Tia Marta here from Flor de Mayo to share news of an ancient grain newly emerging from its historic quietude as a flavorful and nutritious gift to Southwestern cuisine—a real boon to desert agriculture and health! I’m talking about the White Sonora Wheat, introduced by Padre Kino, kept alive and well in a Sonoran village for 300 years, “rediscovered” and propagated by Native Seeds/SEARCH plant-sleuths, and at last being grown commercially by a few caring farmers in Baja Arizona.
This particular Triticum aestivum variety is a winter wheat for the desert. Now is the time to plant it in your own garden plot through February for a later harvest into May and June.
Precious White Sonoran Wheat grain was provided by Native Seeds/SEARCH as a start-up ag experiment to a local grower, BKW Farms, and it has really taken off. Tohono O’odham Elders may likely remember the Wong family of Marana who provided fresh produce out to the res in the early-mid 1900s. Now in their 5th generation of attuned farming, the Wong family (as BKW Farms www.bkwazgrown.com ) have turned their attention to growing heirloom wheat—USDA Certified Organic. Bravo for feeding us well AND improving the soil, air and water! With their first crop a real bumper, BKW Farms is returning more than twice the wheat seed back to NativeSeeds/SEARCH than the original “starter kit” quantity loaned to them. Kneaded by the skilled hands of Barrio Bread and BigSkye bakers, their White Sonoran Wheat’s flavor is spreading and exciting many a Tucson palate. Check out www.barriobread.com and www.bigskyebakers.com .
At our Flor de Mayo farmers market booth, a few wheat-sensitive consumers have reported they are actually not affected by this heirloom wheat. (Hey, scientists, there is information in its genes and constituents we need to know more about!)
Using whole kernals of wheat in cooking seems to be almost an unknown in modern culinary culture, but health benefits are significant. For one thing wheat berries are “live food” truly sharing life energy. Vitamins in the bran and germ are super-active. In commercial so-called “whole wheat bread” the vibrant living constituents have been removed for transport and storage then added back artificially when baked to make it “whole” again. By eating the wheat berries whole from the git-go, we can enjoy their full nutrition. [For local, fresh, the only truly whole flour (no parts removed) milled from White Sonora Wheat commercially available, we are blessed with the new Hayden Flour Mills in Phoenix (www.haydenflourmills.com) providing packaged flour to the NSS store and to Flor de Mayo LLC.]
Providers of other heirloom wheat berry varieties locally are Ramona Farms (www.ramonafarms.com) and San Xavier Farm Coop (www.sanxaviercoop.org) with Pima Club wheat, and the NSS Store with faro also known as emmer (www.nativeseeds.org).
I’ve been having a wheat-berry “hay-day” in the kitchen with White Sonoran Wheat berries. Here are a few appetizing ideas to introduce wheat berries into your culinary repertoire:
Sprouted White Sonora Wheat Berries:
Sprouts will take about 3-4 days until ready. Plan on rinsing them daily. Soak 1 tablespoon of wheat berries overnight in a jar. Prep “greenhouse” box with coffee filter or paper towel cut to size to prevent grains from passing thru any holes as a strainer. Pour wheat berries into “greenhouse” box, wash and drain. Place box on a dishtowel out of direct sunlight. Rinse and drain them twice a day to keep them from getting sour. Within 2 days you will see rootlets like tiny white spiders forming. By the third day greenish stems will rise. That’s when they are ready to eat. Try sprouts as a surprise snack—you won’t believe how its relatively blah starch can change with the magic of living enzymes into the sweetest pleasant sweet you ever tasted! To slow down growth of young wheat sprouts put “greenhouse” box in frig. You can snip or “mow” elongating wheatgrass and add it to green drinks or smoothies. Separate wheat sprouts and toss them in salads. With a hand-crank masa-grinder (such as the one sold at Native Seeds/SEARCH store) grind them fresh to add flavor and texture to bread-baking. [I will be interested you hear your wheat sprout ideas too!]
Cracked Wheat Berries–Speaking of grinders—a masa grinder or meat grinder can be used to crack dry wheat berries for cooking bulgar dishes. If you have a stone-burr hand mill, White Sonoran Wheat berries mill to a beautiful flour for baking. Keep your ear to the ground about upcoming wheat-berry milling events to be announced with my new WonderMill…..
Basic cooking directions for Whole Wheat Berries: (Simply cooking wheat berries ahead makes some tasty recipes a breeze!)
1) Rinse 1 cup dry White Sonoran Wheat berries to remove any chaff or grit. Drain.
2) In saucepan cook washed wheat berries with 3 cups drinking water and ¼ tsp sea salt. Bring to a boil then reduce to low simmer.
3) Check berries after 30 minutes, adding more water if necessary to cover. Taste for doneness every 5-10 minutes thereafter. When done, berries should be round, fully plump, softly chewy (beyond al dente) with no white starch remaining. It may take 45 minutes to an hour to finish taking up water, i.e. to be fully cooked. One cup dry wheat berries yields about 4 cups of cooked wheat berries.
Then…you can eat hot wheat berries right away (or zap them later) as a hot cereal. Or, refrigerate them for up to a week for use in pilaf or marinated salads—recipes follow….
Berry-Delish Hot Wheat Berry Cereal
1 cup hot white Sonora wheat berries cooked
2 T dry blueberries and/or dry cranberries
1 T chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
Pinch of sea salt
½ cup warmed milk, rice milk or almond milk
1 pat of butter on top (optional)
Serve hot and enjoy the soft crunchiness. My elderly mother got a nostalgic look of bliss after tasting this hot wheat berry cereal, saying that it reminded her of what her mother served her as a young child.
Perfect Wheat Berry Pilaf
In 2+ Tablespoons flavored olive oil, sautee 1-2 cups chopped fresh vegetables, such as red onion, yellow or winter squash, red sweet pepper, carrots, celery, greens (optional).
When veggies are al dente in the pan, add 2 cups cooked wheat berries to the mix and 2 more tablespoons flavored olive oil. Stir-fry until hot through.
Add 2 T pine nuts (optional—they won’t show) and 1 T chopped tops of I’itoi’s Onion (or chives)
Dress with salt, pepper, and spices, such as Santa Cruz Chile and Spice Company’s “zapp.” Serves 3-4 generously. Enjoy!
[A cool idea is to make extra pilaf (more than recipe) and chill it to use later as a flavorful salad.]
Wheat Berry Salad Supreme
Marinate 2 cups cooked wheat berries in your favorite Italian, balsamic, or Asian dressing overnight (8-12 hours) then toss with fresh chopped romaine, carrots, celery, sweet peppers, olives. Serves 4. As Mom says, “It’s so chewy—you know you’ve eaten something!”
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Three cheers –for our local seed-savers and growers bringing this ancient grain afresh to our tables! For our local bakers helping it rise again! And for our creative Baja Arizona chefs honoring pre-industrial wheat with their culinary alchemy!
Local, heirloom, organic—wow, what more could we ask? That is White Sonora Wheat. Come taste a White Sonora wheat berry sprout. Stop by and see me, Tia Marta, at the St. Phillip’s Sunday Farmer’s Market where I’ll have the BKW organic White Sonoran Wheat berries for sale in 6oz and 1 kilo size packages ready to use. Or you can find them packaged at the Native Seeds/SEARCH Store, 3061 N Campbell, Tucson. Order online at www.nativeseeds.org. Please visit my website for other desert food products and scheduled events at www.flordemayoarts.com.