When it comes to growing rare, organic heritage grains, states like
New York, even Eastern
Pennsylvania, have the jump on western Pennsylvania. They’ve
been at it about a decade longer.
They have behind them the earliest struggles of distribution. They’ve had time
to develop a whole cadre of skilled specialists -- millers, bakers, and
maltsters -- who fuel a level of demand that makes things profitable for the
When the Post-Gazette introduced readers to our own region’s
pioneers three years ago we found a movement in its infancy, with infrastructure
so primitive it almost wasn’t there at all. Lots has happened since -- with more
farmers planting more fields of these special organic grains and selling all
they can produce. There are still frustrations -- but elation too as new
partnerships are struck that change the balance of the equation.
I love making whole-wheat
drop biscuits as underpinning for peach
Not a bit heavy, they are “short” and tender, earthy and sweet.
They owe their pizzazz to old-variety grains being sowed once again in
Western Pennsylvania fields. Flours made from flavorsome
like these have not been tasted here since 1940 when the community grain mills
The biscuits’ unbleached
wheat flour comes from wheat grown by Nigel Tudor at
Weatherbury Farm in Avella and milled there on the farm. Named for the village
Thomas Hardy’s Victorian novel, “Far
From the Madding Crowd,” the farm boasts the properties
original granary and thrives today as an incubator for pre-industrial heritage
grains. The land is in a topsoil-rich part of
Washington County, documented to have produced high-quality
grain since 1876.
The whole wheat was grown for Clarion River Organics, CRO partner Nate Holmes
farmers on small hilly fields and harvested with horses. They are processed with
machinery designed in the 1800s at a small Amish mill in
Mr. Tudor and Mr. Holmes are among our region’s fiercely focused grain
specialists reaching out to collar a market with something old that should taste
There are reasons why these grains “taste different from those on the
grocery store shelf,” holds longtime local grain advocate
Dan Barber, who heads Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico
His new book, “The Third Plate,” offers a vantage of sustainability that takes a
deep look at grain:
• Breeding: “But even with good rotation, flavor may not be there. We’ve lost
the taste of wheat because we have stopped breeding for flavor,” Mr. Barber
says. To find that pre-industrial flavor, today’s grain pioneers are selecting
varieties called “landrace,”
grown on family farms where they were treasured for flavor and hardiness, with
seeds that have been passed on over generations or centuries. “Landrace crops
adapted and changed depending on the environment and the preferences of the
culture. It was a rich reservoir of diversity that came to a very sudden end.”
Seed for landrace grain fell into short supply. Seeds for any grain but the
Midwest model, bred for yield and uniformity, nearly disappeared during the
bought up many smaller organic seed companies.
Enter grain evangelist
Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills in
South Carolina, who got chefs on board with the flavors and
aroma of old varieties he had found languishing in fields. “Once chefs try this
stuff, once they cook it and taste it, it’s sold. A chef like
Thomas Keller has a vetting process that relies on his
tongue. It’s the final word.” Chefs became the Charleston seed-saver’s
“beacons.” He then bankrolled farmers to grow crops.
• Freshness: Besides pedigree, freshness of grind sets local grains apart, Chef
Barber says. “Most places have been without milling since the 1920s.”
Grocery store flours may have been ground indeterminate weeks and months before
they are purchased. “Pre-ground conventional whole-wheat flours taste different.
This has to do with fresh milling. The natural oils in the
wheat germ are what imbue it with flavor but they have a
short shelf life. Seriously short. That’s true of nutrients as well.” Which is
why most industrial flour removes the bran and germ, putting them back in later.
“To really capture the flavor you need to mill fresh — like coffee.”
Mr. Roberts no longer places Anson products in stores because they don’t
refrigerate the stock. Instead he mills to order and overnights the shipment.
Legume is among local restaurants that turn to a kitchen mill to capture flavor.
Mr. Barber thinks home cooks should, too.
The next best option: buying as freshly milled as you can.
Weatherbury sets the freshness bar high. Mr. Tudor’s flours are ground on
demand, with a monthly pre-order and pickup. There is little overage, because he
doesn’t want to sell anything but the freshest product he can.
He calls his certified-organic flour “estate flour.” “We do everything here on
our farm from planting the seed to bagging the flour. Every step of the process
is under our control.”
Another consideration: “Most people don’t realize that nearly all conventional
(non-organic) wheat is treated directly on the grain with pesticide as it is put
into storage, sometimes multiple times before it is milled.” In spite of this,
he says, “Almost all artisan bread I’m familiar with is baked with flour milled
from conventional wheat.” He’s working to court artisan bakers here. Some have
his flour in trials.
