Tuesday, July 17, 2018

14,000 year-old bread discovered in Jordan

Someone burned the toast, apparently, and that's part of the reason that researchers still found bits of it in 14,400 year-old ovens in Shubayqa 1, a hunter-gatherer archaeological site in northeastern Jordan. A study that made headlines on July 16, 2018 described the work led by Amaia Arranz-Otaegu from the University of Copenhagen. The report shows that our ancestors baked bread with ancient wheat (einkorn) thousands of years before the start of agriculture.
Scientists already knew that people cultivated existing stands of wheat and many other plants, that they harvested and stored grains, and that they ground grains and made them into flat cakes that they cooked well before agriculture started. Archaeologists have discovered grinding tools with grain fragments in Mozambique from 105,000 years ago; from Australia about 50,000 years ago; and from several places in Europe about 33,000 years ago. The new discovery is the first, however, to find the burnt bread in the hearth.

Grinding and baking foods provides substantially more energy than raw whole foods. That meant that even Paleolithic hunters and gatherers had a good reason to go through the laborious process of harvesting grains and tubers, and preparing the bread. Scanning electron microscopes allowed researchers to analyze 24 fragments of the 600 pieces of bread. The team identified the plants in the bread: einkorn, wild barley, oats, and tubers from sedges. Then they baked experimental breads with the same ingredients, to prove that it could be done. The article doesn't say how the bread tasted, but it did give them a way to double-check their findings.

A modern version of Australian Aboriginal seed bread, from Gurandgi Munjie group.

 Dorian Fuller, a co-author of the study, said that an earlier form of wheat called einkorn had gluten. “‘[F]lour should also ideally include some protein, such as gluten, that occurs in wheat to hold the batter together and provide elasticity.’”  Researchers noted that the grains were more finely-ground than they had expected, which would make a tastier bread and allow it to have a better shape.

Australian Aboriginal grindstone, about 30,000 years old.

Another co-author, Tobias Richter, emphasized the extensive reliance on bread today. “‘I think it’s quite important to recognize that bread is such a hugely important staple in the world today.’” The discovery means that humans have been relying on bread for a long time.

                                        Flat bread -- naan (TWC, 5-19-2012)

This bread was baked near the end of the Upper Paleolithic era, which started about 50,000 years ago and ended with the beginning of agriculture around 10,000 years ago. It suggests that the Paleo diet may need some revision.  How long now, until a recipe comes out for the "real" Paleo bread, and people can return to enjoying the food of their ancestors?

               The Shubayqa 1 site, with oven where researchers discovered ancient bread.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

From Kangaroo grass to wheat: Europe arrives in Australia

                      Wild emu at the edge of the New South Wales Outback (TWC).

Gifts of bread

Aboriginal stories credit Captain James Cook with bringing bread to Australia.  The stories tell about all of things that the mythical "Cook" brought: clothes, axes, animals, and bread and flour. Even though few tribes encountered  him in person, they still have Cook tales. The Rembarrnga people of Arnhem Land, where he never ventured, tell of the "real" Captain Cook, their ancestor law-man from millions of years ago. When that Captain Cook is killed, the story teller says that people tried to make him another way, and many "Captain Cooks" (i.e., white settlers) arrived.

              Captain Cook statue in Sydney, Australia (March 4, 2018) (TWC)

Cook's first expedition on the Endeavor in 1770 spent nearly two months in Queensland repairing the ship after it ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef.  Percy Mumbulla (an Aboriginal living in New South Wales) tells how Cook arrived at an island there in a large ship.  He gave Mumbulla's ancestors clothes and hard biscuits. After he left, the ancestors threw the gifts into the sea.  In his journals, Cook confirmed Mumbulla's report, saying that the Aboriginals saw the gifts as things "they had no manner of use for."

Chloe Grant and Rosie Runaway of Queensland tell a second story of Cook's arrival bearing bread:  "Captain Cook and his group seemed to stand up out of the sea with the white skin of ancestral spirits, returning to their descendants. Captain Cook arrived first offering a pipe and tobacco to smoke (which was dismissed as a 'burning thing... stuck in his mouth'), then boiling a billy of tea (which was dismissed as scalding 'dirty water'), next baking flour on the coals (which was rejected as smelling 'stale' and thrown away untasted), finally boiling beef  (which smelled well, and tasted okay, once the salty skin was wiped off). Captain Cook and group then left, sailing away to the north, leaving Chloe Grant and Rosie Runaway's predecessors "beating the ground with their fists, fearfully sorry to see the spirits of their ancestors depart in this way."

