The goodness of grain: Sara Pitzer can teach you how to grow your own
By Katie Scarvey
When it comes to grains, most of us are not quite as ambitious as the Little Red Hen.
If you’ll remember, the multi-talented chicken tries to recruit her animal friends, including the Lazy Dog, to help her plant wheat, cut it, grind it, and then bake it into bread.
Nobody wants to help ó except for the eating part, and then everybody wants in.
Actually, I have no problem baking wheat flour into bread, but the rest of the process ó planting, growing, grinding ó sounds too ambitious for me, at least at this point in my life.
But there are those out there who have the time and the inclination to experience the whole process, and for those hardy, pioneer souls, Sara Pitzer has written a how-to book: “Homegrown Whole Grains: Grow, Harvest and Cook Wheat, Barley, Oats, Rice, Corn and More.”
The book is actually a revision, at the request of the publisher, of a book Pitzer wrote in 1981 called “Whole Grains: Grow, Harvest and Cook Your Own.”
Since that first whole grain book, Pitzer has gathered a lot of new information about growing grain, with more specific information than the first book contained.
In recent years, Pitzer points out, there has been an increased emphasis on buying locally, as well as eating more healthful food.
This book, she says, signals a new awareness, which features greater curiosity about where food actually comes from.
Pitzer realizes that actually growing and harvesting your own grain is a pretty daunting task ó and that if you try it once, you might not try it again. Still, she believes that experiments in growing small patches of grain can work and be wonderfully educational ó for adults as well as children.
Although you might not be able to grow enough rice to provide for your family ó or be inclined to flood your yard to simulate the conditions of a rice paddy ó there is benefit in seeing how rice is grown and harvested. Such a venture will also make it clear, Pitzer says, why in Asian cultures wasting even a grain of rice is a no-no.
There is value, she believes, in seeing where our food comes from, which will help cultivate an appreciation of things that “didn’t come from a conglomerate.”
Pitzer says she’d love to see the Salisbury Community Garden try growing some grain.
Pitzer has certainly done her homework. There are detailed chapters on growing barley, buckwheat, corn, heirloom grains (such as amaranth and quinoa), millet, oats, rice, rye and wheat.
As long-time Post readers know, Pitzer is an excellent cook who used to write food features. The recipes she has included in this book are what drew me in, since I don’t think I’m ready to start a patch of barley.
Pitzer has included many enticing recipes here for breads, salads, main dishes and desserts. The one I had to try first, however, was for buckwheat pretzels.
I took a few liberties with her recipe to adapt it to a bread machine, but I thought these soft pretzels turned out just fine. They are particularly scrumptious hot from the oven.
Although I’ve made oatmeal cookies many times before, the recipe in this book inspired me to whip up a batch, although I used white whole wheat flour instead of regular unbleached white flour. Although flour experiments in baking recipes do not always work out, the wheat flour yielded good results ó and cookies that pack an extra fiber punch.
You can find “Homegrown Whole Grains” at the Literary BookPost.
1 package active dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1 1/4 C. warm water (90-105 degrees)
4 C. unbleached white flour
1/2 C. buckwheat flour
2 Tbsp. cold water
Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm water and allow the mixture to stand until it begins to bubble, about 20 minutes. Beat in 2 1/2 cups of the unbleached white flour and continue beating until the batter becomes stretchy and shiny. Then beat in the buckwheat flour. When well-mixed, knead in as much of the remaining white flour as it takes to make a dough you can handle. Cover it with a damp cloth for 15 minutes, then knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic. Place the kneaded dough in a greased bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and allow to stand in a warm spot until doubled in bulk.
Lightly grease a baking sheet. Punch down the dough and cut it into 10 equal pieces. Cover them and allow them to rest for about 10 minutes, to make them easier to handle, then roll each piece into a long rope. Shape each into a pretzel form on a lightly greased baking sheet.
Beat together the egg and cold water and use it to brush each pretzel before the next rise. Sprinkle coarse salt onto the moist egg wash. Kosher salt works well, as does margarita salt, sold in the gourmet section of some supermarkets. The egg wash makes the salt stick to the pretzels.
Allow the pretzels to rise again on the baking sheet until double in bulk. In a warm room this will take about as long as it takes to preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Bake for about 10 minutes, until the pretzels are lightly brown but still slightly soft.
Buckwheat pretzels are best served warm, and they taste especially good with a squirt of mild mustard.
Although I opted to use a different kind of flour in this recipe rather than run to the grocery store, I basically agree with Sara that this Quaker Oats recipe is “so traditional and so fine” that it shouldn’t be changed. Sara points out, however, that you can cut down on the sugar if you want.
3/4 C. vegetable shortening
1 C. firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 granulated sugar
1.4 C. water
1 tsp. vanilla
3 C. rolled oats
1 C. unbleached white flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. soda
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream together the shortening , brown sugar and granulated sugar until creamy. Beat in the egg, water and vanilla and mix very well. In a separate bowl, combine the oats, flour, salt and baking soda and stirk them into the sugar-shortening mixture. Drop by rounded teaspoonful onto a greased baking sheet and bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Cool completely on racks before storing.
Makes 5 dozen cookies.