Mr. Tudor, at it now for six years, successfully grows an array of landrace and
other traditional grains. They include:
• ‘Fredrick’ soft white
winter wheat, for
• ‘Maxine’ hard red winter wheat, for bread flour
• ‘Oberkulmer’ spelt from
• ‘Wapsie Valley’ open-pollinated corn (meaning not hybridized and thus breeding
true to itself).
• ‘Aroostook’ rye from
Mr. Tudor expects this year to harvest a small amount of rare
einkorn, a grain dating to the
Fertile Crescent. He’s coaxed it along from a handful of
withered seeds he found in
hard wheat prized by bakers, is still a work in progress.
Predictably, the time machine taking our grain pioneers 75 years back to a
sustainable but labor-intensive era has had its breakdowns and frustrations.
Especially for those wooing larger customers.
Goshen Valley Grain and Produce in
Bentleyville, Washington County, knows the price of the
learning curve. He had jumped through hoops to sell corn, rye and spelt to the
picky, picky Mediterra Bakehouse. “The cornmeal was a long road -- too coarse,
too fine. Finally found the right mix after a few new sieves from
Austria, only to run out of corn!”
This year, "Due to continuous rain, the rye harvest was awful." He can't supply
Mediterra's large volume needs. But shoppers soon will find his rye flour at
Whole Foods Market, where, to get his toe in the door, he
invested in costly "tamper-proof" bagging. He's waiting to see about the corn
harvest. "Much of it was washed out, but what is there looks good."
He says, “My farm is not organic, but ‘nutrient dense,’ a tradition my
grandfather followed. It means no GMO, no herbicides or
pesticides, natural composting, and considerable added
mineral elements to balance the soil.” His produce has won national awards for
its high brix (sugar)
content, which confers great flavor to tomatoes and such, presumably to the
grain kernels, as well.
A relative newcomer to the heritage-grain scene is Allen Matthews, a
sixth-generation farmer, from of Matthews Family Farm in Eighty Four. The family
enterprise has now transitioned to organic.
Mr. Matthews spends most of his time these days at
Chatham University, where he designed and teaches the
graduate food studies program’s sustainable ag courses, and established the
program’s farm and garden component at the University’s Eden Hall campus. He has
open-pollinated corn sowed for
corn meal at Eden Hall and the family farm.
He spent the decade prior at Vermont’s Center for
Sustainable Agriculture. There he saw the limping
infrastructure development for local grain — along with progress that might
inspire our own pioneers, who are sometimes frustrated that things seem so much
farther along in places.
“Vermont has really remarkable bakers (now) who know how to use the
(traditional) grains. Everybody uses local grain. People with stone-ground mills
are just popping up.”
Chef Barber had this to say about the trajectory for a region like
Pittsburgh, struggling to get local grains underway:
“I have sympathy for a lot of frustrated professional bakers. Their margins are
razor-thin. The idea of playing with a recipe — fumbling your way to the correct
hydration -- is preposterous. What we’re used to
with is a mix of dozens of flours from different growers. It is not remotely
like choosing a single wheat from a single farm. Places like The Bread Lab
[http://www.thegraingathering.com/the-bread-lab-2/] help you with all this.
“People want to support local grain, but the hang up is consistency -- and the
millers are so powerful in that process.
“With demand, the millers will come along. They’ll mix the flours for you. The
infrastructure will appear. Look at microbrewers. With the explosion of
microbreweries, maltsters are back. We haven’t had them in 100 years.” For
non-booze-makers, maltsters make malt, which is wheat, barley or rye that’s been
germinated and then dried. That process develops
that change the grain’s starches into the sugar essential to making
Pittsburgh is rich in distillers and brewers with a growing appetite for grain.
Wigle Whiskey’s Meredith Grelli: “Local organic grain is one
of our largest concerns as the distillery has grown.
“We source for 300 miles around. Last year we used all the organic rye that the
region grew, and then we switched, as Pennsylvania distillers historically have
done, to wheat and corn.”
Wigle bought all of Nigel Tudor’s rye, and his corn, too, to use in its bourbon.
They also will purchase Mr. Matthews’ rye sowed at his family farm.
Mr. Tudor, through a Chatham student project, connected with the Church Brew
Works about wheat for beer. Grad student Elisa Loeser, with the help of the
brewery’s Matt Moniger, did a thesis on making local beer, using Weatherbury’s
wheat. Ms. Loeser’s beer, “Eden,” will be brewed as part of Chatham’s
“Long term, we plan a local malt house,” Ms. Grelli says, “so that we can malt
our own local grains. We’ll be able to eliminate that last non-local element,
malted barley from
For the organic barley growers out there: Blue Hill’s grain farmer “has seen a
five-fold increase in his business growth,” Mr. Barber says. “Barley sold to
maltsters yields 30 percent more than for animal feed.”
