Slow-Rise Bread Uses an Unusual Local Grain

Mar 1, 2018

Credit Elspeth Hay

For the past several years my family has been a part of a grain and bean CSA. I did a piece about it in this series in 2010. Every December we get one-hundred pounds of grain, like corn and oats, grown in New York and Massachusetts. We also get spelt, and I haven’t always known what to do with it, but the other day, my friend Ed Miller of Wellfleet, introduced me to his spelt bread. 

 

Ed says, “It has a really nice crumb. It doesn’t fall apart. You can slice it very thin and it has a sort-of nutty, sweet flavor.” He added, “It’s terrific for toast, and it’s really good for you. It has about a third more protein than regular flour, even whole-wheat flour. At the same time it has other properties. It retains moisture really easily. The loaf stays fresh for a really long time. It doesn’t spoil and it’s not heavy.” 

Spelt is an ancient grain. Historians think it’s a cross between regular bread-wheat and another variety called faro, or emmer. It has less gluten than regular wheat, which makes it popular for people who are cutting back on gluten. And, spelt flour is great for baking bread. 

Ed gives us his recipe, “Its two cups of spelt flour, two cups of white flour, a teaspoon and a half of salt, a quarter teaspoon active dry yeast, and then one and one-third cups of cold water.” 

The recipe (full recipe below) is adapted from that no-knead white-bread that was in the New York Times a few years ago. The one that Mark Bittman learned from Sullivan Street Bakery.  The idea is to let time do the work.

Ed says, “I always do it in the evening. Last night I did it at about nine in the evening and then at about nine o’clock this morning I took it and I turned it over - just punched it down a bit - and then set it to rise again for two more hours. It’s had its second rising and you can see, it’s a nice spongy, soft texture. But it’s not liquid-y. It’s good.”

Ed brings the dough over to the stove where he’s been pre-heating a dutch oven for a half-hour. 

He takes course cornmeal and sprinkles it into the bottom of the pot. You take the dough, dump it in, and get it into the middle of the pot. Then, he takes a serrated knife and makes a cut across the top to keep it from splitting. He then put the cover on and put it in the oven. 

The bread bakes covered for a half-hour. Then, you take the lid off and bake it for another ten minutes so you get a thick, chewy crust on top. Spelt has a long history of bread-baking, from the Bronze Age until about only one-hundred-years ago, it was a staple in many European countries. The grain has a very hard outer-hull which makes it resilient against pests, but difficult to harvest and flour, which is why it fell out of favor in modern agriculture. 

Today, it’s getting more popular in the U.S., but it’s still more of a specialty grain. 

Ed explains, “There are records from the mid-nineteenth-century in Germany that 94% of the grain is spelt, and in terms of this local-food-idea, and the idea that we should be growing our own food, I think spelt is something that people should know about because apparently it grows well in poor soil and doesn’t require a lot of pesticides or fertilizers. They were growing it nine-thousand-years ago. It grows well in Vermont, I don’t see why it wouldn’t grow well on Cape Cod.” 

I don’t know of anyone growing spelt on the Cape, yet. The spelt we get in our grain CSA is grown in Hadley, Massachusetts. The place that Ed first discovered spelt is at a place called the Beidler Family Farm in Randolph Center Vermont. There’s also a place in Bridgewater, Maine that grows spelt and sells it online. We don’t have space for a spelt crop in our house this year, but who knows, maybe some of the bigger farms on the Cape do.  

For now, I’m going to start by making a loaf of the Ed Miller spelt bread with the grain from our CSA.

Read more on Elspeth's blog, Diary of a Locavore.

This piece first aired in January, 2015.