Once again I’ve read through another stack of books all with a farming and baking themed books this winter. The last of which I have to start is all about using horses for farm and field work. I might need to look over the ol’ Amazon wish list and see what’s next considering it’s the beginning of March, we’ve got 5 feet of snow… and we don’t have horses.
Through all that reading I’ve found a few passages that will prove quite helpful in the wheat fields. I’m so excited. We’re one planting closer to WildFlower Farm landrace grains! This year will be a year to grow for seed rather than flour. That changes the harvest time by a few weeks and the harvest method now too.
I’ve been growing (or trying to grow) modern wheat for flour with some success and a fair amount of failure. While it’s non-GMO and grown with organic methods it’s not the end result that I’m after. This last winter’s book stack has pointed out why this isn’t working for me. Modern wheat is engineered (even the non-GMO ones) to fit modern standards for commercial use. They have shorter stalks in hopes of reducing the chances of lodging (tipping over/breaking in unfavorable weather), the short stalks don’t tend to tangle in the combines used today for harvesting. The properties of the grain itself have been changed to make it more suitable for commercial bakeries and the heavy mixing the dough endures, thus standardizing end loaf.
Despite my planning and efforts the weeds are killing me and the modern wheat crop. I’ve also learned that I’ve been planting the heritage wheats wrong causing a pretty sad yield there too. This year not only am I excited to plant once again with the hopes of a fruitful harvest but I’m also excited to use my newfound knowledge to do so! (I’m also ditching the modern wheat for the foreseeable future.)
Developing a landrace grain takes years and is a never ending project really. That may be one more reason I was drawn to them to begin with- there’s always something that changes and yet everything stays relatively the same.
Let me explain. Landrace wheat in the vaguest of descriptions is a variety of wheat that is grown year after year in the same location. The best of the best in the crop is saved for seed for the following year. Sounds like seed saving and heritage wheat, right? However, when you dig deeper into it you’ll find it’s more than that.
Each field will be different. The variation of soil composition, nutrients in the soil and the amount of rain are different between fields and years and makes a surprising difference. Those variations between locations will produce variations in the wheat properties for the year. Over time the landrace varieties will adapt to the growing environments resulting in specific tastes, textures and ultimately breads. Allowing the seed to evolve from year to year gives the crop the ability to grow resistance (an immune system if you will) to the variety of local pests and plant ailments that modern wheat would required a chemical intervention to control. Modern wheat doesn’t see these variations mainly because the seed cannot be saved from year to year to allow it to adapt to the specific offerings of the environment in which it’s planted.
From a commercial grain buyer and commercial bakery view these variations would wreak havoc on production. When the grain from many different locations and different varieties are mixed to produce flour by the ton there would be no consistency in the resulting product. Another reason why there is very little variation in modern wheat. There is virtually no change from year to year creating the uniformity needed for the mass quantities needed.
It’s scary to think that 95% of the wheat gown in the world is of the same variety- what happens if there is a few bad years of seed production? In the absolute worst case that leaves 5% of wheat, of the landrace varieties, to produce seed and flour?! A “fishes and loaves” miracle perhaps? I’d rather not find out.
The variations of the landraces are amazing! As a baker they are a challenge. The recipes need adjusting from harvest to harvest to account for the variations in the grains. The variations, although slight as they may be sometimes, keep the baker involved in baking rather than just going through the motions so to speak. It keeps the bread ever evolving and the process alive. I love it!