On one hand, local grains are simply more plentiful and easier to find as
growers improve output and distribution. On the other hand, the road to everyday
consumption will be anything but simple.
For the infrastructure to come, stay tuned, Dan Barber suggests. It’s going to
be “fascinating.” Meanwhile, get after those local-grain biscuits for summery
About 50 years ago, the grain culture changed in America: Small acreages of
organic grain faded away, along with the local flour mills that served them.
Everything flowed to the Midwest, where conglomerates bred grain for yield and
super-consistency. This commodity product — blending as many as a dozen harvests
and millings for consistency -- could be shipped anywhere to bake the same bread
in anybody's kitchen or
Most of the grains this region’s specialists are trying to make thrive are
dubbed “heritage,” “heirloom” or “traditional.” They are correctly called
“landrace.” Landrace means pre-industrial varieties that owners of small farms
cultivated for flavor. The grains adapted to their locales, becoming so tasty
and hardy that their seeds were passed down over generations and centuries.
They are often named after the people who grew them. For example, Red Fife hard
red wheat is named after Canadian John
Fife. Red Fife is still in trials at Weatherbury and Goshen
Valley. Abenaki, planted by Allen Matthews, is a heritage
flint corn named after a
New England Algonquian tribe. The oldest varieties are
called “ancients.” Weatherbury grows two: a kind of faro, called
emmer, that fed the Roman soldiers, and the rare einkorn,
which may have fed Biblical ones.
Clarion River Organics: Pittsburgh Public Market, the Penn’s Corner On-Line Farm
Stand (pennscorner.com) and CRO farm stands (clarionriverorganics.com).
Spelt, corn (for polenta). Honey-puffed corn and
honey-puffed spelt, “amazing” spelt graham crackers. Products are milled -- and
puffed -- by Monroe Stutzman in Mt. Hope, Ohio. CRO partner Nate Holmes says,
“Clarion will revisit
oats, emmer and red winter wheat as interest from chefs
Goshen Valley Grain and Produce: For now, go to the Bentleyville farm. If you
buy Mediterra Bakehouse bread, you are already tasting grower/miller Randy Metz
Jr.’s rye, corn and spelt in and on top of the loaves. Mr. Metz hopes to have
products soon in Whole Foods Market. Meantime, you can arrange purchases by
contacting him at goshenvalleygrains.com.
Weatherbury Farm: Products are available at the Penns Corner On-Line Farm Stand
and at Clarion River’s store in the Pittsburgh Public Market. You may also
request Nigel Tudor’s current product list at email@example.com to order
by email. There are monthly pre-order dates for products to be ground for pickup
at the farm. Available: whole-wheat and unbleached bread and pastry flour,
unbleached and whole grain spelt flour, buckwheat flour, cornmeal, polenta. His
rye will be ready for milling in mid-September. Coming:
rolled oats, faro, emmer berries and spelt
pasta. On the farm you’ll see the poetic side, “waving
fields of grain,” along with the hubbub of kernels being captured, milled and
Refrigerate freshly milled grain products. Keep them several months in the
refrigerator, a couple of years in the freezer. Or get a countertop mill and
grind your own when you need it.
If you need all-purpose flour: Weatherbury doesn’t offer all-purpose, which is a
blend of hard and soft flours that demands expensive equipment to handle large
scale. Not to worry, says Mr. Tudor: “Stir together my pastry flour (soft wheat)
and bread flour (hard wheat) when you need all-purpose. Proportions: 1/3 pastry
flour and 2/3 bread flour.”
Kim Boyce’s “Good to the Grain, Baking with Whole Grain Flours” is the Bible for
delicious and well-tested uses of unfamiliar whole-grain flours. You will find
enticing recipes and terrific advice for a dozen different grains.
•Eleven Executive Chef Derek Stevens: “We use Clarion River cornmeal for
Eleven’s cornbread and polenta. We also buy Anson Mills. Clarion’s honey-puffed
corn is pretty outrageous, though I actually prefer the honey-puffed spelt. I
kill the stuff at home.”
•Legume Chef/Owner Trevett Hooper: “The
whole grain we’ve explored most is Clarion River’s spelt.
