Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Words for "Wheat"

Etymology of Wheat:  Its life and times in languages

                   Winter wheat field, Berrien County, Michigan, April 20, 2013 [Micki Glueckert photo.]

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary ( it had a mere 2, 672 pages in its third edition as of 1973) defines the word as:

"Wheat (hwit) OE. hwaete = OS hweti (Du. weit), OHG. weizi (also weizzi, whence G. weizen), ON, hveiti, Goth. hwaiteis :- Gmc. *xwaitjaz, f. var. of *xwit- White.  1. The grain of cereal(see sense 2), furnishing a meal or flour which constitutes the chief breadstuff in temperate countries. 2. The cereal plant (closely related to barley and rye) which yields this grain, esp. common wheat, Triticum vulgare (sativum). OE. 3. Pl. Wheat-plants; crops of wheat; kinds of wheat 1795.

2. When wheate is greene, when hauthorne buds appeare Shaks. Attrib. and Comb., as w.-corn, a grain of wheat; -duck, the Amer. Widgeon, Mareca americanan, found in flocks in wheat fields; -grass, any of various sepcies of the genus Triticum, esp, couch-grass, T. repens; -land, land on which wheat is grown, or suitable for growing wheat on."

wheat means قمح in Arabic.

wheat means Blat in Catalan.

wheat means Blé in French.

wheat means ble in Haitian-creole.

wheat means गेहूँ in Hindi.

wheat means vete in Swedish.

wheat means Hvede in Danish.

wheat means 小麦 in Japanese.

wheat means 小麦 in Chinese.

wheat means σιτάρι in Greek.

wheat means пшеница in Russian.

wheat means Ngano in Swahili.

wheat means Grano in Italian.

wheat means חטה in Hebrew.

wheat means trigo in Spanish

wheat means tarwe in Dutch.

wheat means Weizen in German.

wheat means گندم in Urdu.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A young chef's contest

                        Megan Wilber, Christina Christ, and Alexis Wells[Teri Carns photo.]

Alexis Wells and two chef friends were in the lobby of  King Career Center  on the campus of University of Alaska Anchorage today. Their goal? To raise money to help send Alexis, Alaska's winning student chef at the state level, to Kansas City for the national Skills USA competition. Their method -- selling cupcakes and brownies to people signing up for the Anchorage Heart Run on Saturday. Hard to beat the technique for getting our attention, and the brownies we tested were delicious.

                                  Brownies for the Heart Run registrants. [Teri Carns photo]

Alexis won the opportunity to represent Alaska by preparing a three-course meal during her  culinary arts courses at King Career Center. She will compete against other chef students from around the U.S. during the five-day conference (June 24 - 28). It's a big deal -- 60 stoves, according to the website, and thousands of volunteer hours. Competitors must make a four-course meal during the day-long event, using standardized recipes. They are judged on their skills -- using knives, safety, creative presentation, and cooking techniques -- as well as the taste and quality of the final dishes.

When she graduates from KCC, she plans to train as a pastry chef, with her sights set on Paris.  Best of luck to Alexis -- her brownies and cupcakes left us ready to taste more of her work. We're looking forward to having her as part of the Anchorage food community in the coming years.

Cupcakes made by Alexis Wells and her companion chefs in training. [Teri Carns photo]

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Makeyour own Alaskan sourdough starter: Learn from Alaska's master bakers

                              Sourdough starter, ready to use. [Teri Carns photo, 4/20/2013.]

Tangy sourdough bread was the perfect food for the gutsy would-be gold barons who poured into Alaska in the 1800s. They slept with their starters, lumps of flour and water alive with yeasts and healthful microbes, in pouches around their necks. In the morning they mixed a nugget of the starter with flour and water, let it rise in a bowl during the day, and baked it in a Dutch oven (a cast iron pot with a lid) over the campfire in the evening. The round, fragrant, golden-crusted loaves satisfied even the hungriest miners.

                        Sourdough flatbread, fresh from the oven. [Teri Carns, 4/20/2013.]

Few things are more immediately gratifying than buttering a slice of sourdough bread hot from your own oven. Simple and satisfying, sourdough is on CNN's list of the top 50 classic American foods. You can create a starter the same way that gold seekers did. Once your starter is thriving, you can make dozens of simple or complex recipes, from breads and flatbreads to pancakes and muffins. Depending on how often you feed it, the starter will taste sweeter or tangier. Below, you'll find advice from Alaska's premier bakers and a recipe showing how anyone can recreate the flavorful breads.

