What is emmer wheat?

How to Grow and Harvest Grains in Your Backyard

Backyard poultry and goats provide eggs and dairy (and perhaps meat) for some, but what about the staple foods? Wheat, oats, millet, and other grains are actually much easier to grow than most fruits and vegetables, yet we tend to leave those foods to large farms and buy our flour and cornmeal at the grocery store. There is a bit of specialized knowledge needed to grow grains, but there are a couple myths that have turned people off from the idea.

The first is is that you need acres and acres to produce even a few pounds of flour. The truth is that 1,000 square feet – the size of an average backyard – is enough space to grow a bushel of wheat. A bushel of wheat equals 60 pounds of grain, which is enough to bake 90 loaves of bread. Even devoting a row in your vegetable garden to a grain will yield enough to make it worthwhile.

The second myth is that you need special equipment to harvest grains and turn them into something you want to eat. Not so. Traditionally grains are harvested with a scythe, but you can also cut the stalks down with pair of pruning shears or a hedge trimmer. Threshing – removing the grain from the seedheads – is as simple as beating the stalks with a stick. Winnowing – removing the chaff (the papery covering around the grain) – is easily accomplished with a small household fan. A good quality blender passes as a mill for turning grains into flour.

Start a Grain Patch

Grains are divided between those that like to grow in warm weather and those that prefer cool temperatures. The majority fall in the latter group, which includes oats, rye, spelt, and most types of wheat. These are typically planted in early fall and are harvested in late spring the following year. (They overwinter under the snow in cold climates.) Buckwheat, millet, and certain wheat varieties need hot weather to mature and are planted in spring. Some feed stores sell grain seed suitable for kitchen use, but it’s often easier to find it online. We recommend Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Sustainable Seed Company, and Peaceful Valley Farm Supply.

All grains need a sunny location. Till up the area to be planted to a depth of at least 6 inches. Most grains have low fertility requirements, but if the soil is extremely poor, spread a couple inches of compost over the surface and till it in before planting. In order to distribute the grain seed evenly over the surface of the soil, it’s best to use a seed spreader to sow the seed, rather than try to distribute it by hand. Follow the instructions on the package for the appropriate seeding rate – this will usually be given in pounds per 1,000 square feet.

After spreading the seed, lightly rake the area with a hard metal rake to mix it into the surface layer of soil. Spread a thin layer of straw over the soil to deter birds from feasting on the seed and to conserve soil moisture. Soak the area with a sprinkler to encourage germination and continue to keep the area moist (but not soggy) until the seedlings have emerged. When planting in the fall, cool weather may preclude the need for additional irrigation. Spring plantings will need about an inch of water per week. If in doubt, water whenever the top inch of soil is dry.

Harvesting and Processing

Some warm-season grains mature in as little as 30 days after germination, while grains that are overwintered may need up to nine months before they are ready to harvest. Here are the basic steps to bring your crop from the field to the pantry.

  1. Harvest the grains when the stalks are just beginning to go from green to brown, using a scythe or other tool. Cut them just above the ground.
  2. Tie the stalks into bunches with twine and let them dry for about two weeks in a location that is protected from rain. They may be left to dry on the floor or hung from the ceiling of a barn or porch. You’ll know the grain is sufficiently dry if it’s hard and crunchy when you bite into it.
  3. Spread a tarp or sheet over the floor,and beat the stalks with a wooden dowel to release the grain from the seedheads. (This is called threshing.)
  4. Collect the grain in a large bowl or bucket. Set up a fan at a medium speed (strong enough to blow away the chaff, but not so strong to blow away the grain. This isn’t terribly difficult since the chaff – the papery covering around the grain – is much lighter than the grain.) Drop handfuls of the grain into a second container, allowing the breeze to blow off the chaff as they fall. (This is called winnowing.)
  5. Store the cleaned grain in glass jars in a cool dark place.
  6. Mill the grain as needed with heavy duty blender (like a Vitamix) or a countertop grain mill.

One extra step is required before some grains can be milled, which is to remove the hull. Rice, buckwheat, and oats are examples of grains with a hard outer hull. One method, which is a bit tedious for large quantities, is to run the grain lightly through a blender to crack the hulls and separate them from the grain. You can then sift the hulls out with your fingers or find the right size metal mesh that allows the grain to fall through, but removes the hulls. Fortunately, most grain mills are capable of removing the hulls and some even come with a special attachment for the purpose.

for home cooks

Farro is Italian. Specifically, farro is the Italian word for ancient grains brought by denizens of the Fertile Crescent to the region that is now Italy. The cradle of civilization and birthplace of wheat, the Fertile Crescent is an arc of territory beginning in northeastern Africa and ascending up through lands bordering the eastern Mediterranean rim, then swinging up and over to the east, and then down to the Persian Gulf. Think war: the region has been at war in some form for millennia, a curious backdrop for an occupation as peaceful as farming innovation and world-class seedsmanship.

Like many transcultural foodstuffs, farro abounds with confusing names and a trove of great stories, some of which contradict, some of which move farro foodways forward. Farro dates to the inception of domesticated plants and the advent of dedicated farming. We can be proud of farro because Roman legions charged relentlessly across conquered lands at inhuman speed sustained by its nourishment. And we excuse the recent scrambling of farro classification because, really, it’s amazing food no matter what it’s called.

Simple whole-berry farro has three identities in Italy alone, and each dates back to antiquity: farro piccolo (little farro), farro medio (medium farro), and farro grande (big farro). So what’s the problem with this?

In the 20th century, the Germans, master grain growers and millers since antiquity, chose to call farro piccolo einkorn—a succinctly German downbeat of a name that refers to an individual awn’s tendency to break into single spikes: ein korn or “one kernel.” More poetically, the French call farro piccolo le petit épeautre. In Hebrew, the name for farro medio is emmer, or “mother.” (We like this one, because Native Americans call corn “mother.”) When it comes to farro grande, the Germans call it dinkel, though we note no special reason in that. In English, farro grande is spelt. Farro medio is emmer just as it is in Hebrew. Farro piccolo is probably einkorn, but einkorn can come from anywhere, and farro piccolo comes only from Italy. There, that was easy.