Growing wheat

The English soon returned to Australia in force. In 1788, England now bereft of American colonies to which it could ship criminals, landed a boatload of convicts at Botany Bay (Sydney).  Within a few months of their arrival, the prisoners turned farmers began to grow wheat. It took  several years of hunger while they learned how to farm, found decent soil, and tried planting new varieties of grain, but by 1799, the colony cultivated 6,000 acres of wheat.

                          A harvested field in New South Wales, February 2018 (TWC).

 As was the case around the world,  wheat culture in Australia evolved significantly during the 19th century. Early Australian farmers trying to clear ground and plant wheat lacked any sort of sophisticated equipment. Until the first plows arrived in 1797, the convicts and settlers used hoes and spades. The farmable areas near the coasts of the continent were forested, and often hilly. After cutting the trees, farmers hitched teams of oxen to wooden plows. An innovative farmer by the name of Mullens drove spikes into a V-shaped log, which his horse dragged along the plowed soil. The cultivator loosened the dirt and dropped the seeds in behind it. Iron plows didn't arrive until the 1850s.

A few years later, the Australian government paid Richard Bruyer Smith 500 pounds sterling for his invention of the "stump-jump" plow. Smith's plow went along as usual until it came to a stump or rock, at which point a hinge mechanism allowed the share and mould board to lift over the obstacle and come down on the other side. A new Australian wheat variety, "Federation," greatly increased production after 1903 when it was first marketed. New seeds, new machines, and the networks of railroads that were largely in place by the 1880s made wheat farming possible on a large scale.

                        Wheat sheaves, around 1884 - 1917, Sydney, Australia.

Cooking and eating wheat

     During the second half of the 1800s, English in Australia might well have turned to Eliza Acton's The English Bread Book for their bread recipes.

The English and other settlers adapted to their new environs. Occasionally they ate indigenous foods prepared in the same ways that the Aboriginals were accustomed to use them. Far more often than not, they substituted local foods in their own recipes because they couldn't get the ingredients that they usually ate. They cooked parrots instead of pigeons into soups, and prepared kangaroo meat as if it was beef or mutton.  Mrs. Lance Rawson's Antipodean Cookbook from 1895 gave recipes for flying fox (tastes like pork), bandicoots, and iguanas (tastes like chicken),  preparing them all using English techniques and seasonings.

                  Flying fox, Sydney Centennial Parklands, 2/10/2018 [TWC]

The indigenous peoples also adapted. They continued to prepare their traditional foods, often using English ingredients -- flour, sugar, the new meats such as mutton, beef, and pork -- to make their traditional dishes. More often, they substituted English foods for their own. The English foods tasted better to them, were far easier to get, and were recommended (or at times, required) by the English who ruled over them. Some English paid indigenous people who were working for them in English foods, including flour.

That's one part of the story.  In addition, it's also true that the English brought domesticated animals such as sheep and cattle and sent them out to graze  on the Aboriginal lands. Some of the grazed areas had been fields of murnong (yam-daisy tubers) that the Aboriginals managed by judicious use of fire to keep down pests and fertilize the soil. The English took over the grain fields and grass lands that the Aboriginals cultivated and used them for their own crops. Because many of the Aboriginal populations were decimated by Old World diseases, or by deliberate killings, they didn't have the ability to resist, or to continue to cultivate their own foods. English foods were all that were available in many places.


                   Classic damper, cooked in campfire ashes (which would be brushed off   before eating) [From 2012, in Yandeyarra, Wendy Wood)]

One new shared food was the flatbread called damper. People have made flatbreads with ground seeds and tubers  and water for thousands of years. They have cooked them buried in ashes or over hot coals. The English brought hard tack, a basic form of dried flatbread, to Australia. Once there, they created damper from the same ingredients that they used in hardtack, but prepared  it differently. William Bond, a baker in Sydney's Pitt Street, gets credit for baking the bread in the oven's ashes, "damping" them around the dough.

