Thursday, October 29, 2009

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Mill

So it’s wheat planting time here in North Carolina. Although most of the planting will be soft wheat, hard (bread) wheat will be sown as well. This year’s harvest of two varieties of organic hard wheat grown in Moore Co, NC (and planted this time last year), received overwhelmingly positive feedback in both flavor and performance by the pilot group of bakeries from the North Carolina Organic Bread Flour Project (NCOBFP) (see past blog entries). These varieties, NuEast and Appalachian White, were bred and developed for production in the eastern United States by USDA-ARS plant pathologist and geneticist Dr David Marshall, research leader of the Plant Sciences Research Unit in Raleigh, NC. The next step will be taking the wheat from fifty-foot test plots into the field. Although most of Dr Marshall’s wheat is going to seedsman to grow out for seed, he has provided organic grower Kenny Haines with two acres worth of seed of each variety, to grow for the bakers.
But how do we go from grain to flour? NCOBFP received funding to lay the groundwork for a viable bread wheat economy in North Carolina. I had this idea that if we organized the many bakeries of western NC into one buyers unit, we would become a formidable voice of bakers and a significant buyer of NC grain. In theory, everyone loved the idea. But could North Carolina really produce quality bread wheat? My bakery was one of only a few bakeries in western NC milling its own grain. How are we to go, on a larger scale than my little bakery, from grain to flour?
Rewind a bit. Alan Scott (whom I had apprenticed with 15 years ago, milling our grain to flour and baking our old world flemish naturally leavened breads in a wood-fired brick oven that Alan designed and built himself) called me from Tasmania last year. He called to tell me what he had set in motion during the short amount of time-- two or three years tops-- since he had moved back to Australia. He was organizing bakers and he had purchased a 48" diameter stone-burr Osttiroller gristmill with sifters; in an email he wrote me that his "family in the district has recently built a gigantic dam for water to irrigate with pivots, enough for 30,000 acres! It is shared by 12 farmers who have all suffered from global warming but now will put them in a very favorable position to grow grain crops." He asked that I come to Tasmania and give workshops on desem baking, but I am a mother and cannot go. Yet he planted a seed. I shifted my focus onto what was stewing in North Carolina in regards to potential bread wheat production. And so we got funded, and then Alan died of congestive heart failure.
I got a call from Lila, Alan's daughter, asking if our project was interested in Alan's mill. Yes, we want to do this, but the bakers are not yet totally convinced about NC wheat. And then they tried the wheat. It was freshly milled in my little 12" diameter stone burr Jansen gristmill. The bakers loved the flour-- the freshness, the quality, the flavor, and performance. Dr Marshall was thrilled for the feedback. A mill devoted to NC grains made sense to everyone. A re-budget request to pay freight to bring Alan's mill to NC was approved. The estate of Alan Scott, is providing our project with the use of his 48” diameter stone-burr Osttiroller gristmill with sifters for one year as a test mill. It was Alan’s work that inspired me to do the work of linking the farmer, miller, and baker in North Carolina. It seems the appropriate measure, a bittersweet story, for Alan's mill to be used to inspire growers to plant wheat and bakers to buy local grain in North Carolina.
This trial use of a gristmill with sifters will enable the bakers to work with NC wheat on a production level, figuring out product, level of extraction, and grains (beyond hard wheat) that can be milled. The mill will be located in western NC, amid a high concentration of artisan bakeries and amongst the pilot group of seven bakeries. The pilot group has agreed that with each new batch of flour, they will provide feedback as to how they used the flour, its performance, their likes and dislikes etc. The goals of working with the mill for the year are to come up with product and work out operational logistics. The end goal is a micro milling facility devoted to organic NC grains. After one year of using the mill, if the results from this experiment are positive, expect to see a campaign launched to raise money to pay the Scott family for the purchase of the mill.

Friday, September 4, 2009

more feedback... this one from Loafchild

"Okay, just so I don't wind up being the completely lazy and non-participating baker here... while I have yet to use this flour to make any actual BREAD I did make some oatmeal-wheat scones (50% whole wheat) with the App. White and it gave a lovely golden color (more golden than [what I am used to]) and a micro-thin crunchy crust. Lovely overall texture too. I have also made a Concord grape pie with a 100% whole wheat crust, again App. White. Again, the remarkable golden color and a rich flavor that stood up well to the filling, a wonderful light crunch to the pastry. I'm gonna try Danish too and then maybe I will be over my sweet tooth."
-- Darci, Loafchild Bakery

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Farm and Sparrow's feedback

"On Monday, I milled up the Nu East Red wheat and sifted the flour to about an 85% extraction, mixed a wet dough, and set it in the cool room for a long bulk rise. Then I clumsily injured my left hand and wound up with a splint. Having only one hand to shape with, all I could think to do was pull it into a ciabatta style rustic log. It turned out phenomenal with a big open interior and good red wheat flavor. I don't think I would have got that crumb with a high protein spring wheat. I agree with Abraham about the mellowness though, I think it has good flavor but lacks some of the bitterness of bran heavy red wheats. This is very promising!
Also, I got to try Steve's loaves last saturday. They were tasty and wheaty and were a perfect illustration of the different flavor profiles of red/white wheat."