Latin for each farro classification (pay attention—there will be a test later) is more precise: farro piccolo is Triticum monococcum, farro medio is Triticum dicoccum, and farro grande is Triticum spelta. Farro should be classified small, medium, or large, and it should be that simple. But those sneaky Italians have farro piccolos that are larger than farro medios, and farro medios and farro grandes that are smaller than farro piccolos. So, as often happens when you stray from Latin names, everything gets all mixed up.

Forget the test. The Italians and the French of Provence romance farro dishes, and one comes to fall in love with their unending and luxurious culinary takes on this grain. Germans quote health proverbs and boast that their farro cookery is better than that of the French. Here in America, we watched farro become a trend almost two decades ago. It’s hard to believe chefs use to fight over supply. Farro was allocated in Italy and in America like rare wine. But American chefs have brought thrills to farro’s flavor and texture envelope in the last few years, and now there are candied farro puffs floating around out there in pastry chef land. Curious, but sublime when paired with airy popcorn mousse.

More than a decade ago, Anson Mills began growing dozens of different cultivars of farro piccolo, farro medio, and farro grande. We knew they were farro, not einkorn or emmer, because they came from Italy and spoke Italian, not German or Hebrew. We did this because the first Charlestowne rice farmers were Italian, and it was these Italian rice farmers who brought farro—tough, persistent, and barely removed from its wild counterpart—to Charlestowne for winter cover cropping in the new rice fields. They winter-grazed and occasionally early spring–grazed their cattle over the farro before harvesting the grain and moving on to the next crop in late spring.

What really hooked us on farros piccolo, medio, and grande was the stunning spectrum of their whole-berry Italian heritage cookery. We were particularly interested in slow-roasted farro, and rice and farro cooked together in the same pot as pilaf, and farro cooked to its risotto clone (and known as farrotto). Beyond these forms, the plain berries overtake your senses when simmered in a little water and finished with shaved sea salt and a splash of young estate olive oil. If you cook farro this way, you will be devoted for life. What draws you in is the primordial “grain” aroma and flavor, the al dente cushionlike resistance of each berry, and the miniscule but distinct pop of each grain, as well as the burst of caramel across the palate, followed by deep mineral and field grain richness. This is how the oldest domesticated grain food on our planet drills into your consciousness.

We learned from farro that you can teach an old grain new tricks. Farro can be ground and simmered like corn to make polenta di farro, it can take the place of rice in rice pilaf, or it can replace Arborio rice and cooked into farrotto. The oldest grains adapt to diverse foundation recipes with blinding versatility, as if they have always been a part of the preparation. Farro culinary culture also taught all of us at Anson Mills the global nature of cereal foodways. We hope you have this epiphany as well.

Farro: An Ancient And Complicated Grain Worth Figuring Out

Farro is a type of grain with a nutty flavor and ancient roots. Laura B. Weiss for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Laura B. Weiss for NPR

Farro is a type of grain with a nutty flavor and ancient roots.

Laura B. Weiss for NPR

Get recipes for Tuscan Soup, Kale Market Salad, Zucchini with Farro, Goat Cheese and Walnut Stuffing and Creamy Farro With Honey-Roasted Grapes.

I was ready to forget about farro. This was a couple of years ago when I first attempted to cook the savory grain that also boasts an ancient pedigree. I had sampled farro in restaurants where I had enjoyed it transformed into risottos and incorporated into salads. I had come to adore its nutty earthiness and satisfying chew.

But after spending well over an hour simmering a batch of this form of wheat, I wound up tossing the whole mess in the garbage. As it turned out, the type of farro I was using was the whole grain variety. It’s highest in fiber and nutrients like Vitamin B3 and zinc, but whole farro also requires overnight soaking — a step I had neglected to take. That meant that no matter how much time I put in front of the stove, I was likely to wind up with tooth-breaking tough kernels.

What’s a farro fan to do?

Eventually I learned about the semipearled variety — or semiperlato in Italy, where farro has been cultivated for centuries — in which some of the bran has been removed, allowing for speedier cooking. That’s when my love affair with farro took flight.

In fact, with its cashew notes and undertones of cinnamon, and with its satisfying chew, farro has become my go-to grain for dishes ranging from salads to breakfast cereals.

Cook up some farro, layer it with roasted fruits, and enrich it with heavy cream or yogurt, and you have a swoon-worthy brunch dish. Or throw a handful into a pot of vegetable soup where it imparts an al dente bite to the tender soup ingredients.

About The Author

Laura B. Weiss’s work has appeared in numerous national publications, including The New York Times, Saveur, Travel + Leisure, and on the Food Network website. She’s a contributor to Interior Design’s blog and was an editor for the Zagat Long Island Restaurant Guide 2009-2011. Laura is the author of Ice Cream: A Global History. Follow Laura on Twitter, @foodandthings.

Farro originated in the Fertile Crescent, where it has been found in the tombs of Egyptian kings and is said to have fed the Roman Legions. Italians have dined on farro for centuries. Now, with the revival of interest in whole grains, farro’s popularity is gaining in the U.S. as well.

Americans’ mounting interest in farro “got ignited by our passion for Italian food,” says Maria Speck, author of Ancient Grains for Modern Meals: Mediterranean Whole Grain Recipes for Barley, Farro, Kamut, Polenta, Wheat Berries & More, in a phone interview. Chefs were the first to incorporate the grain into dishes. Now, home cooks are discovering farro too, she says.

Though we refer to farro as if it were one grain, it’s actually three. There’s farro piccolo (einkorn), farro medio (emmer), and farro grande (spelt). Emmer is what you’ll find sold most often in the U.S. It’s a harder grain than einkorn and is often confused with spelt, which is another type of grain altogether. Then there are farro’s Latin labels: einkorn, which is Triticum monococcum; emmer, which is Triticum dicoccum; and spelt, which is Triticum spelta.