A 1946 recipe emphasized the kneading process for damper, which is strikingly different from hardtack. "Take 1 lb of flour, water and a pinch of salt. Mix it into a stiff dough and knead for at least one hour, not continuously, but the longer it is kneaded the better the damper. Press with the hands into a flat cake and cook it in at least a foot of hot ashes" (Bill Beatty, in the Sydney Morning Herald). Hard tack or ship's biscuit is not kneaded, merely mixed until the dough holds together, then flattened very thin, and baked for a long time at a low temperature until it dries out completely.

The Aboriginals claimed damper as their own as well. Before the English arrived, they made flatbreads by grinding Spinifex seeds, miller, Kangaroo grass, Bunya nuts, cattail tubers, and other local plants. mixing them with water, and baking the dough in ashes of a campfire. Today, as is shown in the next post, ground seeds and nuts are often mixed with wheat flour to take advantage of the fact that it has gluten and thus will rise when leavened.  In a bit of reverse cultural appropriation, the English version of damper is sometimes credited to the Aboriginals, as in this snack characterized as "Damper and Dip: An Aboriginal Tradition."

Australian damper with kangaroo (buffalo can be used instead) curry dip, Maria Rodale

The next post describes wheat in Australia's present, from damper to ramen to Aussie pies. The first post in the series is Who Invented Bread? at this link.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Who invented bread? The Australian contribution

                             Bread from Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop, Anchorage [TWC]

"Aboriginals' foods , , ,  the land is our mother . . ."  my attention was wandering from the guide's  talk about how indigenous peoples used the native Australian plants. His lecture on respect for mother earth became a background drone as we walked through the lush palms and pines of Melbourne's Royal Botanical Gardens. Then he caught my attention: "This is the bunya nut, which we ground for bread in Queensland  . . ." Bread? I care about bread, even if the rest of the lecture was not so compelling.

                                Bunya cone ready to harvest (Queensland).

Before Aboriginals set foot in Australia, dinosaurs ate bunya nuts. For millions of years after that, other animals feasted on them.  When the Aboriginals arrived 50,000 or so years ago, they began to grind bunya nuts  into flour, mix the flour with water, and bake the  flattened dough in hot coals.

Aboriginal clans and tribes traveled hundreds of miles to harvest and share bunya nuts, sometimes from trees that belonged to a single family and were passed from father to son. The last of the traditional festivals happened in 1902 (some sources say 1887). Much of the history may come from a colonist's account published in 1904 of her father's acquaintance with Aboriginals in Queensland during the middle 1800s. Families revived the traditional feasts in 2007. Today, bunya flour appears in breads, gnocchi, and pancakes, among other dishes.

The Aboriginals had bread, and I wanted to know more. I thought of bread as a Middle Eastern invention. How could it have gotten to Australia before the arrival of Dutch explorers in the early 1600s, and the first English settlement in 1788?

Recent discoveries of grindstones suggest that the Australian Aboriginal peoples made bread 50,000 years ago, and not just from bunya nuts. Most of the Aboriginal breads were made from grains (i.e., grass seeds), and from smaller seeds  or roots and tubers of other plants.

         Aboriginal grindstone image, Australian Museum (Stuart Humphries)

Some Aboriginal groups say that the creator of the bread seeds was Ngurlu, the crested pigeon, who collected them and left them for people. The Aboriginals picked up the seeds, ground them between stones,  mixed the flour with water, flattened balls of dough into disks, and baked them in hot ashes. Ngurlu is associated specifically with spinifex seeds, but also more generally with other seeds used for bread. Based on this, and the fact that grindstones elsewhere date from only about 36,000 years ago, some argue that the Aboriginals invented bread.

                                                        Crested pigeon, Sydney, Australia [TWC]

Or was it people in Mozambique who invented bread 100,000 years ago?  Starch grains on stone tools found in caves there suggests that their inhabitants were grinding sorghum and other grass seeds around 105,000 years ago. Skeptics contend that the other technologies needed to harvest seeds and turn them into digestible food did not yet exist, so it is unlikely that people were eating the sorghum. Our present knowledge can't settle the question one way or the other.

Other gndstones with starch seeds (oats, and other grains) date from about 36,000 years ago. Stones  found in Italy, Russia, and the Czech Republic from 33,000 to 30,000 years ago also demonstrate that people were grinding seeds in many places, and that bread itself is much older than agriculture.

