by Erin Crooks Lynch
In my efforts to ever strengthen our Driftless terroir cuisine, culture, and traditions through food found in our region, I’m excited to add a new staple to the pantry. So far, I’ve written about ways to incorporate wild edibles into our diet including Szechuan peppercorn (prickly ash), sumac, morels and nettles, which can all be found in the back woods. This next group of comestibles is cultivated right on our region’s hillsides by farmers whose mission it is to preserve the precious soil of our unique topography while offering a hearty and healthy necessity to our “Driftless Ingredients” collection: whole grain flours.
Halee and John Wepking at Meadowlark Organics in Ridgeway are on a mission to preserve and improve our soils here in the Driftless. A by-product of their efforts includes a diverse selection of small grains milled in Lone Rock at Lonesome Stone Milling and available for our everyday baking needs in the form of flour. Offerings include an all-purpose wheat, bread flour, heritage Turkey Red and heritage Red Fife, cornmeal, rye and spelt flour.
I can only begin to describe the difference using these flours has made in my baking, but also in my eating (and anyone else’s whom I feed). As a self-taught baker who owns a catering business, I’ve had the task of transforming the expectations of my clients when it comes to baked goods made with whole-grain flours, a diversion from the norm. The color of my finished products with whole grains tends to be darker, browner, the crumb not as refined compared to that of a white flour pastry. I’m embracing these facts and doing my darnedest to teach others to embrace them as well because the flavor can’t be beat. Most customers are simply surprised or interested by their appearance, but once they try a pastry, a bite of layer cake or cookie, they’re hooked. “Why does it taste so goooood?” “What did you do differently?” they ask. I believe it’s the integrity of all the ingredients I use, but especially the flour.
Each new grain offers us a flavor profile that pairs with different ingredients, like rye with chocolate, cornmeal with fruit, wheat with nuts, and so on.
In less than 100 years, we’ve gone from eating, baking and using whole-grain flours from small grains grown locally (and milled locally), to manufactured and refined white flours, bleached or unbleached, stripped of their nutrients and character. The evolution of this product, what is known as “all-purpose white flour” or modern wheat, has been bred not for the benefit of flavor, nutrition or health, but for the benefit of machinery, efficiency, and profit, not to mention to the demise of our croplands.
I wish I had known this while growing up baking for family and friends. Baking was fun for me, but it came with a price in the form of a stomach ache and lots of guilt, which I now attribute to long-chain gluten, sugars and lack of nutrients that left me feeling downright sick. I had no idea that whole grains, like the ones grown at Meadowlark, have shorter gluten strands that are more easily digestible, not to mention a bounty of nutrients including fiber, B vitamins and minerals. Whole grains provide a complete package of nutrients, everything your body needs to digest and absorb it properly. Imagine that! The germ of a whole grain even contains healthy fats, vitamins E (think hydrated skin), and phytochemicals that have been linked to reductions in chronic disease. “Sure, I’ll have another cookie made with whole grains from Meadowlark, thanks!” I love baking even more these days because when I taste my finished product, I feel good. I call them my “wholesome desserts” and I enjoy them entirely without a lick of guilt. My pastries are satisfying because of the density of nutrients and the healthy fats in the flours that leave one feeling happy, energized and tummy-trouble free. A true reverse effect from my prior experience.
But how do we use these flours in everyday baking? That’s the trick and it’s really no trick at all. I’ve replaced “all-purpose flour” in almost every recipe with 100 percent spelt flour from Meadowlark. For recipes with chocolate (like brownies), 100 percent rye is the perfect companion and cornmeal in fruit scones is a winner (replace 25 percent of the flour with cornmeal). It’s that simple! Kim Boyce, a James Beard Award-winning cookbook author of “Good to the Grain,” says that baking with white flour is like painting with one color. I simply love that analogy. Each new grain offers us a flavor profile that pairs with different ingredients, like rye with chocolate, cornmeal with fruit, wheat with nuts, and so on. Even a plain sugar cookie made with a whole-grain flour of your choice offers new, complex, nutty, delicious flavors. I hadn’t even realized this possibility existed when I began baking. I can’t wait to continue my exploration of the different pairings with these new Driftless staples!
One of my all-time favorite tarts is a rye galette with dark berries and late summer fruits that is to die for. You can make the crust ahead of time and freeze it. You can use any combo of fruit to fill the galette any time of year. I recommend using one sweeter fruit (apple or pear) and one more tart (like rhubarb or cranberry) and any jam can be spread on the bottom (like raspberry or apricot). You’ll taste the difference of your crusts when using high-quality, whole-grain flours like these and don’t be afraid to experiment by mixing and playing with ratios. Just remember to store your whole grains in the freezer to preserve their nutrients. It’s telling that our commercial white flours and modern wheats can sit on the shelf for years and not go bad. To me that means that there was nothing good in them to begin with. And if you want to compare price, that’s like comparing apples to oranges. There is no comparison. The proof is in the pudding, or rather, in the pastry.
Erin Crooks Lynch and her husband, Jeremy, own and operate Enos Farms, a sustainably minded operation in the Wyoming Valley, and Enos Farms Catering, a farm-to-table affair offering menus based on the seasons. Enos Farms offers Brunch & Cocktails at the Riverview Terrace Café in the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center on Saturdays and Sundays 10 a.m.-2 p.m. through March. For more information, see enosfarms.com or e-mail email@example.com.