Is your head spinning yet?

There’s also the question of whether you should choose whole farro, which retains all the grain’s nutrients; semipearled, in which the part of the bran has been removed but still contains some fiber; or pearled, which takes the least time to cook but has no bran at all.

To top it all off, farro can be a bit maddening to shop for. At my local food stores, the label often simply reads “farro,” so it’s sometimes tough to know whether you’re getting the whole grain or one of the pearled varieties. (In one head-scratching moment, I was confronted at an Italian specialty store with signage that displayed the label “farro,” but packaging that said “pearl spelt.”)

“There is indeed a lot of confusion about farro,” says Cynthia Harriman, director of food and nutrition strategies at The Whole Grains Council. In fact, it can be enough to make you reach for your bag of quinoa.

Yet when all is said and done, farro is actually a forgiving grain to cook with. Simply follow the directions on the package. Otherwise, if the farro is clearly labeled, then for pearled and semipearled, bring the grains to a boil and simmer them covered for about 15 to 25 minutes, or for 30 to 40 minutes for the whole grain variety. In fact, I now favor whole farro for its intense flavor. Yes, you need to soak it overnight. But is it really so hard to pour a couple of cups of water over some grain before you go to bed?

Like all grains, farro is done, well, when it’s done. For me, that means when it’s al dente. But any way you prepare it, farro is a grain to savor. I’ll trade my bag of quinoa for one of farro any day of the week.

Tuscan Soup

The original recipe for this soup, from Vegan Planet: 400 Irresistible Recipes With Fantastic Flavors From Home and Around the World by Robin Robertson, called for using spelt and for cooking the soup for 1 1/2 hours. I used semipearled farro instead of spelt and added some oregano and a bay leaf, and found that not only was this soup delicious, it was done in no time. Indeed, one of the benefits of this recipe is that the farro cooks in the soup broth, and by the time the soup is done, so is the farro.

Laura B. Weiss for NPR Laura B. Weiss for NPR

Makes 4 servings

3/4 cup farro

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling, if desired

1 small yellow onion, chopped

1 medium-size carrot, chopped

1 celery rib, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

5 cups vegetable stock

1 1/2 cups or one 15-ounce can cannellini or other white beans, drained and rinsed

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, salt and pepper. Sautee over medium heat until the vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Add the bay leaf and oregano. Add the stock and bring to a boil.

Add the farro and bring back to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer the soup for 20 to 30 minutes or until the farro is almost tender (you don’t want the grains completely cooked since the soup will cook for additional time and the vegetables are cooked). Add more water if the soup becomes too thick.

Add the beans and season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.

Serve hot, drizzled with a little olive oil, if desired.

Kale Market Salad

Laura B. Weiss for NPR Laura B. Weiss for NPR

When I served this salad to my family, adapted from the food blog 101 Cookbooks, they scraped their plates and demanded that I make the dish again the very next day. I’ve added a bit of mustard and honey to the original recipe and found that these tweaks imparted a nice tang to the dish. Though this salad tastes great any time of year, I always try to make it when I can get really fresh vegetables from the local farm market.

Makes 6 servings

Green Garlic Dressing

2 large scallions rinsed and chopped

1/4 teaspoon salt

A few grinds of black pepper

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

4 to 5 slices avocado

1/2 teaspoon honey

1/4 teaspoon mustard

Salad

1/2 bunch kale, de-stemmed and torn into pieces

1/2 cup cooked farro

3 carrots

1 small bulb fennel

1/4 cup pine nuts toasted

Make the dressing by using a blender or food processor to puree all the ingredients until smooth.

Combine the kale, farro, carrots and fennel, and toss.

Before you’re ready to serve the salad, combine the kale with about 1/2 the dressing in a large bowl. Use your hands to work in the dressing. The lemon juice in the dressing will help to soften the kale. Add the rest of the dressing and toss the salad again. Add the pine nuts and toss gently.

Laura B. Weiss for NPR

Zucchini With Farro, Goat Cheese And Walnut Stuffing

I’m not a big fan of zucchini, but this adaptation of a farro-stuffed version from Piatto Unico: When One Course Makes a Real Italian Meal — by my friend, colleague and Italian food expert Toni Lydecker — made me a convert. The farro and cheese combination enrich the mild-flavored zucchini, and Lydecker’s tomato sauce adds some piquant notes. One of my objections to zucchini is that it can be mushy, but the crunch from the nuts — and from the farro if you cook it al dente — adds some texture to the dish.

Makes 4 servings

3/4 cup farro

1/4 cup walnuts, toasted and broken into pieces

2 large zucchini, split in half lengthwise with the pulp scooped out

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 to 3 shallots or 1 small onion

2 gloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon fresh thyme of 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

2 to 3 ounces goat cheese

Freshly ground black pepper

A pinch cayenne

2 cups prepared or homemade tomato sauce

Prepare the farro according to package directions. Toast the walnuts and set aside. Cut off and discard both ends of the zucchini and halve them lengthwise.

Fill a large rimmed baking sheet with water and set it on a burner on top of your stove. Bring the water to a boil. Place the zucchini on a rack skin-side down and cook over the simmering water for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the zucchini are fork tender. Set aside and allow them to cool for a few minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Using a spoon, scoop out the zucchini pulp, leaving shells about a half inch thick. Sprinkle the shells lightly with the 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Roughly chop the pulp.

Melt the butter and olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Saute the shallots and garlic until they’re golden. Add the zucchini pulp and stir, then add the farro, walnuts, thyme and goat cheese. Add freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Cook 2-3 minutes over medium heat.

Baked the stuffed zucchini about 15 minutes until they are heated through and lightly browned on top. Drizzle some tomato sauce over the zucchini.