We may not have a definitive answer in our lifetimes, but we do know that grinding seeds, nuts, and roots releases much more nourishment than eating them whole. Mixing the dry flour or paste with water makes the seeds even more edible, and flattening the ball of dough to a thin disk allows it to bake all of the way through in the ashes, maximizing the usefulness and tastiness. People have done this for tens of thousands of years.

There might be connections among all of these stories. How did Ngurlu's people get to Australia?  At the present, it looks as if modern humans, Homo sapiens, began to migrate out of Africa about 70,000 years ago. This lends more credence to the possibility that the people who were grinding seeds in Mozambique 100,000 years ago took their technologies with them when they left home. Australian Aboriginals, who are more closely related to Africans than to Asians or  Europeans, probably migrated through Asia soon after leaving Africa -- perhaps discovering seeds and roots to grind for bread along the way.

The small group of people wharrived in northern Australia  moved south over the next thousand years, setting fires to burn the forests and make the land and plants more habitable for themselves. The change in landscape, and hunting by the new occupants drove giant mammals like huge wombats and marsupial lions, to extinction. The fires changed the landscape from forests that thrived in the low-water environment to desert throughout most of the interior. Some of  the remaining plants, including spinifex, millet, and kangaroo grass, provided seeds for making bread.

                               "Seed Dreaming," painting by Angela Nangala Parlinjirri

The Aboriginals were still baking  bush bread and seedcakes when Captain James Cook first set foot on their shores in 1777, and when the first prison ship dropped people off to create a colony at Botany Bay in 1788 (now part of Sydney). The story of the transition from bush bread to damper (the English name for unleavened bread baked in the ashes) is in the next post.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Updated! Guest post by Antonia Moras: "Reasons I hate the traditional Thanksgiving" -- with risotto recipe

Update: November 24, 2017: Antonia sent a couple of changes to the risotto recipe. I've made the changes in the recipe itself, so that you have only one version of it. Most importantly, she's reduced the amount of rice to cook from two cups to one cup, and reduced some of the other ingredients proportionately. Buon Appetito!

 A guest post from my friend Antonia Moras, an accomplished writer and cook, about her Thanksgiving plans for this year [bonus recipe for Thanksgiving Risotto]. She noted that next year it will be someone else's turn -- either that or pizza. Jim and I are opting for pizza this year, and desserts with a friend.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Reasons I hate the traditional Thanksgiving

1. Shopping for days beforehand in increasingly crowded stores for ingredients and foods I otherwise never cook.

2. Too much food expected and hence, a refrigerator crowded beforehand and for days afterward. 

3. Hours and hours and hours of cooking dishes I otherwise would never prepare. Pilgrim food that I don't like, and especially don't like when it's all piled into one meal. This reason relates to (4):

4. The horrid mix of flavors.

5. Hours of clean-up after a half-hour of eating.

6. Ghastly turkey carcass.

7. Low November light levels. 

This year I offered the following terms: I'd make a turkey breast with separate drumsticks for D., who loves them. A little stuffing. A risotto as a side (can be done beforehand and reheated. It tastes even better that way as a side, I think) Asparagus: fifteen minutes. Cranberry sauce (already finished). Pumpkin and blueberry pies (half finished). White wine and lemonade for those who don't drink. Whipped creme for the pies. No turkey carcass. No sweet potatoes or yam or mashed potatoes. No salad. No appetizers or soup course. No green beans. No casserole whatever. No special rolls or biscuits. Sliced bread for those who must have it. 

I DO like using the china and silver and crystal, and I can honestly say that I loved the holiday as a kid. Mom did a marvelous job and she was always merry.

Risotto as a Thanksgiving side dish

Ingredients, serving five people as a side dish

One-quarter cup of canola oil
Three or four tablespoons chopped onions
One cup of arborio or carnaroli rice (Carnaroli is better but it can be harder to find.) 
Two beef bouillon cubes
Pinch of dried porcini mushrooms
Three or four button mushrooms, chopped
One-third cup grated Parmigiano cheese
Salt and pepper to taste


Dissolve the bouillon cubes in a quart or so of water. Add the dried porcini mushrooms. Bring to a low simmer and continue to simmer throughout.

