Two of the exceptions to my local food summer were grains and dried beans, there just weren’t any local options that I knew of, so I resigned myself to a local produce summer.
Then I read The Third Plate by Dan Barker. The Third Plate is a lovely, rambling tale about good food, Stone Barns Restaurant (a farm-to-table restaurant in New York City), and the story of wheat. If you have read and enjoyed Michael Pollan’s books, this will be right up your alley.
Barker makes the point that we need to go beyond fresh produce, grass-fed steaks, and line-caught fish to make for sustainable eating. That we (and chefs) need to eat and use all of the farm’s production rather than cherry pick the cream of the crop.
But he also goes in to a story about wheat in the United States: how it’s grown, how it’s processed, how it is bred (not for flavor!), and after reading the book, I thought I’d do another internet search for some local flour.
And lo and behold, after some digging, I found some. The farm was less than 45 minutes away from me in Pennsylvania. They had just gotten their stone mill in operation (thanks to regulatory hurdles), so this was their first year selling flour.
And guess what else they grow?? BLACK BEANS!!! The two staples of my diet on one farm. I was thrilled! Oh yeah, they were an organic farm too. And they had corn meal too. And spelt flour. And buckwheat flour. And pretty soon, when they get their machine working again, they’ll have rolled oats.
The farm is Weatherbury Farm. They started out as beef cattle farm, transitioned to grass-finished beef and lamb seven years ago, and five years ago started growing grains for the straw to bed their cattle. Now they are selling flour directly to the public.
So I bought 50 pounds of whole wheat bread flour, 50 pounds of whole wheat pastry flour, 5 pounds of cornmeal, and 10 pounds of black beans. I may have gotten a little carried away on the flour purchasing, but it was cheaper to buy in 50 pound bags.
They also sell white flour, which is a bit more nutritious than the stuff you buy at the store. Only the bran is removed by sifting, so the germ is still in the flour donating it’s nutrition and color (a little yellower than “white” flour). It’s also more expensive than the whole wheat, which makes a refreshing amount of sense. It always irritates me than processed foods are less expensive than their minimally processed counterparts.
But enough about the farm, what about the flour?
Well, I have baked 3 sets of bread from the whole wheat bread flour. All three times, I cut the flour with some white flour and white whole wheat flour that I had on hand. Generally my ratio is 2/3 whole wheat to 1/3 white and white whole wheat.
The bread was fantastic, wheaty-er than I’ve been used to since I’ve been using a lot of white whole wheat flour in my breads (which has a more mild flavor than traditional red wheat), but the wheatiness of it didn’t spoil the flavor it made it better. The crumb was soft and divine. Caleb and I were fighting over the last pieces of it.
I made 2 batches of plain bread and one batch of a yeast pumpkin bread (using my first pumpkin of the year). With the pastry flour, I’ve made pancakes several times, a pie crust, 2 batches of cookies, and I feel like I must have made some muffins, but I can’t remember.
The pastry flour has a texture that reminds me of cornmeal, though not nearly so coarse. It’s not as fine and soft as store bought whole wheat flour by any means however. I notice the slight texture in pancakes (which are delicious), but not in the cookies.
The cookies were ginger snaps and pumpkin oatmeal cookies, both of which have strong flavors which overwhelm any wheaty flour, so I knew they’d be okay to make with whole wheat flour. And they were.
The pie crust was for a pumpkin pie, and while it was fine with the pie, if you ate a piece of the crust without the pie, the flavor was much too strong and the texture was noticeable. It was also tough to roll out because it didn’t stick together.
The pastry flour reminded me of graham flour which is a coarsely ground whole wheat flour. It reminded me of graham flour, not so much because it was very coarse, it isn’t, but because it doesn’t soak up liquids the way regular store bought flour does. I found when I made pancakes I needed to let the batter sit a few minutes to absorb the liquid properly, and sometimes I added a little store-bought flour to help it along.
I have yet to make any corn bread, but the black beans have been delicious.
Next time they have a flour pick-up, I will definitely buy some of their white flour and give that a try. Though, probably not another 50 pound bag! Since it is stone ground, it’s more perishable than store flour which is pulverized on a roller mill til it’s practically dead or literally dead in the case of white flour.
All in all, I’m very pleased with the flour, and will definitely continue buying from them. My only regret is that they don’t grow the white whole wheat flour that I get from the store, which is my favorite bread baking flour.
The next farm pickup day is September 6th, and you need to have your order in (by email) by the 30th. I’ll wait until October when they have this years black bean harvest in and maybe they’ll have some oats by then too.
Well, if you’ve stuck with me this long, I’ll be surprised. Yesterday was too wet to take new toy pictures, so I’ll do that today, and share with you tomorrow.