Simple Tomato Sauce

1 can (28- or 35-ounce) Italian plum tomatoes with puree or juice

1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Leaves from 2 sprigs fresh basil or parsley

Sea salt or kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Place the contents of the tomato can in a medium saucepan. Break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon.

Add the olive oil and basil leaves. Bring the sauce to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes. The sauce should thicken. Season with salt and pepper.

Allow the sauce to cool slightly, then transfer to a blender. Use the pulse button to process the sauce briefly. You want it pureed, but still a bit chunky.

Laura B. Weiss for NPR Laura B. Weiss for NPR

Creamy Farro With Honey-Roasted Grapes

I’m usually in too much of a rush to cook something hot for breakfast. But this hearty, comforting farro cereal adapted from Maria Speck’s Ancient Grains for Modern Meals: Mediterranean Whole Grain Recipes for Barley, Farro, Kamut, Polenta, Wheat Berries & More is now my favorite morning dish when I have more time to spend in the kitchen. The original recipe called for using grapes alone, but I had some plums and apples sitting on my kitchen counter, so I decided to add them to the grapes. The result was a riot of color, and when I grilled the fruits, an irresistible aroma filled my kitchen. This dish will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days. It tastes great cold, but also reheats well.

Note: I had trouble finding anise seeds in my local supermarket so I used anise powder instead, which seemed to work fine. Anise seeds are available online and at some health food stores.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

2 cups water

1 cup farro

1 teaspoon anise seeds or 1/2 teaspoon anise powder

1 (1-inch) piece cinnamon stick

Pinch of salt

1 cup seedless red or purple grapes 
(about 1 1/4 pounds)

1 cup or about 6 small plums sliced in halves

1 apple, cored and sliced

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons honey plus extra for serving

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, or half-and-half yogurt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Ground cinnamon, for sprinkling on top

To make the farro, bring the water, farro, anise seeds or powder, cinnamon stick and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Decrease the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until the farro is tender but still slightly chewy, about 20 to 25 minutes, or cook according to the package directions. Remove the cinnamon stick. (If there is liquid remaining in the farro, place the farro in a strainer to drain off the extra liquid and return the farro to the saucepan.)

Preheat the broiler and position the rack about 6 inches from the heat source. Coat a large baking sheet with a thin slick of olive oil. Spread the grapes, plums and apple on the baking sheet. Drizzle the fruit with the olive oil and 2 tablespoons of honey, and toss to combine.

Broil the fruits until they just start to shrivel and release some of their juices as they burst, about 5 to 7 minutes. (The grapes and plums may roast more quickly than the apple.) Immediately transfer the fruits with their juices to a heatproof bowl.

Add the cream and vanilla extract to the farro, and bring the farro to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Cook the mixture until the cream thickens slightly, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon of honey, add the fruits with their juices, and cook the cereal just a minute or so to reheat the fruit and farro.

Divide the cereal among bowls, sprinkle it with cinnamon, and serve the dish warm with more honey on the side.

Emmer: Over 10,000 years old, and can still be found in Mumbai

To find something in Mumbai that may have originated over 10,000 years ago, you need to look in the museum — or the markets. Because it is still possible to find shops stocking khapli gehu, also known as emmer or farro, an ancestor of modern wheats, found in Middle Eastern sites from 9500 BCE.
Emmer grains are elegantly long, like basmati, compared to the plump nubs of modern wheat. In Grain of Truth, Stephen Yafa’s book on wheat, he explains that emmer was hulled, “meaning that every two seeds sit inside an all but impenetrable fortress of tightly bound chaff, called a spikelet, that had to be soaked, dried and fiercely thwacked just to free the seed, which then had to be soaked and whacked again to separate out the edible meal…”
Such protection helped emmer last long in its semi-desert areas of origin, where rains for germination came infrequently. This was also useful for the humans who first gathered, then started farming it, since they could store it for lean seasons. Emmer spread across the ancient world, reaching the Indus Valley around 7000-5000 BCE. In Egypt after 3000 BCE, it was eaten by the labourers who built the pyramids.

But processing emmer remained a problem. As these civilisations grew, easier to use crosses between emmer and other grasses were developed or discovered. The hulls were reduced and starchy seeds swelled up, giving us modern wheat. Emmer is also frost intolerant, but the new varieties could handle cold and this led to vast acreages of wheat across the temperate zones. The wonder is that emmer survived. Its cultivation is tiny, and confined to hot dry areas, like central India. But these areas grow millets too, so why did khapli/emmer survive? Sometimes grains continue to be cultivated for religious reasons. The Puri temple is said to have a high diversity of rice around it because fresh green paddy is part of the regular offerings to the gods. This needs different rice varieties which ripen at different times. But I haven’t found such reasons with emmer.
Claims are now made for emmer’s health benefits, but perhaps the simplest reason is that emmer is delicious.
It has a subtly nutty sweetness and, unlike millets which get gluey or coarsely heavy when cooked, emmer has more of the versatility of wheat, making good rotis and decent bread (but it doesn’t rise high, since its gluten content is lower).
Emmer also seems to lack the sodden heaviness of regular wholewheat — perhaps because it has less moisture absorbing starch? Boiling wholewheat grains usually results in edible chewing gum, but properly processed emmer becomes silky with long cooking.
A delicious winter kheer is made from it in Maharashtra and, according to a paper by AB Damania of UC Davis, Bohri Muslims use it for khichdi, by which he probably means khichda, their delicious dish of long cooked wheat, dal and meat. It is a dish to try now during Ramzaan with the ancient appeal of emmer adding extra enjoyment.

From Field to Flour: How to Grow Wheat

You can broadcast seed with a hand-cranked rotary seeder like those used for lawns, or simply by hand-tossing, followed by raking the seed in. But Zwinger, like most experts, recommends sowing in rows, which provides for better germination, more uniform stands and easier weed control. To do so, make furrows with a hand or wheel hoe, drop in seed, and cover. Even better, use a push-type garden seeder, such as the traditional Planet Jr., or a jab-style corn planter (for more about push seeders, see our article Choose the Right Garden Seed Planter). Space rows 6 to 7 inches apart to provide effective ground coverage and weed control.