Cook the onions over low heat in the canola oil until they are almost translucent (not brown). Use a big pan with a flat, heavy bottom.

Brown the rice in the pan with the onions, for about five minutes.
Set timer for twenty minutes. Add about one third cup of the simmering broth mixture to the rice and stir until it is almost totally absorbed. Add another third cup and stir again until absorbed. Continue like this. 

After ten minutes add the button mushrooms and about a half teaspoon of salt -- maybe more. (instead of button mushrooms, you can use another chopped vegetable, like asparagus or zucchini or red bell peppers or .....) Continue to add broth and stir. If the broth mixture gets too low, just add a bit of water.

Begin tasting the rice after about twenty minutes. It should be served al dente. The grains should still be separate, not sticking together. The exact time depends on the weight of the pan and the strength of the burner. (Gas flame is best.)  

Remove from heat. Add the Parmigiano cheese and mix thoroughly. Grate black pepper over the dish, to taste. Serve warm or let cool and store in refrigerator. Reheat in a microwave. If it's going to be the main dish, it's better to serve it right away, but if it's going to be a side, letting it sit overnight works well. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The World Turtle -- Flash Fiction for chefs

The World Turtle

January 8, 2015

World Turtle, Creative Commons Image

Once upon a time, the turtle who holds up the world got tired of looking at distant galaxies, and decided that it was time to see the world right above him. He got the four elephants who stand on his back to take over for a while, and went off to see the Earth. Before he got far, he saw Atlas, who holds up the celestial spheres. “Atlas, my man,” he called out, “I’m off on a walkabout. I’ll be back in a while. Don’t you go anywhere.” Atlas shrugged.

He went onto the Earth, and started walking around. Everywhere he went, he found that people had made things about turtles and out of turtles – statutes, shields of their carapaces, trays of their shells, soup. All over Asia, people chased after Turtle to give him food, and to rub his shell. “You bring us good luck,” they said.

In India they wrapped flowers around his neck to honor him. Turtle nibbled at them and decided that the marigolds were the tastiest. This was a good life and he wondered if he should stick around. But no, there was much more to see, so he continued on.

He walked across Europe, and heard Aesop’s tale of the Tortoise and the Hare. He stopped on the Greek island of Aegina where the people showed him pictures of the turtle on their flags and coins. He saw statues of Aphrodite with her foot on the back of a turtle (fellow did OK for himself, thought Turtle). Then he swam across the Atlantic and found himself at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. Looks a bit like Aphrodite, he thought, but more of an attitude.

He hauled out of the water at The Battery, and started up Broadway. It wasn’t long before a cab screeched to a halt beside him.  A guy jumped out and said, “Dude! We are making a musical and you will be perfect for the title role. Come with me.” Turtle did, and spent the next three months as the star of “Tortoise Toes,” a musical that featured dozens of dancers singing the wildly popular hit, “Slow to love, but toe-tally yours.” Luckily, Turtle didn’t have to dance.

His adventures nearly ended one night on his way home from the theater when the cab driver suddenly twisted in his seat, and said, “You and me, bud, we’re going to make soup together.” It turned out that the cabbie was a contestant on a reality cooking show, and had to show up the next morning with an exotic meat of his choice to cook in front of the audience.

The cabbie drove him to his apartment and lugged him up the stairs to the third floor. He sat him on a ratty carpet and said, “Enjoy yourself Bud, because tomorrow you will be soup. But you’ll have an audience.” The cabbie went to sleep, and Turtle, who was noted throughout the world for his cleverness, looked around for hours for a way out. But he couldn’t find any, and resigned himself to becoming a constellation in the sky, like so many other creatures who had died untoward deaths but had claims on immortality.

When they got to the TV studio the next day, Turtle found himself in a room with the cabbie and half a dozen other wanna-be chefs who had among them an emu, a cobra, a forty-four-pound lobster, an alligator, a porcupine, and a giant cane toad. Turtle looked them over and began smiling. “Listen up,” he croaked to the others, who’d all been shoved together in a pen while the contestants readied their pots and stoves. “Here’s how we can escape.”