Sourdough starters are living colonies of yeasts and microbes that feed on the starches and sugars in grains, fruits, or vegetables. Water, oxygen, and the right temperatures keep them thriving. Like other living creatures, they need food and water every day or so, unless they are hibernating in your refrigerator.

Kirsten Dixon of Winterlake Lodge on Alaska’s Iditarod Trail creates a sourdough starter by slicing apples and adding them to a bowl of water with a little sugar. She sets the bowl in a warm spot in her kitchen until the yeasts and bacteria have begun to take root in their new home. Whether you start with apples or all-purpose wheat flour (the most common choice), yeasts and microbes that are always in the air or on the fruit and flour settle into the welcoming environment. As the culture grows, it should smell yeasty (not sour or moldy) and look bubbly and healthy.

Baking with your own sourdough starter makes each bite burst with complex flavors. Leavening dough with natural levains (sourdoughs) keeps loaves fresh for days, says Janis Fleischman of Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop in Anchorage. Your culture's yeasts and microbes grow so well that they prevent invading microbes from gaining a foothold.

Daniel Martin of Wild Oven Bakehouse in Juneau says that the warm, slow, mildly acidic fermentation of natural sourdough leavening releases nutrients locked in the grain, making the bread more digestible. Communities of wild yeasts and microbes accomplish this much better than a single type of commercial yeast. The bright tastes of naturally yeasted sourdough bread signal both a delicious meal and one that uses local ingredients to create healthier food.  
Ways of making sourdough starters abound, with some cooks encouraging the use of prepared yeast to boost the activity of the wild yeasts, and others relying entirely on what's found in the air and on the flour that you're using. You can mix in plenty of water or leave the starter dough fairly dry. This straightforward and easy Exploratorium version uses only local wild yeasts. The website explains in detail how to keep your starter healthy and happy once it's going.

Mix 1/4 cup white flour with 2 tablespoons water in a small bowl until it turns into a dough. Knead for about five to eight minutes until springy. Cover the bowl loosely with a towel and let the starter sit in a warm spot for two to three days, until it's moist, wrinkled, crusty and smells sweet.

Throw away any crust, add ½ cup flour and enough water to make a firm dough. Cover and leave for one to two days.

The starter should look new and fresh. Remove any dried dough and add one cup of flour. Cover bowl with damp cloth and leave in warm spot for eight to twelve hours. The starter is ready to use when it looks like a regular fully risen bread dough, and springs back when you poke it with your finger.

                               Sourdough flatbread, ready to bake. [Teri Carns, 4/20/2013.]

Now you can use the starter in most sourdough recipes by breaking off a small chunk, mixing it with more water and flour, and letting it work its magic in the dough. The recipe  gives the correct proportions and directions for making loaves of bread. Many other recipes are available in books and on the Internet.

                             Sourdough flatbread, ready to eat. [Teri Carns photo, 4/20/2013.]

Save a small piece of the starter in the refrigerator, then refresh it again as above and use it in another recipe. Some starters are more than 100 years old; you can leave yours to the great-great-grandchildren in your will.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Sourdough thrives at Wild Oven Bakehouse in Juneau, Alaska

Sourdough thrives at Wild Oven Bakehouse in Juneau, Alaska

A February day's offerings at Wild Oven Bakehouse, Juneau, Alaska. [Photo, Teri Carns, 2013.]

Wild Oven Bakehouse in Juneau, Alaska is home to naturally yeasted breads of uncommon deliciousness. Daniel Martin, founder and chief baker, talked in a recent email about his house starters and the techniques behind the satisfying foccacias, hearty peasant breads, and traditional Chinook sourdoughs.

"A woman in Juneau gave me my starter. It was in moderately decent condition compared to the neglected starters in most people's refrigerators, and I brought it into vigorous health in about a week.

If you want to produce a starter with good yeast activity you have to 'build' it, not just 'feed' it. The microorganisms in sourdough (wild yeast and lactobacteria) grow exponentially:  1 cell makes 2 cells makes 4 cells makes 8 etc.  This will happen every couple of hours in an active, room-temperature starter, so if you want to provide enough food for the organisms you have a to build your starter exponentially.

Here's a rough example of how we would build our starter in the evening (6pm) to be ready to make bread with at 6am: 1 lb.  active sourdough  +  4 lbs. whole-wheat flour  +  4 lbs. water   =   9 lbs. of finished starter. We mix the starter with cool water (about 50 degrees) and in a warm bakery, the starter is about 70 degrees by 6a.m. That should give you a sense of how much room you need to allow for the wild organisms to thrive.