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A solid stand of wheat is good at out-competing weeds; nevertheless, whatever your sowing pattern or density, weeds will turn up uninvited. There will be no way around hoeing or, later, pulling weeds, and the reasons for doing so are not solely cosmetic. Weeds compete with your homegrown wheat for light, rooting space, water and nutrients, and if left to grow, they’ll produce a lot of seeds, each one of which will either contaminate your harvest or go into the soil to increase the number of weeds that will come up next year.

Reap the Wheat

Wheat is ready to harvest when the wheat grains are anywhere from mature with still-high moisture (the “hard dough” stage) to dead ripe and fully dry. When the grain is ripe, cut by hand with a sickle or scythe, or with a gas-powered sickle-bar mower. If you cut the plants low, tie them into shocks and stack them against one another to keep heads off the ground and expose them for better sun- and air-drying. With a small plot’s harvest, cover the shocks with a large tarp in case of rain. If the weather’s warm and dry and the wheat is dead ripe, cut with a sickle at any point below the heads and thresh the heads right away. Otherwise, the shocks will have to stand until fully dry.

Thresh Your Harvest

You’ll then face the age-old question of how to thresh out the grain (unless you’ve shelled out several hundred dollars for a European hand-held “combine,” which is used commercially for grain sampling, and cuts and threshes heads right in the field in one step). For easy-threshing wheats, some growers find they can simply grab small bundles and beat the grain out onto a threshing floor or tarp. A wooden box with a sheet of corrugated rubber (the material used for doormats and runners) glued to its inner bottom surface and a short piece of 2-by-4 with the same rubber on one side work well together to rub out the grain. Do-it-yourselfers have designed a variety of larger hand-cranked threshing devices, and you can obtain the plans for some of them. Professional wheat breeders have long used machines for threshing large numbers of small grain bundles, and those small threshers (along with seed-cleaning equipment) sometimes show up among aging items being sold off by universities and seed companies. A treadle-powered thresher, selling for $900, is available from the Back to the Land Store (see Slideshow). You can watch a video of the thresher in action at the Back to the Land Store. Find source information for all of these machines in “The Tools You’ll Need to Grow and Process Wheat,” later in this article.

Ancient wheats will require an additional step to free the kernel from its hull (see “Ancient Wheats and Their Pesky Hulls,” later in this article).

Clean the Grain

Whatever your wheat variety and means of threshing or dehulling, the seed you obtain will still be mixed with chaff, dust and other inedible material that must be removed. Winnowing — using air movement to separate grain from chaff, dust and smaller weed seeds — is necessary for grain that’s to be milled into flour as well as for the portion that’s to be saved and sown to produce next year’s crop. In manual grain-handling, winnowing involves slowly pouring a stream of grain from one container into another while in a stiff breeze or in front of a small fan to remove lighter material. In his book, Lazor describes a winnowing system for small amounts of grain that uses 5-gallon plastic buckets, a three-speed box fan (or a shop vacuum), a tarp, and a good bit of trial and error.

With any winnowing system, multiple passes are usually necessary, and that still leaves untouched any material that’s similar to — or larger than — a wheat kernel in size or density. Lazor suggests making wood-framed screens using wire mesh to remove this debris. You need one screen with openings large enough for wheat to fall through and another that will keep wheat on top and let smaller seeds and other material fall through. Grain screens are also available commercially, as are power-driven devices with complex arrangements of shakers, screens and blowers. But such equipment, like the small combines used by wheat researchers, is expensive if purchased new. Try to scavenge old screens, combines and other equipment from seed or grain companies or universities.

Your grain will then be ready to be milled or eaten as whole cooked grain. (See Types of Wheat: What to Grow and How to Use it, for best cooking uses for various types of wheat.) To set aside seed for the next crop, seal it tightly in a rodent-proof container and keep it in a cool, dry place. To prevent insect damage to grain that’s to be used for seed (not for food), mix in a little diatomaceous earth — a natural material that comes from microscopic sea organisms. Silica gel packets, changed as needed, will help keep moisture levels under control. Before you know it, that seed will be back in the ground for another turn of the grain cycle — and you’ll have mastered the craft of growing this ancient crop.

Ancient Wheats and Their Pesky Hulls

Liberating the grain of an einkorn, emmer or spelt crop doesn’t end with threshing. North Dakota State University’s Steve Zwinger, who has done research on emmer for 20 years, says, “Hulled wheats are actually the easiest to thresh. But for small plots, it’s hard to come up with an effective, inexpensive way to dehull them.” Because hulls adhere tightly to the relatively soft kernel, they can be difficult to rub or knock off without also cracking the kernel.

The GrainMaker company will offer a Homestead Huller Kit as an accessory for its Model No. 99 mill later this year (shown in the Slideshow), priced at $275 per pair of dehulling disks. With interest in hulled wheats growing fast, Zwinger says, we can expect growers themselves to come up with a new generation of small, relatively inexpensive dehullers. He says that in these situations, farmers are the creators. As an example, Zwinger points to Nigel Tudor of Weatherbury Farm, located 40 miles south of Pittsburgh. Tudor, with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is building a dehuller for emmer and spelt. But, Tudor warns, his dehuller is designed for larger-scale crops. “It would require a minimum of 60 pounds of grain to work efficiently,” he says.

The Tools You’ll Need to Grow and Process Wheat

Searching for equipment for small-scale grain growing and processing? Browse these resources to locate what you need, plus acquire more know-how.

Planting and Harvesting

Ferrari
Push seeders
Scythes, serrated harvest sickles and sickle-bar mowers
Using a scythe

Threshing, Dehulling and Milling

All kinds of equipment
Thresher
Hand-operated dehuller
Small flour mill
Hand-cleaning screens and pans
Countertop grain mills

Stan Cox is a sustainable-living activist and plant breeder at The Land Institute in Salina, Kan. He has worked as a USDA wheat geneticist and his most recent book is Any Way You Slice It: The Past, Present, and Future of Rationing.­

Have you ever baked with Einkorn?