One of the best things I've ever made was spelt noodles (just eggs, spelt
salt), using flour from our
grain mill. We’ve done cracked whole spelt, for a
porridge, which is chilled, then crisped up on the plancha.
We make Japanese Takuan (daikon)
pickles, using spelt bran instead of the traditional
rice bran. We've cultured spelt and used it in
miso. We use spelt in our in-house baked
bread. Does anyone know where I can find a local source of
•Neil Blazin, owner of The Pedaling Baker and Blazin Breads, who began using
Weatherbury flours this month: I will be using these flours for the Pedaling
Baker henceforth. I want to support a local farmer’s efforts to bring wholesome
flour to our region.” He is front of the house at Legume and formerly baked the
restaurant’s breads . Order his naturally
through Penn’s Corner On-Line Farm Stand (pennscorner.com) or special order at
•The Porch Executive Chef Kevin Hermann: “I just bought Weatherbury’s
whole-wheat bread flour for an olive bread focaccia I’m
about ready to put on the menu. These stone-ground flours are amazing. I wanted
something local with real soul to it.”
• Long-time baker Bob Hoover: For the former Post-Gazette book editor, a
personal grail is
rye bread. “Fresh
flour is impossible to buy locally, usually only by mail order from
King Arthur. Making a great rye bread is tough enough and
old flour makes it harder, so I appreciate the Tudor rye.”
•Penn’s Corner’s Neil Stauffer: “Our staff thinks the Weatherbury polenta is the
absolute best. But there’s only so much of that to go around.”
Cornmeal Rye Pancakes
Here’s a recipe “from the wonderful Marion Cunningham,” shared by baker and
local grain supporter Bob Hoover. If you imagine rye flour to be sour like the
bread, it isn’t. It’s sweet and malty. Perfect with maple syrup.
cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup rye flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups buttermilk
a large bowl, combine dry ingredients well, stir in buttermilk and butter until
blended. Let batter rest about 10 minutes while you heat a griddle or large
skillet to medium hot. Coat cooking surface with butter or vegetable oil. Using
2 tablespoons batter for each pancake, drop on to surface and cook until bubbles
break through the top of each pancake. Flip over and cook until pancakes are
about a dozen 4-inch pancakes.
-- "The Breakfast Book" by Marion Cunningham (Knopf, 1987)
Drop Biscuits with Peaches and Cream
If you might think whole-wheat biscuits might be heavy, try these. They come
together in 5 minutes, and are ready for peaches and all kinds of berries. They
are pretty good the next day too.
Butter for the baking sheet
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour (1/4 cup pastry flour and ½ cup bread flour, if you
are blending Weatherbury’s)
1/4 cup plus 1½ teaspoons sugar, divided
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup cold heavy cream
1½ half pounds peaches peeled and sliced, about 6 small peaches, or a pound of
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup cold heavy cream
1/3 cup creme fraiche, optional
a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees. Rub a baking sheet
lightly with butter.
a large bowl, sift together the flours, sugar, baking powder and salt, pouring
back into the bowl any bits of grain or other ingredients that may remain in the
in the cream and, using a fork or your hands, stir until the dough just begins
to come together. The dough will be very shaggy; do not overmix.
the dough into 6 mounds, leaving 4 inches between them. Use your hands to tuck
in the rough pieces of the dough. Sprinkle the biscuits with 11/2 teaspoons of
the biscuits for 34 to 40 minutes, rotating the sheet once halfway through,
until they begin to color on the top.
the biscuits are baking, place the berries in a bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon
of sugar. Allow them to macerate, uncovered at room temperature, for about 30
minutes, or until the biscuits are done. Meanwhile, whip the remaining cup of
cream (combined with creme fraiche, if desired) into soft peaks that barely hold
their shape, and chill.
the biscuits are out of the oven, fill 6 bowls with cream and berries, then
nestle a warm biscuit alongside.
-- “Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole Flours” by Kim Boyce (Stewart, Tabori
and Chang, 2010)
Weatherbury Farm’s Buttermilk Cornbread
People at the farm to pick up flour orders raved about this cornbread offered
1/2 cup butter
2/3 cup white sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup Weatherbury Farm cornmeal
1 cup Weatherbury Farm pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
oven to 375 degrees. Grease 8-inch square pan.
butter in large skillet. Remove from heat and stir in sugar. Quickly add eggs
and beat until well blended. Combine buttermilk with baking soda and stir into
mixture in pan. Stir in cornmeal, flour and salt until well blended and few
lumps remain. Pour batter into the prepared pan.
in preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the
center comes out clean.
-- Nigel Tudor, Weatherbury Farm "