“Great idea! They chorused.” So Turtle and the emu, the cobra, the lobster, the alligator, the porcupine, and the giant cane toad waited quietly in the cage until the chefs sidled up to its gate looking nervous. Turtle said, “Now!” and the animals charged at the chefs. The emu pecked and kicked, the alligator lashed its tail and snapped its jaws, the cane toad puffed up and began dripping toxins, the cobra struck at the chefs with its fangs, the porcupine shot its quills, and the lobster snapped its claws as it scuttled into the fray. The chefs turned tail and ran screaming out the door, their proposed dinner companions charging after.
When the animals got to the street, a crowd had gathered. As soon as they saw Turtle, they began to shout, “Turtle!” “Tortoise Toes!” and to sing the chorus from “Slow to love” – “Toe-tally yours, I am toe-tally, toe-tally, turtle-ly yours.” Surrounded by admiring hoards of fans, and accompanied by his new friends, Turtle made his way back to the theater, and performed his last show. As he took his tenth curtain call, he waved the audience to silence, and announced, “It is time for me to go back to holding up the world. You’ve been great, and I’ve learned that it’s a world worth supporting. Take care of my friends here, and good luck to you all.” With that, he was gone.

* * * * *

“What did you find?” asked the elephants, as Turtle slid into his spot beneath their feet. “The Earth is a place where some would as soon make soup of you as feed you soup. But if you find a good producer, the world is your oyster. As it were.” And Turtle settled back into gazing out at the distant galaxies, wondering what was there.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Wheat in space

I got to wondering about whether anyone had tried to grow wheat in space. People who are raised with wheat are often so attached to it that they will try to grow it even under the worst of conditions. And what could be worse than space, where there's hardly any room for plants, let alone "amber waves of grain?"

Photo from Biosphere.org, showing wheat from the space station Mir (on the left), and control plants grown on earth (to the right).

But yes, people early on in the space adventure started to hybridize wheat that would grow in space stations.  The most successful variety from the mid-1990s is called "Apogee," and grows hydroponically or in a soilless medium that supports its roots, under artificial light, ripens fast (one source says 23 days), and thrives in the high carbon dioxide levels found in the closed quarters of space stations. Not surprisingly, given the great symbolic value that humans place on wheat, it was one of the first two crops to be grown entirely in space.

An article about growing wheat in the Russian space station, Mir, in the mid-1990s pointed out that some crop failures were due to the equipment such as the lights, breaking. The next crop, grown with functioning equipment produced plenty of seeds, but they were sterile. For eating, this isn't a problem, but if the goal is a sustainable food system in the space station, the seeds would have to be fertile to provide for continuing series of crops. A followup study found evidence to suggest that too much ethylene in the environment kept the seeds from being fertile. And the photo above, from 2005 shows third-generation plants from the Mir station growing in a lab on earth, so the fertility question was solved in short order.

Photo of Apogee on the Mir Station, from a TED talk summary.

Another article about space farming from 2003 points out that farmers will have to consider the effects of gravity in plant growth -- something that would never occur to most earth-bound farmers because a hundred million years of grasses growing on the planet have solved most of the problems of water transport in plants. Gravity also affects the "movement of heat, water vapor, CO2 and O2 between plant surfaces and their environment."

All of earth's plants grow in relationship to microbes -- bacteria, yeasts, and fungi -- in the environment, and depend on those relationships for health. Wheat is no exception. Creating and maintaining  those relationships in healthy balance in the artificial environment of a space station or a Moon or Mars colony is the topic of other studies. Another factor for many plants in space is whether they need insects for pollination -- wheat, like other grasses, has the advantage of being self-pollinating.

Great - it grows in space -- what about on Earth? Yes, as a matter of fact, the developer of Apogee, Dr. Bruce Bugbee at Utah State University, gave a TED talk about the advantages for using the wheat here, and growing it hydroponically.

Wheat on the space station Mir, ready to harvest.

A 1996 NASA article about Apogee was enthusiastic about its usefulness in making bread -- it works on earth, but baking bread in space had yet to be tried at the time of the article. The plant is a dwarf spring hard red wheat, in the family of wheats often used for bread because of their high gluten content. NASA scientist Doug Ming, quoted in the article, said that Apogee's short height makes it hard to harvest using contemporary machinery, and also creates problems with controlling weeds. Neither of these things are issues in the space station or a lab.