Absolutely anybody can grow their own starter from flour and water and nurture it into vitality in a month or less. That it means that everyone on the planet can harness microorganisms to make sourdough bread (and other fermented foods) without any proprietary knowledge or materials and with no additional cost.  Fermentation is free. I make bread with Wild Sourdough Culture because I believe such bread is superior in flavor, nutrition and keeping quality to rapidly risen, vapid american-style yeast breads.

The ideal loaf is a hearth-baked bread with a dark brown crust color which freely emanates the peculiarly intoxicating bread-aroma which is absent or subdued in breads with under-baked, pale crusts and which is often overwhelmed by the dead-yeast aroma of typical yeasted breads.  The crumb (that is, everything inside the crust) should reveal lots of medium and large sized holes.  This is achieved by an adequately proofed, very wet dough and facilitated by the use of sourdough.

Kalamata olive and rosemary loaves from Wild Oven Bakehouse. [Marilyn Holmes photo, 2010.]
Photo of many loaves of bread in the kitchen

The flavor should be mildly sour, with no yeasty taste whatsoever, and rich in the complex, indescribable flavors only attainable by proper use of wild sourdough culture.  The bread will be chewy.  I prefer the more tender texture achieved by use of whole grain flours.  Such breads will also keep way better, as long as adequate (as in "lots") of water is used in the dough.

Get your hands dirty (dough hooks are for sissies).  You will develop a feel for the bread more readily by hand-mixing.

Use a drier starter and a wetter dough.  If your starter is like pancake batter it's too wet.  Mix your starter so that it is like a very very wet dough.  Use your hands and a bowl or small bucket to mix.  Whole-grain flour mixes way more easily and has more flavor and nutrition.  It also ferments more quickly--naturally, it has more life in it.

About wet dough:  your dough should be so wet that it wants to stick to everything--your hands, counter top, etc.  It will be hard to work with and shape and you will only get comfortable doing so by making many, many loaves.  I was probably on my 300th loaf before I stopped wanting to pull my hair out.   Remember this: if it's easy to work with, add more water.

Some other tips:

Build your starter twice a day if you are using it daily and don't refrigerate it for more than a week without a build.  Build a stagnate starter at least three times before using it.  If you don't see lots of yeast activity (i.e. gas bubbles), give it more time and more builds.

You can use wheat, white, spelt and rye pretty interchangeably in your starter based on what the flour composition of your final product should be. The different flours will ferment at different rates so keep that in mind. From most to least active you have:

whole rye
whole wheat/whole spelt

Get a cast-iron non-enameled lidded dutch oven or "combo cooker"  and learn how to use it. You will get phenomenal results.

Buy this book: "Tartine Bread" by Chad Robertson.  He is as dedicated and accomplished an artisan baker as exists in this country.  And damn he makes some sexy bread."

Daniel Martin pulls loaves of kalamata bread with olives and rosemary from the oven. [Photo by Marilyn Holmes, 2010.]

Wild Oven Bakehouse is tucked in below the Observatory Bookshop at the corner of North Franklin and Third (299 N. Franklin). [Photo by Teri Carns, 2013.]

Contact Wild Oven Bakehouse at bread@wildoven.com, or (907) 321-6836

To learn how flour and water becomes
WILD OVEN bread,
check out the facebook album "Behind the Bread."

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The official state microbe?

Microbes gaining status – will they be official state representatives?

Image from http://www.yeastgenome.org/.

Yeast takes wheat, and grapes, and many other grains and fruits, and turns them from serviceable foods to nectar and ambrosia for the gods. The formal name for the microbe that gives both bread and beer their effervescence and intoxicating qualities is Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Saccharo = sugar; myces = fungus; and cerevisiae = “of beer.” Not coincidentally, it’s the same yeast that makes wine and ethanol, and it plays a supporting role in the culturing of some types of cheese.

Now Oregon may give Saccharomyces cerevisiae some earthly status. Oregon state house representatives passed a bill to name S. cerevisiae as the official state microbe on April 16, 2013. If the state’s Senate passes the bill and the governor signs it, Oregon will be the first state with an official microbe.