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

More results from Dr Marshall's wheat

More feedback is rolling in: Flat Rock Village Bakery said, "We had really good results with both flours mixing up sourdough loaves with each on two different days. I found the flavor of both (NuEast and Appalachian White) to be noticeably fresher and "wheatier" than the [flour] I'm used to. Both flours performed well developing into very nice 100% whole wheat loaves with good volume, structure, and shape. Overall thumbs up, thanks."
Abraham Palmer of Box Turtle Bakery in Chapel Hill, "I baked with all fresh-milled flours in a sourdough hearth loaf (wheat, water, salt, and starter culture) side-by-side a Montana-grown hard white wheat. The recipe uses a Reinhart-style 12 hr soaker for the bulk of the flour. I would be very pleased to have a supply of both of these grains. Loaf height of my Appalachian White was better than Nu East although both performed acceptably. The flavor of the Nu East lacked some of the bite I associate with the tannins and that I look for in a red wheat, but some might like the milder flavor anyway. The Appalachian White I thought had very good buttery/nutty notes and the customers I sampled it with preferred it of the three. It made my Montana-grown hard white wheat seem fairly bland by comparison."
Wakerobin breads, "I just tasted the bread made with the organic Appalachian White whole wheat flour. It is distinctly nuttier and sweeter than [my usual supply of] the whole wheat bread flour. I really like it!"
The above picture is from Farm and Sparrow. This bread was made with the NuEast, hard red wheat (grown in Moore Co on Billy Carter's farm). Baker Dave Bauer hand-sifted out the larger bran, for about a mid-80s extraction.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Dr Marshall's wheat

Dr Marshall's wheat arrived in the bakery last week. 80 lbs of the NuEast (HRW)/USDA-ARS03-4736 and 80lbs of Appalachian White (HWW)/USDA-ARS05-1234. The wheat was grown organically in Moore Co, the Sandhills of North Carolina, by farmer Billy Carter. With my 12" stone-burr grist mill, I milled for the seven bakeries that make up the pilot group here in WNC: Annies Naturally, Farm & Sparrow, Loafchild, Wildflour, Flat Rock Village Bakery, Westend, and Wakerobin Breads. Basic lab results showed very decent numbers: protein- NuEast- 13.74, Appalachian White- 13.32 with falling numbers of the two varieties at 511 and 432 respectively. Thus far, I have tried Wakerobin's whole wheat bread done in a pullman pan, using the Appalachian White. Steve Bardwell, of Wakerobin, compared this NC bread to one made with mid-western wheat, using the same formulas. We both preferred the flavor and texture of this NC white wheat to the mid-western wheat. Very exciting. More to come, as the baker's feedback rolls in...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

