Grain and Livestock Farm
Porvoo, Finland (2017)

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Cereal researchers there conducted chemical analysis using plasma spectrometry on several hundred spring and winter wheats. In order to determine nutritional variations among the genotypes, these were divided into groups including primitive “pre-wheats” like emmer, landrace “heritage” grains like we raise at Palouse Colony Farm, old cultivars (1900-1960s releases/hybrids), and new cultivars (varieties released since 1970). The grains were grown at several locations in Sweden and under organic conditions in order to provide comparative results without influence of synthetic soil amendments, herbicides, or other chemical inputs. Results of the study were published in “Mineral Composition of Organically Grown Wheat Genotypes” in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (September 2010) and indicate substantial variation among the various groups. 

Primitive and landrace grains were found to have the highest concentrations of the most minerals with selections highest in manganese, phosphorus, and selenium. Landrace wheats showed the highest concentration of calcium and high levels of boron and iron. Spelts were highest in sulfur and high in copper. The Alnarp researchers suggest that the negative correlation between recent cultivars and mineral density indicated in their study and similar investigations elsewhere is likely due to a dilution effect given the increased yield of most modern varieties. In other words, available minerals are dispersed more widely so require higher amounts of food to receive similar amounts. Another factor may be the deeper root systems of pre-wheats and landrace grains which enable the plant to tap minerals available at greater depth. 

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These studies indicate that mineral levels in whole grain kernels depend on absorption in the soil by the plant’s roots and subsequent redistribution to the kernels through vegetative tissues that are also influenced by photosynthesis. Higher chlorophyll content, for example, is positively correlated to iron concentration, as is availability of nitrogen which facilitates photosynthesis. The Alnarp study also indicates that grain type is more influential than location for mineral content in primitive grains. Finally, growing environments significantly contribute to variations for others, and high organic matter and increased soil pH also favor mineral concentration. 

Research by cereal chemists and soil scientists are contributing to new understandings of the complex biological systems that contribute to healthy crops and people. We at Palouse Heritage look forward to sharing news with you about this vital work and doing our part to promote health, heritage, and rural renewal.  

The Bread Lab, WSU/Mt. Vernon

The Bread Lab, WSU/Mt. Vernon

Bill Gates visiting the Bread Lab

Bill Gates visiting the Bread Lab

Heritage Grain Friends (l to r): German Miller Wolfgang Mock, San Francisco Episcopal Agrarian Chaplain Elizabeth DeRuff, Richard, WSU Agronomist Steve Lyon, New York Artist Katherine Nelson, OSU Cereal Chemist Andrew Ross

Heritage Grain Friends (l to r): German Miller Wolfgang Mock, San Francisco Episcopal Agrarian Chaplain Elizabeth DeRuff, Richard, WSU Agronomist Steve Lyon, New York Artist Katherine Nelson, OSU Cereal Chemist Andrew Ross

Palouse Heritage Featured at Spokane’s Farm & Food Expo

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Spokane’s second Farm & Food Expo was held November 3-4, 2017, at Spokane Community College where we had gathered last year for what we hope will become an annual affair. Exhibitor booths filled the main hall and sponsors shared a wealth of information on topics ranging from bee culture and wool production to irrigation systems. Having done my stint in the Air Force back in the 1970s and with son Karl a major in the Air National Guard, I couldn’t help but notice the “Vets on the Farm” booth and learned about the Spokane organization’s good work transitioning returning members of the armed forces back into civilian life through opportunities in farming and ranching. And since a discount was available to vets for their bright red flag-embossed hats, I just had to pick one up.

Brother Don Scheuerman and I had been invited to participate on Saturday by book-ending the day’s activities with a morning session devoted to “Growing Heritage and Landrace Grains,” and closing out the program with a final session titled “Soil Biome and Gut Biome: The Restorative Powers of Heritage Grains.” Because it was snowing to beat the band by 4:00 p.m. and getting dark, I wasn’t expecting much of a crowd so was pleased to find standing-room only. Our morning session covered basic information on terminology, agronomy, and marketing of specialty grains. We pointed out that “heritage” and “heirloom” have become a kind of catch-all word for “old,” but that the USDA uses the term to mean any variety that was raised before the 1950s. Since grain hybridization was introduced in the late 1800s, that means many hybridized varieties would be considered heritage by that definition. (In the book Harvest Heritage: Agricultural Origins and Heirloom Crops of the Pacific Northwest [WSU Press, 2013] I coauthored with Alex McGregor, we describe the contributions of legendary plant geneticist William Spillman who essentially founded the science of plant hybridization at WSC/WSU in the 1890s.) 

Landrace varieties, however, are what I sometimes call “Grain as God Intended,” since they are pre-hybridized plants that adapted to particular locales by the thousands throughout most of Eurasia before coming to the New World in the 16th century Age of Discovery. Our work these past several years with Palouse Heritage Mercantile & Grain Mill involves the cultivation, milling, and marketing exclusively of landrace grains like Sonoran Gold, Crimson Turkey, Purple Egyptian, and Yellow Breton.

Legendary Spokane Baker-Chef Shaun Thompson-Duffy and his Culture Bread Treasures

Legendary Spokane Baker-Chef Shaun Thompson-Duffy and his Culture Bread Treasures

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The Farm & Food Expo program included presentations by a host of other folks dedicated to local and sustainable food production including our good Spokane friends Joel Williamson, maltster at Palouse Pint (“Rebirth of the Local Malthouse”); Teddy Benson of Palouse Heritage / Grain Shed Brewing (“Brewing with Heritage Grains”); and Shaun Thompson-Duffy of Culture Breads (Old World Breads: From Millstone to Hearth”). Don and I attended all three of these sessions and were reminded why we have long been so impressed by these fellows. The very names of their topics indicate the stirring sea change that is underway in culinary circles across the country, and Joel, Teddy, and Shaun have joined with other prime movers in the region to establish viable connections with local growers of grains and other crops who are interested in stewardship of the land, rural economic renewal, and human health and heritage. 

In our closing session on restorative biomes to improve health and soil, we shared information gleaned from studies in the United States and Europe on heritage grain nutrition. Worth noting are summaries comparing primitive “pre-wheats” like emmer and spelt, landrace varieties like we grow at Palouse Heritage, and modern hybrids. This is a big topic, so stay tuned for the next post!