Although Oregon chose S. cerevisiae because of its connection with the microbreweries for which the state has become famous, other states might choose it for their own reasons. Iowa could adopt S. cerevisiae to represent the importance in the state’s economy of the ethanol from corn by S. cerevisiae’s hard work. California could select S. cerevisiae because it makes possible both the wine and sourdough bread that bring the state renown (although the wine connection becomes more difficult to argue each year – now, all fifty states have wineries using local fruits).

Wisconsin came close to being the first with an official microbe, Lactococcus lactis, the cheese microbe. But the Wisconsin Senate disagreed, and L. lactis continues its labors on Wisconsin’s behalf without formal recognition.

Hawaii, too, has considered the wisdom of establishing a microbe, Nesiotobacter exalbescens , in the world of symbols  that states select to characterize themselves. Unlike Saccharomyces and Lactococcus, Nesiobacter’s claim to fame is its rarity, rather than its everyday usefulness. It lives only in one  super-salty lake on an obscure island, and is of greatest interest to astrobiologists. The Hawaii legislature has yet to take action on Nesiobacter, and it, like Wisconsin’s Lactococcus, must live out its microbial adventures without recognition.

You can buy a plush Saccharomyces cerevisiae for your child’s stuffed toy collection [it looks a lot like a snoutless hamster], or earrings made in the shape of budding yeasts. You can buy it dried, in the form of sourdough starters or beer or wine yeasts, or check out the website showing experiments of all sorts that rely on it. Even without the status of Oregon’s official microbe, Saccharomyces cerevisiae will continue to entertain and nourish us in a multitude of ways.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Wheat: How it tamed dogs, our best friends

Wheat: How it tamed dogs, our best friends

                                          Photo by Micki Glueckert, April 2013, copyright, all rights reserved.

Wheat gets credit for many aspects of civilization – wars over territory, the creation of cities, the development of religion, and more. New research says that wheat should get credit  for another part of civilization that most of us wouldn’t expect – the domestication of dogs.

A Nature journal article by Swedish researchers described the co-evolution of dogs’ and humans’ digestive systems. Both turned from a meaty diet to one based on grains about 10,000 years ago. Central to the ability to live on wheat, barley, and other grasses was the development of digestive enzymes, specifically amylase, that could process starches. The researchers will be exploring the dietary evolution further, along with changes in dogs’ brains that allowed the canines to befriend people and tolerate living among them.

Both humans and dogs now have genes that permit the creation of more amylase in the pancreas than their ancestors had. The enzyme helps with three key steps in the digestion of starch: breaking down large carbohydrate molecules into smaller pieces; chopping those pieces into sugar molecules; and aiding the absorption of those molecules in the intestine. Humans have additional amylase in their saliva, which lets the digestive process begin in their mouths, encouraging chewing, and making digesting food, especially grains, easier

A Washington Post article reviewed the research, with Raymond Coppinger, emeritus professor of biology and expert on dog evolution from Hampshire College in Massachusetts saying, “Humans had nothing to do with it . . . There was a new niche that was all of a sudden available for somebody to move into. Dogs are selected to scavenge off people.”

Domesticated dogs still thrive on grains, although many dog owners and food purveyors these days promote grain-free meals as more “natural.” Dog treats in particular typically include wheat, oats, barley or rice. Pup-peroni, a brand favored by my sister who breeds and raises Australian Shepherds on her show poultry farm in Michigan, produced the photo at the beginning of this post.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

One way to write about wheat: The 49 Writers Write-A-Thon

49 Writers Write-a-Thon

The most remarkable thing was to hear Snow City so quiet, more silent than a  library, or a church at its most solemn moments. Maybe fifty people sat for the best part of four hours with nary a note of music, not a cell phone begging for attention. Now and then silverware clattered against plates, or the heating hummed a warm tune.

The sun made its way across the evening sky, shining in from the southwest at 6:00, flashing in blinding at 7:00 and 8:00, shifting northwest and lower, until dusk crept into the street, and the inside of the cafe grew cozy with overhead lights.

On the hour, Maia set off a little ringy-ding-ding on her cell phone for break time, and people looked up from their work. At 7:00, we ate -- crispy brown salmon cakes, spicy noodles, roasted carrots, potatoes, parsnips tinged pink from the neighboring beets, and squares of creamy desserts. At 8:00, she led yoga stretches, with half the writers bending back and forth like kelp stalks in a lazy sea. At 9:00 she kept it short -- a few announcements. People clapped distractedly, their eyes on the words that were coming alive on the pages in front of them.

