A while back, I read in one of WSU’s alumni magazines a feature on a family farm in the Methow Valley where they are raising emmer (aka farro). Emmer is an ancient variety of wheat that is staging a comeback. I was intrigued. I like supporting family farms, especially local ones, and eastern WA is about as local as a grain grower gets for me.
I am also wary of all of the modern, hybridized food plants upon which we now depend. I cringe at some of the new “innovations” out there– like my neighbor uses that “Roundup Ready” corn variety, so they can use herbicide with abandon all season right on the food crop- yech! When I see someone reviving any kind of heritage breed of plant or animal, I give a silent cheer. The interesting thing about emmer is that it promises to be tolerable by many who are normally gluten intolerant-nice!
So, I was eager to give emmer a try. You can check out this family’s products here: Bluebird Grain Farms. I wasn’t sure what to expect, I figured maybe it would be some dowdy old grain with poor flavor or texture. But boy am I impressed! The whole grain berries are fabulous cooked according to the package instructions- boiled for an hour in broth, then lightly sauteed with some oil, garlic and herbs. They have a nice flavor and a hearty, chewy texture. Compared to bland modern wheat, emmer has a much more robust flavor.
The flour is also lovely– it has a very slight graininess to it that makes a wonderful texture in baked things. So far, I’ve made waffles and biscuits out of it, they were both very nice. Kirk noticed the difference in the waffles immediately, not knowing what I had changed, and commented how much more tasty they were than the last time I’d made them.
This weekend, we had friends over for a BBQ, and I used the emmer flour for pie crusts in Strawberry Rhubarb Pie. That didn’t go so well, I think the emmer’s gluten quality, or maybe low gluten, just didn’t give enough stretch to the dough to make it workable. There was no way I could do the quarter-fold method to get the crusts centered in the pans, it would just break anywhere it was folded (and possibly my use of butter + coconut oil instead of Crisco-type grease didn’t help either, but that has worked ok for me in the past with white flour). So I had to more or less just fling the dough into the pans, and settle for an unwoven lattice top. It did mush together well enough that I was able to cobble together reasonable fluting.
The pies also turned out dark- the emmer flour is light colored in the bag, but develops a deeper brown in cooking, so they don’t look very traditional. They were still tasty, but I think I’ll go back to white flour for pies in the future.