As an ancient grain with a unique gluten structure, Einkorn is becoming more popular these days. But do you need to find special new recipes, or can you just translate your old favorite whole wheat recipes to Einkorn?

Specific Einkorn recipes aren’t a bad idea, because it does act MUCH differently than modern whole wheat, but it’s possible to have good luck translating favorite recipes from one to the other.

I’m learning about Einkorn bit by bit over the years, starting by dabbling with Einkorn pasta in this recipe (not so hard to do, prepared pasta is easy!!) and then digging into more research about why Einkorn flour is different than modern wheat flour.

Today you’ll hear from an Einkorn farmer in Idaho, all about growing and baking with Einkorn, plus its fascinating history and why people are embracing it today.

Video: Einkorn Wheat vs. Modern Wheat vs. Spelt from a Farmer Growing Einkorn

If you can’t view the video above, click Einkorn Wheat vs. Modern Wheat from a Farmer Growing Einkorn to see it directly on YouTube.

Grab the Audio:

of the interview (to take with you) or just listen to it now without taking the resources on your device for video.

Notes On Interview with Jade, an American Einkorn Farmer

For those of you who feel like you don’t have time to watch a whole video, you can skip around to the parts you’re most interested in using these notes – and there’s plenty of info below without watching the video at all too. 😉

1. What is Einkorn?

  • 0:32 How is Einkorn different from most current day wheat?
  • 1:28 The genetic history of wheat: Varieties of grasses began to cross, one of which was a wild rye, which formed a 14 chromosome wheat which is Einkorn.
  • 2:29 The gluten structure of Einkorn is different than most – listen here to find out how and why. It contains only the A chromosome. Modern wheat has the D chromosome, which was created thousands of years after the A chromosome.
  • 2:45 What’s the history of Einkorn and how it is linked historically to mankind? Einkorn was found in a cave man’s digestive tract and on his clothing.
  • 5:14 Einkorn differs from other wheat varieties, Jade explains here how that came about.
  • 6:12 What makes an ancient wheat?
    There are three main kinds.
    1. Diploid species, which is Einkorn, and 14 chromosomes.
    2. Emmer (crossed with a cousin of Einkorn) Tetraploid which is a Diploid x Diploid.
    3. Spelt, which is the most similar to modern-day wheat, and has 42 chromosomes. Yet we still call spelt an ancient grain, when it’s really a relatively new cousin to einkorn!
  • 7:45 How did we end up with Einkorn in the US if it was originally from Turkey? The US government gathered the various seeds and then studied them. They brought home over 300 varieties of Einkorn.
  • 8:23 Einkorn in today’s commercial sector of agriculture: Who is growing it? Is it common? How many different varieties are there? Production is very limited but it is growing.
  • 9:29 Summary of how Einkorn came about with its crossing in history.
  • 10:10 Understanding hybridization in plants. Hybridization is a natural process that occurs in plants but modern farmers can also encourage it. Katie explains why it is NOT genetic modification in Einkorn.

2. Why didn’t Einkorn increase in chromosomes or disappear as a variety? 10:36

  • 11:10 Do I (Jade) need a buffer between my Einkorn field and that of a neighbor to preserve the integrity of the crop? Jade contacted the researcher from Oregon, who was responsible for finding GMO wheat in 2013 in the US when it was illegal, and she explained that Einkorn has been in nature for thousands of years without causing hybridization.
  • 13:40 Check this out here to see examples of Einkorn and wheat – thanks for the great live examples, Jade! Hard red wheat (regular grocery store wheat flour) vs. Einkorn.
  • 14:25 Einkorn and wheat will not hybridize and Einkorn will actually resist rust disease, one of the biggest risks for crops. Research is currently in the works to find a way to breed Einkorn with modern day wheat so that the disease resistant qualities will then be in the wheat plant.
  • 15:25 Jade’s family’s goal is to preserve Einkorn in its original form. They grow two varieties of Einkorn, a spring, and a fall version. They are also responsible for propagating their own wheat and ensure that the source remains true. This allows them to preserve Einkorn and also produce enough for consumers.
  • 16:35 Growing Einkorn is more labor intensive and the yields (what you get per acre grown) are not as high as regular wheat. So the cost of Einkorn is impacted by these two factors. Einkorn yields 20-25% compared to regular wheat.

3. What are the qualities that scientists are seeing in Einkorn that they are trying to put into whole wheat flour to improve it? Why would it be wise to experiment with Einkorn, even if you love modern whole wheat flour?

  • Jade’s Einkorn website
  • 18:10 – Agricultural Benefits – Einkorn has fewer diseases. Einkorn is rust disease resistant. What type of threat is rust disease to our food supply?

“Rust disease is the largest threat we have to our food supply today.”
“Rust disease develops inside of the plant, and if you see it on a plant it just kind of takes the head of wheat and it grows around it. It looks scary, like a Frankenstein, it’s like a fungus basically that develops on wheat. In fields where this has happened, they’ve had to destroy the wheat. They couldn’t harvest it and they have to not take any equipment in there or equipment that has been in there has to be sanitized so they don’t spread this rust to other areas. Because if it were to go widespread we would lose our food supply.”

  • 19:30 Baking Benefits – the biggest difference the consumer sees is the flavor of Einkorn compared to regular wheat products. Einkorn has a rich-nutty flavor.
    • 20:17 – Jade’s favorite way to eat Einkorn: Einkorn Tortillas
    • 20:40 – A creative way to use Einkorn in its whole form is on salads.
      • Take whole grain Einkorn and pour a little avocado oil, salt, and pepper in the bottom of a pan. Heat it up and add the whole Einkorn and pop similarly to how you would pop popcorn (they do not visually pop but you can hear them pop).
  • 21:17 Nutritional and Digestive Benefits – Einkorn has higher values of antioxidants. Einkorn is higher in protein content but it is not as easy to bake with as other wheat. The key to great bread with Einkorn is to NOT over mix it. 23:20
    • The biggest reason people go to Einkorn is because of the digestive standpoint.