At 10:09 p.m., everyone looked up, scattering applause and cheers as Linda and Maia announced the winners of prizes for the most funds raised, the most people involved, and more. Then they stood up and pulled on coats, chatted, bundled up their journals, their pencils and pens, their iPads, and bade each other farewell.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A map of sourdough starters for sharing, in the Czech Republic

Sharing sourdough starters is a time-honored tradition. Tonight I gave part of the starter that the Alyeska Bake Shop shared me on Easter to a friend down the street. They got it in 1964 from the Sourdough Lodge  on the Richardson Highway near Gakona, Alaska, and the Lodge folk in turn got it from "a fortune-seeking gold miner" in the late 1800s. Thus, a map published by Matador Network on March 18, 2013 struck a chord. The author, Tereza Jarnikova, described it as:

"Sourdough bread is made using naturally occurring yeast. The process involves making a mixture of flour and water and waiting for natural yeast and bacteria to come hang out with it. Once this happens, the dough can start rising, but it can be a painfully slow and ornery process, so it’s much easier to just get a piece of naturally yeasted dough (called a starter) from someone who has one and then keep it alive. Enter the sourdough map, which maps people in your neighbourhood who have a sourdough starter and are willing to share it. The heartening and fascinating thing about it all is the sheer number of participants — from the map it looks like no matter where you are, there is someone within ten kilometers of you who will help you bake homemade bread. Here, in our little forgotten country of the Czech Republic, invisible in the streets, is a whole army of people who care about homemade food. The project is simple and brilliant and fills me with some small amorphous optimism about the world."

Scroll down for the map:

Najděte si ve svém okolí člověka, který se s vámi podělí o kvásek!
 Nenašli jste špendlík ve svém městě? Prohlédněte si úplnou verzi kváskové mapy!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Sourdough legacy at Alyeska Bake Shop

Turnagain Arm, north of Alyeska Bake Shop. Photo by Teri Carns.

What’s older than you, and me, and anyone we know, but still bubbling along cheerfully? Answer: The sourdough starter at the Alyeska Bake Shop in Girdwood, Alaska. Those tasty sandwiches and pancakes that tempt you after a brisk winter ski are made with historic Alaska yeasts. A gold miner near Fairbanks gave some starter – a mix of flour, water, and colonies of living yeasts and edible bacteria –  to the owner of the Sourdough Lodge on Richardson Highway in the late 1800s. Those same yeasts have been growing and multiplying, raising and flavoring Alaskan breads ever since. In 1964, Werner Egloff who built the Alyeska Bake Shop stopped there on his way north, and the lodge owner gave him both starter and a pancake recipe.

Lucky me – on Easter Sunday, half a century later, I overheard a woman asking the staff if she could have some of that same starter. The answer was “yes,” so emboldened, I asked for a bit too. Brooke Bjorkman, baker and chef, gave me a cup half full with fragrant, creamy batter (leaving room for the starter to grow), and talked about its lineage and care.

“We double the starter twice a day,” she said, by feeding it two parts flour to one part water. The mix stays about the consistency of a good milkshake, a little thicker than pancake batter. The frequently-fed starter gets used for white sourdough bread and pancakes. But “Michael Flynn, the owner, lets some of the starter go a couple of days or longer between feedings. That makes it more sour, and suits the rye and whole wheat breads that he experiments with.”

Bjorkman said that the starter is sturdy stuff, as might be expected for something still going strong after a hundred years or more. When the Bakeshop closes in late October for its annual cleaning and refreshment, the starter goes into the refrigerator and is fed only every other day. Bjorkman said that her aunt dried sourdough starter for traveling by spreading a thin layer on waxed paper. Once the water evaporated, the aunt packaged up the powdered starter, then rejuvenated it by mixing with flour and water.

Alyeska Bake Shop treasures its starter. “If the building is burning down, save the starter,” is the staff motto. Years ago, a new employee accidentally threw out the starter. The owner hastily drove two hundred miles to Homer where another colony of the same starter was growing to bring some back to Girdwood.

My kids don’t know this yet, but along with the family jewels (of which there aren’t many), they’ll inherit something maybe more valuable – a sourdough starter, way older than me, that came to Alaska during the gold rush days.

Alyeska Bake Shop is in Girdwood, Alaska, next to the day lodge at the ski resort. It’s open year-round from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (8:00 p.m. on Saturdays). Check out the menu,. Seating is available in the restaurant, or get your food to go. The Sourdough Lodge is still at Mile 147.5 on the Richardson Highway (according the the Copper Valley Chamber of Commerce), but as of this post, does not have a web site.