Prime Grains graciously shipped quite a bit more Einkorn wheat berries for research purposes. If you are interested in doing your own experiments with Einkorn, drop me a comment and I will share some of mine if you can pick up.
Having suddenly been gifted with fresh unpasteurized goat’s milk, and lots of it, I decided to store some of it in the form of cheese. I have a fondness for this rather expensive brand of free range pastured goat’s cheese that comes in tiny bottles with big price tags. You may know them, as they are local.
The milk I am receiving is from Nigerian dwarf goats, the richest goat milk there is, and it is by far the best milk I ever had. Having enjoyed Sunstone Herb Farm‘s posts, I took their advice and just bought Junket Rennet from Triangle Grocery in Cedar Crest for the procedure. That came with very easy instructions even a newbie could follow. The cheese that resulted is as good as the kind I was buying, and for five dollars of milk I got $45 worth of cheese had I paid for it in the store.
I find it amazing how easy it is to make simple food like fresh bread and cheese that is wholesome, nourishing, and easily exceeds the quality of food one can find in stores. It’s also much easier on the budget!
Emboldened by my recent success with einkorn buttermilk biscuits, I decided to tackle sourdough bread. I’ve never made a loaf of bread in my life, so this is a big deal and lots of research went into it before jumping in.
Commercially made bread is not a staple in our household for many reasons. First, it is often made with substandard ingredients, including sugar or corn syrup. The grains are usually not sprouted, which makes it harder to digest. Commercial bread dough is often “conditioned” using bromine, a proven thyroid gland suppressor. Quick-rising yeast is used to create fluffy bread in an hour, without pre-digesting the grains. Usually, it does not taste that good. If you can find a tasty, high quality, organic, sprouted-grain, non-brominated, non-yeasted bread, then you will pay a high premium for it. We sometimes did, by buying Manna from Heaven from Julian Bakery.
Sourdough breads, similar to the buttermilk biscuits, ferment the grains. This makes the bread far more digestible and therefore nutritious. That’s the story anyway, so I decided to give it a try.
There are two ways to start sourdough starter. One is to catch the native yeasts from the air with a mixture of flour and water and cultivate them. The other is to obtain proven starter from someone else. Given I live at an altitude of 7400 feet in the desert, I was not sanguine about the quantity or quality of yeast floating around in my house. Perhaps that is an experiment for another day. Instead, I wrote to Carl Griffith’s friends for some starter. They will send some for the price of a stamp, in Carl’s memory.
The starter arrived as a couple of teaspoons of grains the size of sand. I followed the instructions on Carl’s website to reactivate the starter. It took longer than I thought it would, probably because my house is not very warm. But after a few days I had a quart jar of bubbly starter, made with einkorn wheat. That was a bit of an experiment also, since einkorn is said to have a different gluten structure than wheat, and it is the gluten that the sourdough starter ferments.
I did not have enough einkorn left to make a loaf solely with that, so I got busy sprouting some rye berries. Once I had my sprouted rye flour ready to go, I selected recipe #43 from the Tassajara Bread Book, since it seemed simple and straightforward and I definitely need that!
Saturday afternoon I mixed “the sponge”, which is the aptly named result of what happens when you take a couple of cups of starter and add a lot of flour and tepid water to it. Leave it overnight to ferment, and in the morning it is a bubbly frothy living entity. Mix in the oil, salt, and rye flour, and now it is a sticky mess. Dump it out on the bread board and knead it for a few minutes, and presto, it looks like real bread dough and smells heavenly.
The next part of the experiment was to toss the recipe and use Mark Bittman’s method of baking in a Le Creuset dutch oven inside the oven at 450 degrees. Unfortunately I did not see the value of rising the dough in a towel until I went to throw it in the burning hot Le Creuset and found the dough difficult to extract from the bowl in any controlled way. The dough eventually ended up in the Le Creuset in something of a pile. But hey, Mark says it doesn’t matter if it’s ugly, it all works out. In any case, there was no adjusting it afterwards, so I put the lid on and closed up the oven.