“In labs, they have studied it and have found that it has a lower toxicity than modern wheat. So it has possibilities for sufferers of Celiac Disease, they say. But we always recommend that people who have Celiac disease don’t consume gluten of course and they work with their doctor because that is a very difficult disease that is still being understood and should not have gluten of any kind in it. But having said that we do have people who have had very serious digestive issues and allergies to gluten who can consume Einkorn. And they say it’s the only wheat that they can eat.”

4. Does Jade sell just the whole grain or do they have a flour option too for consumers?

  • 24:19 – Jade’s family sells both on their website. Jade’s family is working to make the wheat purchasing process more like a farmer’s market by removing the middleman and keeping the Einkorn products fresh and ready for you. They ship straight from their farm to you, the consumer.

Mockmill has a great offer for Kitchen Stewardship readers!

  • Free US shipping
  • Full 6-year warranty
  • Info about freshly milling grain and recipes

Click over to Mockmill, and use the code kitchenstewardship2019 at checkout for a little discount. 😉

YES! Tell me more about the Mockmill!

5. Wikipedia says Einkorn is not good for bread baking. Jade suggests it can be done but you just need to learn how to use Einkorn properly (not over mixing in terms of bread making). What are some shifts that people need to do to bake or cook with Einkorn? Do you need a special recipe or can we adapt our family favorites to try with Einkorn?

  • 27:28 – You can but you need to adjust the liquid in the recipe. Reduce the water. Einkorn requires less water to hydrate. You will end up reducing the water needed by 30-50%. Jade recommends starting by reducing it by 30% and then working your individual recipe preferences from there. He also says that the dough will be sticky and it requires less rise time.
  • 30:35 – The temptation of adding more flour since your dough is sticky is challenging. Follow Jade’s advice here and you will be ready to go. Jade’s wife’s perfect Einkorn bread.

When people are buying flour there are all these rules and layers that people need to learn. What is all-purpose compared to whole wheat? It means that the bran and the germ are taken out, along with most of the nutrition.

6. Are there any techniques to buying Einkorn flour or grains, anything to watch out for to make sure it’s not too processed? Or is it still pretty pure since processing hasn’t gotten into it?

  • 31:16 – Buying Jade’s families organic flour is free from all of those toxins that make a “white flour”. His is considered to be a white flour even though it does not have the bleaching done to it, so it will appear yellowish in color.
  • 32:35 – Jovial flour which can be found in stores in berry or flour form. Baking with Jovial brand versus Jade’s family will show you a very different product.

You can’t bake with all Einkorn the same way. Different brands of Einkorn will perform differently in the same recipe. 30:30

Einkorn, though considered an ancient wheat, is not always a whole grain. The flour, in general, has been refined so it is not whole grain. 33:14

  • 34:30 – Jade shows and explains how his wheat head is different from that of Jovial. This shows that there is a difference in the varieties of Einkorn that are grown.

How to Transfer Your Favorite Whole Wheat Recipe to Use Einkorn

Yeast bread is always a little finicky, so I recommend starting with a pancake or muffin recipe, then move on to something like tortillas or crackers or pizza, and then try yeast bread once you get the feel of Einkorn a bit more.

Here are some general guidelines for baking with Einkorn (but using a whole wheat recipe):

  • Cut the water in the recipe by one-third or even half, especially if there are a lot of other “wet” ingredients like eggs or oil. If there’s hardly any water, the Einkorn version might need almost the same (like tortillas or crackers).
    • This means that if you’re making a recipe with 2 cups water, you would try 1 1/3 cup (33% less). If your recipe doesn’t have water but only eggs and oil, etc., you can increase the Einkorn flour slightly. I’d start with only 10-20%, and if you’re making something like muffins that you can add more flour at the end, add a bit more until the consistency looks like you expect (measure it so you know for next time!)
  • For yeast bread, cut the rise time in half and do a visual to see if the loaf has doubled. Einkorn acts differently with yeast and typically rises faster.
  • Knead yeast breads very little if at all. If you over-knead, it doesn’t rise as well, because you’ll end up breaking the gluten chains.
    • The gluten in Einkorn really is different! Einkorn bread recipes instruct you to fold the dough in half about 6 times rather than an official “5 minutes” of kneading like you might see in modern whole wheat recipes.

During the Grinding Grain Challenge Series, you’ll get to hear how I put Einkorn into muffins, tortillas, biscuits and more – they didn’t all turn out perfectly, but you can learn from my mistakes! 😉

The Grinding Challenge Series is getting me to use my Mockmill grain mill! Here’s what we’re covering:

  • Intro to the challenge and a video of setting up the Mockmill for the first time
  • How to Translate Whole Wheat Recipe to Einkorn (and an interview with an einkorn farmer)
  • Bio-Individuality – why it’s both the new face of health and the genesis of this whole project
  • How to Translate Baking Recipes to Weights
  • Why Baking with Weights is the Best for Kids
  • Testing Pizza Dough with Freshly Milled Grain: Whole Wheat, Einkorn, Gluten-free (whole grain and not-whole-grain)
  • Interview with a Master Gluten-free Baker
  • Testing Tortillas with Freshly Milled Grain: Whole Wheat, Einkorn, Gluten-free
  • Why Mill Your Own Gluten-free Grains?
  • How to Make a Gluten-free Sourdough Starter
  • Whole Grain, Gum-Free Gluten-free Flour Blend (& a bit on whether xanthan gum is bad for you)
  • Interview with a Grain Milling Expert
  • The Official Kitchen Stewardship Mockmill Review

Plus where to find einkorn and unlock your special offer on the Mockmill HERE and use the discount code kitchenstewardship2019.