NASA continues to experiment with growing Apogee in space, with control plants grown on earth in identical conditions. A July, 2016 paper found some differences in the thickness of leaves and other characteristics of the space-grown plants, but no significant differences in yield. Food quality was a different matter -- tests on Apogee at Rutgers in 2002 to see how well the cookies, noodles, and bread made with it turned out found that all of the foods fell short of ideal, but were edible. Nonetheless, Apogee wheat may be the forerunner of the next Green Revolution on earth, showing ways to respond to climate change, limited water supplies, and increasing populations and still provide one of the most ancient of foods to billions of people who rely on it today.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Growing Wheat in Alaska -- Facts and Figures

Rachel Saul of Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop invited me to  talk about a paper I finished recently (posted separately) about the history and possible futures of wheat in Alaska. This is the handout that I made for the program (for October 26 and 27, 2016).

The Future of Wheat in Alaska
Wheat farming in Alaska – past, present and possible futures

Image result for creative commons seal of state of alaska

§    How the lack of wheat in Sitka starred in a romantic story of Russian Alaska.
§    What it takes to grow wheat in Alaska in 2016, who grows it, and who buys it.
§    How much wheat Alaskans eat per capita, and where it comes from.
§    How warming temperatures could change wheat farming in Alaska.
§    What that means for local food security and sustainable wheat and grains.

How much flour to make a loaf of bread?
§     One bushel of wheat weighs approximately 60 pounds, and has approximately one million individual kernels.
§     One bushel of wheat yields approximately 42 pounds of white flour OR 60 pounds of whole-wheat flour.
§     A bushel of wheat yields 42 one-and-a-half pound commercial loaves of white bread OR about 90 one-pound loaves of whole wheat bread (because much of the bran and germ are extracted from the whole grains to make white flour). Water or other liquids makes up the remaining weight of the loaf.

How much wheat to feed all of Alaska?
§     In 2010, the average U.S. person ate 134 pounds of wheat flour (not counting breakfast cereals and other ways in which wheat is eaten).
§     Alaska has 737,625 people in 2016, so we need about 98,842,000 pounds of flour each year, or 49,421 tons.
§     Alaska would have to plant 40,772 acres of wheat each year to produce 1,631,000 bushels of wheat.
§     In 2007 Alaska had about 109,000 acres of cropland and pasture: 19,000 acres in the Anchorage-Matanuska-Susitna area, 12,000 acres were in the Fairbanks area, and 72,000 acres were southeast of Fairbanks.
§     In 2015, Alaska produced an estimated 800 bushels of wheat on twenty acres (60 pounds per bushel, and 40 bushels per acre).
§     That equals 24 tons (American tons, at 2,000 pounds each) of wheat in 2015, or less than 1% of the approximately 49,421 tons eaten.

How to grow enough wheat to feed a family of four?
§     A slice of bread is about ½ inch thick, and there are about 16 slices in the average 9-inch-long loaf.
§     One loaf of bread that weighs 1 ½ pounds uses 1 pound of flour (the rest is water, and possibly other ingredients).
§     One pound of wheat berries/seeds equals one pound of whole-wheat flour. Assuming, for the sake of easier calculation that you are only making whole-grain bread (you need about 25 % more whole wheat berries to make one pound of white flour).
§     At two sandwiches per day (or equivalent use of bread), or 4 slices per day, one adult will eat about 2 loaves of bread a week. That’s two pounds of wheat, times 52 weeks, equals 104 pounds of wheat per person, per year.
§     Nine square feet of land (three feet by three feet) is needed to grow one pound of wheat.
§     Nine (square feet) times 104 (pounds of wheat berries per year) equals 936 square feet needed to grow wheat for one person, for one year.
§     Round it up to 1,000 square feet to allow seed to store to grow next year’s wheat.
§     You need a piece of land that is 10 feet by 100 feet, or 20 feet by 50 feet, or ten small plots that are 10 feet by 10 feet, to grow enough wheat to make bread for one person for one year. For four people, you’ll need 4,000 square feet, or about one-tenth of an acre.
§     You also need plenty of sun, a long enough growing season (120 days minimum, but up to 150 days), the right amount of water, land that has enough nutrients to feed the wheat, and a way to avoid pests and diseases. People have been cultivating wheat for close to 11,000 years, so it’s doable.