Half an hour later, take the lid off, put the loaf back in the oven to crisp the crust. Fifteen minutes later, I think, maybe it’s done. But this is very dense bread, unlike Mark’s in the video, which was of the white-flour quick-rising yeast variety. So maybe it needs more time. Five minutes later my husband thinks it is burning, so we take it out and decant it on a rack. Sure enough, the part in contact with the Le Creuset is slightly burnt, however, it is otherwise the most drop-dead gorgeous loaf of bread I’ve seen, not to mention smelled. Well, it is my first.
We managed to restrain ourselves from cutting into it until it was just pleasantly warm. As expected, it was very dense, almost cakey, and with that wonderful sour flavor that I associate with San Francisco. The crust was just as crispy as bakery bread. My husband rated it as “superb,” high praise indeed from someone who has been looking for bread to match that which we had at the Esalen Institute years ago. Quite filling too. It did not last long…
Update: on the second try, I baked at 450 degrees for the first half hour, removed the lid, and continued for another half hour at 350 degrees, for a lovely golden brown crunchy crust (not burnt)!
As a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, my advice to clients is often to forswear all wheat and dairy products for a significant period of time. Having seen the amazing results this produces, in those who find the will to comply, for several years I did not give it a second thought. However, observing the struggles of those who can or will not go wheat-free started me on a contemplation of just what is so wrong with wheat anyway.
Why is it that humans for thousands of years have eaten wheat, yet it appears to be only now that a host of modern ailments like Celiac disease, Crohn’s, IBS, and the like have appeared. It would seem common sense that if wheat has always been so detrimental, that the human race would be in far worse condition by now. So what if modern wheat is as adulterated as modern dairy? (More on modern dairy later.)
This led me on a search for “heritage wheats,” and the two that I found were einkorn and emmer wheat. These apparently were both farmed in the Middle East for hundreds of years. Information on these are sketchy, since they are uncommon in the food supply today. Stan Ness at einkorn.com was very helpful in suggesting a source for einkorn, which I purchased from primegrains.com.
My initial experiences of einkorn show it to be vastly different than modern grains. It sprouts exuberantly almost immediately, compared to a day or two for other berries. It smells heavenly and quite strongly when sprouting, and makes a sweet-smelling sprouted flour. No other grain that I have sprouted has shouted “real food” at me like einkorn.
So this makes me wonder about the forces shaping modern wheat. Modern industrial farming practices have created wheat (and many other staples) to be high-yield, pest-resistant, long-storage, consistent, and above all, profitable. How much research and selection is being given to nutritional qualities? Quality of food is far more important than quantity. Could generations of selection for pest, mold, and rot resistance create a wheat that is essentially indigestible, if not inflammatory to the human gut?
My subjective experiments with einkorn lead me to think that perhaps the hope for sufferers of gluten-sensitivity syndromes might be justified. We will not really know unless we can get einkorn into the food supply at an affordable price. I personally found einkorn bread to be a satisfying and efficient food, with no obvious side effects. However I do not suffer from any gluten issues. I would like to see La Montanita Food Coop stock einkorn wheat so that the choice is available for everyone in New Mexico, not just those of us nuts enough to buy bulk food from Canada. If you would like to see this too, please give La Montanita a call.
If you are wondering how I experimented with einkorn, here is a quick rundown. Using Sally Fallon’s buttermilk biscuit recipe from Nourishing Traditions, I first made the recipe with sprouted spelt flour. By this I mean I purchased spelt berries from La Montanita, sprouted them according to instructions from Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz, dried them thoroughly, then used my electric grain mill to grind them into flour. Once ground, the flour was stored in the refrigerator with as little air contact as possible, and not for more than a week. Flour doesn’t get fresher than this.
The same procedure was then used with einkorn when I received the 4.4 pounds that I sprung for. The buttermilk was homemade, cultured from raw cow’s milk since I can’t find goat’s milk right now. The key to this recipe, if you don’t have the book, is to allow the live buttermilk to ferment the grain for 12-24 hours before baking. Both grains produced satisfactory biscuits. The einkorn biscuits actually seemed nourishing, rather than just a vehicle for interesting toppings. It was a bit heavier and dense than the spelt. My designated test subject, that is, my husband, was politely interested in the spelt version, and most enthusiastic about the einkorn version.
You will notice, this is all very subjective and personal. As a sovereign soul in your own universe, I encourage you to undertake your own experiments and come to your own conclusions, if you are so inspired. Take nothing I say for granted or as medical advice.