Recipes We’ve Worked on in the Series:

  • Spelt Banana Muffins
  • Einkorn Applesauce Muffins (with peanut butter variation)
  • 100% Whole Grain Gluten-free Tortillas
  • Whole Wheat Pizza
  • Crispy Crust Gluten-Free Pizza (amazing!)
  • Einkorn Pizza Dough
  • 100% Whole Grain Gluten-Free Pizza Crusts (no gum!)
  • How to Make a Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter

Don’t worry, if you don’t have a grain mill or couldn’t imagine yourself grinding grain yourself, I’ll be sure to address when any of these CAN’T be done with commercial flour. Usually recipes are very compatible!

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University Cornell University

Just a few kinds of white and wheat flour dominated the markets for a century, but ancient and heritage varieties of wheat are making a comeback.

A new project shows which modern, ancient, and heritage wheat varieties are most adapted for Northeastern and north-central climates under organic conditions and best processing practices.

As reported in the Journal of Cereal Science, the project also identifies avenues for marketing, and how these varieties fare as bread, pasta, and baked goods.

“Consumer tastes are changing,” says Mark Sorrells, the project’s principal investigator and professor of plant breeding and genetics at Cornell University. “They are interested in local and flavorful food products, and farmers are looking for value-added crops to sell for higher prices to consumers.”

Marketing and economic analyses by Cornell researchers show that the demand for these unusual grains outstrips supply, and food lovers are willing to pay more for bread, pasta, and baked goods made from them.

Still, since older varieties and ancient forms of wheat such as emmer and einkorn have been out of mainstream production for close to a century, little was known about what varieties might be best-suited for organic growing in the region.

Trained taste and sensory evaluators rate sourdough breads at Cornell. (Credit: Allison Usavage)

Emmer and einkorn

As a result of the project’s collaborations—with researchers, farmers, distributors and marketers, artisanal bakers, restaurants, consumers, and others—alternative grains are now finding their way to plates around the region.

“The project has laid some really important groundwork, and every year, we’ve seen things grow exponentially,” says June Russell, manager of farm inspections and strategic development at Greenmarket, a program of GrowNYC, and a coauthor of the paper. Greenmarket operates farmers markets in 52 locations across all five New York City boroughs and provides a bridge between growers and consumers.

Drought could turn millet into American food

“Demand is building, and that’s helping to drive more acres getting planted and some infrastructure development,” Russell says. Greenmarket has established a solid market for emmer and a growing market for einkorn, and 14 different kinds of wheat are now available, she says.

Wheat from before 1950

Before the project started five years ago, only modern wheat varieties—those developed after 1950—were grown in the Northeast, with a few isolated cases of farmers experimenting with grains. From 2012 to 2015, researchers at Cornell, Penn State, and North Dakota State University evaluated 146 varieties of modern and heritage spring and winter wheat, spring emmer, spring and winter spelt, and spring einkorn for how well they adapted to organic systems.

The varieties came from modern breeding programs, old landraces (crop varieties improved by traditional agricultural methods), wheat once grown in the region, farmer selections, and seed banks. The researchers identified grains that are of better quality, produce larger yields, and resist disease.

For sustainable agriculture, planting varieties of small grains plays an important role in crop rotation and adds to biodiversity. And by selling to local markets, farmers can charge more for their crop because it is fresh, of higher value, and reduces transportation cost.

Through outreach efforts, thousands of farmers have been educated about the best varieties of heritage and ancient grains, where to get seeds, organic management recommendations and techniques, and how to harvest and process the grains.

Climate change is likely bad news for wheat

“To have the information from the field trials has been incredibly valuable for growers,” Russell says. “We didn’t have any of that, especially for organic management.”

Sorrells adds: “The lesson we learned was if you really want to find out what varieties to grow organically, you have to evaluate them organically. Farmers that grow these grains can now look at real data and choose varieties that are most likely to benefit them economically.”

But do they taste good?

The next step was to take select varieties and see how well they baked, cooked, and tasted as sourdough and yeast breads, other baked goods, whole steamed kernels, and as pasta.

“We tried to find those that performed well in trials and from a variety of market classes,” says Lisa Kissing Kucek, project manager and first author of the paper. They chose seven varieties for sourdough baking; five for matzo crackers, yeast bread, shortbread, and cooked grain; and three emmer varieties for pasta and cooked grain evaluations.

Once the items were prepared, sensory evaluations began on Cornell’s Ithaca campus for sourdough evaluations, at the Culinary Institute of America’s New York City campus for baked goods, and at the Natural Gourmet Institute, also in New York City, for emmer pasta.

The project hired a certified sensory trainer, Liz Clarke from Ithaca-based Gimme Coffee, who worked with panels of professional and amateur bakers, consumers, professors, and students. Clarke trained them to identify sweet, salty, sour, and bitter flavors, and to arrive at a consensus for how to describe flavors and textures.

Ancient Chinese recipe makes lumpy, tasty beer

Among the results, Glenn, a modern hard red spring wheat that some specialty farmers were already growing, “did wonderfully in terms of sourdough baking,” Kucek says. “We could validate that this was a great spring wheat for our region.”

So, too, was Tom, a modern hard red spring wheat that hadn’t been grown much regionally. “We have a number of farmers now trying Tom,” she says.

Though modern varieties performed better than heritage and ancient types in the field trials, based on the evaluations, the researchers are working on new breeds that, for example, cross a high-yielding but bland modern variety with a low-yielding but flavorful heritage one, with the goal of producing a new high-yielding, tasty grain.

“The biggest takeaway for me, and I think for our stakeholders too, was that there’s not one variety that meets all needs,” Kucek says. “You should pick varieties based on the product that you are making, so getting that link between farmer and processor is really valuable, so that the processor can say, I really want this variety and then talk to the farmer in order to source it and get it.”

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Organic Research and Extension Initiative funds the work.

Source: Cornell University

Organic Whole Emmer Flour

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