walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Hard Red Winter Wheat

Several years ago, my husband R. was complaining about the small (2 lbs, often, never more than 5 lbs) of organic whole wheat pastry flour I bought. Since I paid for them and I did the grocery shopping, his argument was a little difficult to understand. But he's a frugal man (one of the reasons I love him) and he has a sort of instinctive revulsion to consistently paying more for something than you have to.

In the course of a long and involved discussion, I explained that even if you could buy the stuff in bulk (which, at least where we lived, you couldn't), I wouldn't want to, because it has to be stored in the freezer. The wheat germ oil starts deteriorating as soon as the flour is ground and it just gets worse and worse over time. I said I was not going to buy a chest freezer just to save some nickels on hypothetical bulk organic whole wheat flour (pastry or otherwise). Because I am an unremitting nerd, however, I did note that one could buy organic whole wheat berries (assuming one could find them) and a grinder (assuming it wasn't outrageously expensive) and grind the flour as needed. One would not need to freeze the berries.

Inevitably, I wound up searching online for a source of wheat berries (Eden Organics is my current favorite, although I have bought from Bob's Red Mill as well) and a mill (I have a Nutrimill and like it enough to have bought it as a present for a couple of friends in the ensuing years). It was a completely ridiculous project in every way, and I would regret it, except for one important fact: freshly ground whole wheat flour tastes way, way better than any stored whole wheat flour. There's no bitterness at all.

Makes it easy to switch over to whole wheat flour in all kinds of recipes.

When I was reading about my Mennonite ancestors and their arduous journey in the 1870s from Russia to North America (my batch went to Canada, but many went to the United States and there was significant back-and-forth, marrying and traveling, as I've noted in posts about my Holdeman Mennonite relatives), I knew that wheat was really central to their world. They'd had to find or develop (I'm still not sure which) new strains when they moved from what is now Poland to what is now the Ukraine, in order to have wheat in that (then) new home. Immigration from the Vistula River region to the Ukraine had barely come to an end when the trip to North America occurred.

The wheat my Mennonite ancestors found (or developed) in Russia and brought to North America was better than many strains already being grown in the United States (land of corn in the maize sense, rather than the grain sense). As I'm reading _American Chestnut_ by Susan Freinkel, I am running across the usual genealogical temptations and resisting them carefully. But I also ran across a story about "Mark Alfred Carleton, the USDA expert on foreign-plant introductions". He grew up in Kansas and, like the kid who vows to become a doctor after losing a family member to trauma or cancer, "became determined to find wheat varieties that could survive in that unforgiving land". Seeing the Mennonites doing better than others, he found out why, then went back to Russia to find Kubanka (a durum) and then later to Siberia, where he came back with Kharkov (a hard red winter). Carleton enters the story of the American Chestnut when Pennsylvania is making a heroic but ultimately failed final attempt to stop the blight through quarantine.

Despite _buying_ wheat berries (I buy 50 lb bags of soft white and hard red winter, using the former for baked goodies and the latter for bread and an arbitrary combination of the two for things which seem intermediary between the two to me), I'd never given a lot of thought to the specific strains I was buying. Superficial (google) research hasn't answered that question, either (other than that Eden is hard core about avoiding even drift pollinated GM grains). Research _did_ however suggest that the strains Carleton brought back from his trips were not the same as what the Mennonites were growing in Kansas.

Lucky for us, some Slow Food people are attempting to rebuild the strains the Mennonites of Kansas were using. It is aptly named Turkey Hard Red Winter Wheat (which is on the other side of the Black Sea).




Maybe that'll be my next order, and another bridge from genealogy into "real life" (altho at the moment, I've having trouble finding berries; they seem to only have flour).

GAMEO on the subject of wheat (unusually chatty for them but as always a carefully considered article): http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/wheat

Before you comment, _yes_ I do understand that Turkey Red Winter Wheat doesn't thrive in Manitoba.
Tags: food, geekitude, genealogy

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