Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Red Fife wheat

I don’t have a talent for baking bread

My mother certainly did. She baked the most wonderful loaves and buns of white bread, brown bread, rye bread. Her cinnamon rolls were the greatest. She baked with a wood stove, then a gas stove and finally an electric stove. The only time the bread didn’t turn out was the day she left for parents’ day at school and forgot she had bread in the oven. The chickens got those loaves.

I didn’t inherit her talent, yet I always wished for bread like Mom used to bake. The stuff we buy in the supermarkets just doesn’t cut it. There are little bake shops that make good bread, but they are an hour away and I longed for bread fresh from the oven.

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One day I saw a nearly new bread machine at Value Village for a ridiculously low price. Even better, it was seniors’ day and with the discount I got it for $11.00, tax included. All I had to do now was to dump in the ingredients, push the buttons for the right settings, wait a couple of hours and this wonderful machine would present me with a perfect, hot, tasty loaf of fresh bread.

I had better confess right here that I complicated things by using flour from Red Fife wheat, the 100-year-old variety that was the first wheat grown on the Canadian prairies. I knew that the gluten in this flour wasn’t the same as the gluten in modern bread wheat. But hey, that was supposed to be a good thing, wasn’t it?

I did manage to make some pretty good loaves of 50% whole wheat bread. But things started to go awry when I tried to get to 100% whole wheat. The dough rose just fine. Sometimes it even got a little over exuberant, overflowing the baking pan and oozing down onto the heat element. Smoke billowing out of the bread machine was not a welcome sight. I would air out the house, clean up the machine and try again. But I never succeeded in baking a decent loaf of whole wheat bread with that flour and that machine. The machine was calibrated to start baking at a precise time and that was too late for the gluten in Red Fife wheat. By then the dough had risen, and then fallen.

I gave the machine to my daughter, picked up courage and decided to try doing it by hand. I found a good recipe, actually a blend of several, and set to work, with some coaching from my wife. I kneaded the dough by hand, let it rise, kneaded it again and let it rise a second time. Then I kneaded it the third time, divided it in two and put it in bake pans. As soon as it doubled in volume, I put it in the oven to bake. And it was good.

I discovered that baking bread has nothing to do with talent, but everything to do with the right ingredients, the right timing and a lot of work.

Some people read an inspiring story or article and say that person really has talent. No, she doesn’t. What she has is the determination to work at her righting until it comes out write (that started out as a typo, but it makes the point).

I believe that it was Thomas Edison who said that the recipe for success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. If we find that 99% part intimidating, we will never be anything but a mediocre writer. Talent, whatever we may imagine it to be, cannot take that inspiration and turn it into something a reader will understand and appreciate. Only work will get us there.

For both bread baking and writing we need to start with the right ingredients. But, as I discovered, you don’t get the greatest results from dumping them all together into a machine and pressing a button. You have to mix them together in the right way, you have to get the timing right and you have to work at it.

With bread dough, after I put the ingredients together, I need to begin with at least five minutes of vigorous kneading. Later, I knead it twice more for shorter periods to get the air bubbles out. Without that kneading, the loaf will have great big holes in it. Writing is just the same; we need to work it over and over again to get the holes out.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

My first experiment a success

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Not my bread – for illustration purpose only

Marc Loiselle, a farmer from Vonda, Saskatchewan has spearheaded a revival of interest in Red Fife. The Loiselle farm also grows a selected strain of Marquis. A growing number of consumers are discovering the superior taste of bread made from Red Fife or Marquis flour.

I bought a bread machine a couple years ago and always had the dream of making bread with Red Fife wheat. Yesterday I drove out to Vonda and bought a 10 kg sack of Red Fife flour, organically grown, nothing added, nothing removed.
Marc told me that this flour does not behave quite like other flours, the dough needs to be more moist and sticky. Today I made a loaf with 50% white flour and 50% whole grain Red Fife flour. It turned out great. That was the first experiment, from here I will continue to increase the proportion of whole grain Red Fife flour until I can, hopefully, produce a 100% whole wheat loaf in the bread machine.

The Loiselle family has an informative website which includes recipes: http://sites.google.com/site/loisellema/

 

Background on Red Fife wheat and the gluten issue
David Fife arrived in Canada from Scotland in 1820 when he was 15. His parents settled in Otanabee township, east of Peterborough, Ontario. At that time Ontario farmers were growing a winter wheat variety known as Siberian. It survived the winters, but was low yielding and susceptible to rust, a fungal disease that weakened the plant.

David Fife wrote to a friend in Glasgow asking for a sample of a better wheat. His friend found a ship unloading wheat in Glasgow harbour and managed to obtain a few kernels to send to David Fife. The wheat had been loaded at Danzig and had probably been grown in Ukraine.

The package of wheat kernels arrived just before seeding time in 1842. David Fife didn’t know if it was winter wheat or spring wheat. He planted half the seeds in spring, planning to sow the rest in fall. It must have been winter wheat, as the spring seeded grain did not mature — except for one plant that produced three heads of ripe grain. David Fife planted the seeds from those three heads the next spring and continued to multiply the seed, until he harvested 240 bushels in 1848. By then he knew that he had a variety of wheat that yielded better than Siberian, matured early and was not susceptible to rust. It also made excellent bread.

Since the kernels were red and the variety was introduced by David Fife, people called it Red Fife. By the end of the nineteenth century Red Fife wheat had the reputation of being the world’s best spring wheat. Thus, Red Fife wheat is descended from a single kernel of wheat picked at random from a boat being unloaded in Glasgow. David Fife’s careful work in multiplying the wheat grown from that single kernel made it possible to nourish millions of people

In 1908 my father, his brothers, and my grandfather homesteaded south of Old Wives Lake in Saskatchewan. The wheat they grew the first few years was Red Fife. The prairie growing season was a little too short though and sometimes it froze before it was mature. Dr. Charles Saunders crossed Red Fife with Hard Red Calcutta and selected plants that were early maturing, high yielding, had stiff straw and whose kernels had the best milling and baking qualities. Marquis began to be distributed to farmers in 1912 and by 1918 was grown on 20 million acres from southern Nebraska to northern Saskatchewan. This was the wheat that made the Canadian prairies a bread basket for the world. In later years Red Fife and Marquis were supplanted by new, higher yielding varieties

I remember as a boy picking a head of ripe whet, rolling it in my hands to thresh out the kernels, then popping the kernels into my mouth and chewing them. Soon I would have a gummy wad in my mouth, somewhat like chewing gum. This was the gluten in the wheat kernels.

Gluten is the major component of the protein in wheat and this gummy characteristic is what makes bread rise. The fermenting yeast in bread dough produces carbon dioxide which the gluten traps in small bubbles.

About 1% of people have a problem digesting gluten. There is even a scare campaign being spread today that says gluten is bad for all of us. If that is so, why didn’t gluten cause as much problems in past generations?

Gluten is actually a compound of two proteins, gliadin and glutenin. In old varieties of wheat, such as Red Fife and Marquis, the gluten is roughly 1/3 gliadin and 2/3 glutenin. These grains do not appear to cause celiac disease, also known as gluten intolerance. Modern bread wheat varieties may contain up to 80% gliadin.

There in a nutshell is the problem. Wheat varieties have been “improved” to boost yield and disease resistance. In the process, flavour has been lost and some people have health problems from eating bread made from these wheat varieties.Gluten is also added to a wide variety of other foods and this will be gluten from newer wheat varieties with a high Gliadin count. Those who are sensitive to this need to read the labels carefully when grocery shopping.

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