NC-Grown Organic Wheat- from field to bread

Wheat harvest in NC is fully underway, most of it soft wheat, with some hard wheat, and the hope to see more and more hard wheat grown throughout the state. Soft wheat-- wheat with lower protein used for pastries, cookies, biscuits (usually not bread)—is the wheat traditionally grown east of the Mississippi. In 2007, 560,000 acres of wheat (most all of it soft) were planted in NC and over 24 million bushels were harvested, used mostly for feed, with a small amount going to food-grade mills. Hard wheat, aka bread wheat, has not traditionally been a successful grain in the Southeast due to our humidity that causes disease in the field which affects both yield, and performance quality in the bakery. But beginning in 2002, the USDA-Agricultural Research Service began a program to identify and breed wheat having hard (bread wheat) quality for production in the humid environments of the eastern U.S.. For the identification phase of this program, varieties and advanced breeding lines were obtained from breeders in the Great Plains (principally Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado) and tested in Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.
Several hard wheats were identified that had the yield, disease resistance, and grain quality needed for production in the eastern U.S. From those wheat trials, TAM 303 (Texas A&M 303) was the first of the hard wheats to be released. This year two more varieties-- a hard red and a hard white—will be released.
A couple weeks ago, on Thursday June 11th, a group made up of mostly interested growers with a few bakers thrown in the mix, gathered in Waynesville, NC, at the Mountain Research Station to view the wheat trials of UDSA wheat breeder, Dr David Marshall. Presented as part of the “New Marketing Opportunities for NC Farmers” grant proposal funded by Golden LEAF Foundation and administered by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in conjunction with NCSU and USDA, this event, the "NC-Grown Organic Wheat- from field to bread” enabled the pubic to both view the trials and hear from Dr Marshall, as well as Dr Chris Reberg-Horton, organic crop specialist and Assistant Professor, NCSU, and (me) Jennifer Lapidus, Project Coordinator of the NC Organic Bread Flour Project.
Dr Marshall began his talk by pointing out why we are able to gather in this field and view wheat, that public breeding still takes place with small grains—wheat, barley, and oats—as opposed to corn and soybeans, which are controlled by private corporations. Both federal and state tax dollars are used to support breeding of small grains and variety development is done through public institutions. Coupled with my last blog entry that linked to the press release—“Monsanto's Genetically Engineered Wheat Rejected Globally: Groups Respond to Industry Plans for GE Wheat” – one begins to understand the crossroads by which we find ourselves. In the last fifty years a lot has changed in agriculture. Public sector versus private sector is a significant piece of the puzzle. If/when Genetically Engineered (GE) wheat is approved certain genes can then be patented and our public breeders will no longer have access to these genes. We are lucky to have Dr Marshall, and these trials of wheat here in NC.
Dr Marshall’s rows of wheat contain both old and modern varieties, soft and hard. Old varieties such as Federation and Red Fife grow next to newer varieties such as Dual, Hondo, ARS03-3806 and ARS505-1234. Traits that he is observing in the field include disease resistance, maturity time, lodging (this is when the wheat falls over, making it impossible to harvest mechanically) and yield. The bakers want flavor and performance, something that cannot be detected in the field (except if it rains too much right before harvest, which can cause sprouting in the field, which in turn can affect performance by causing an increase in alpha amylase, an enzyme that breaks down starch. But the weather is something we cannot control...)
Dr Chris Reberg-Horton discussed the challenges we face getting the grain from field to bread. Beyond the growing of the wheat, there is the cleaning and storing of the grain. Growers that have already been growing soft wheat in NC and would like to grow hard wheat for a better price point, may have harvester thresher combine equipment, but may not have proper grain storage. Most of the wheat grown in the state has traditionally gone to the feed mill; quality wheat and quality grain storage is essential for food-grade wheat growing. These are the pieces that I am looking at as well, as i try and forge relationships between growers and bakers-- what does it take to get that grain from the field into the bakery? Wheat is harvested in June and must be stored in the hottest most humid time of the year. Grain stores better if it is clean. And if we want to create a truly NC flour, we need to be able to store NC wheat separate from imported wheat-- mills traditionally store grain by grade, not locality. My job is sort of all over the map-- talking with everybody-- trying to connect the dots...If only wheat from field to bread was as easy as apples to apple sauce...
Dr Reberg-Horton also addressed the challenges and benefits of growing wheat organically. Organic wheat demands a much higher price, but what about weed control and fertilizer? Chris has been conducting organic trials throughout the state looking at green manures and roll-kill/no-till methods for building soil fertility organically.
This talk amongst row of wheat in Waynesville, surrounded by mountains, generated questions about possible wheat growing in WNC. Most all of the wheat in the state is grown everywhere but the western region, because acreage in the mountains is much smaller and to own the harvest threshing combine equipment for less than 30 acres may not be cost effective... But what about the remnants of old grain mills scattered throughout these mountains? People were growing wheat here, on smaller plots, and the smaller equipment to harvest and combine, Dr Reberg-Horton explained, are those strange pieces of equipment gathering dust, covered in cobwebs, tucked back in the back corner of many barns...

Dr Marshall's wheat has been harvested. The next step will be sampling these trials. Samples of TAM 303 and the other two varieties of hard wheat that have been approved for release this year- Nuese East and Appalachian White-- will be sent to mills for lab testing and to bakeries for bake tests. I am coordinating between Dr Marshall, the local bakeries, and Lindley Mills, located in Graham, NC. These local bakeries are a pilot group located in WNC that have agreed to test the wheat: Annies Naturally Bakery, Farm and Sparrow Breads, Westend Bakery, Flat Rock Village Bakery, and Loafchild Bakery. Other bakeries throughout NC have also expressed interest and I am hoping to get samples to these bakeries as well. I will be milling the sample wheat varieties for the bakeries in my mill, stone-ground, whole grain and Joe Lindley, of Lindley Mills is hoping to provide these bakeries a more refined sample to try. After baking and lab tests, the next true test for the grain will be beyond the fifty foot row trials-- into the field-- how will the wheat do in 30 acre and up plots... The TAM 303 has done well thus far on large plots and performs well in the bakery. Thanks to Dr Marshall, we have two more varieties to work with.
So, this is the the formal realm-- agencies, institutions, etc.. the informal realm is what is going on in the community, and on the farms with wheat. I will try and address this somewhat in the next entry.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

on a side note: News on GMO wheat

Small-scale regional grain initiatives continue to spread throughout North America and beyond, with many looking back to the older varieties of wheat-- landrace and heritage -- for genetic traits that show resistance to disease, and also, from the bakers perspective, to these varieties that present flavors and texture not found in modern wheat. Trial plots of wheat, from the USDA'a Agricultural Research Stations to non-profits like Monica Spiller's Whole Grain Connections, academic research such as North Carolina State University's North Carolina Organic Grain Project and Cornell's trials at Willsboro Research Farm, to Eli Rigosa's Northeast Organic Wheat, and those 100 bakery customers in Massachusetts's that planted trials in their backyards, and the work being done at The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas-- the list goes on...trials of heritage, landrace and modern wheat, classical breeding, no-till, cover crops, inner plantings-- this is all taking place. And then, on the other side of the coin are multinational agricultural biotechnology corporations such as Monsanto, who continue to strive to introduce Genetically Engineered (GE) wheat. Fresh in the news: Monsanto's Genetically Engineered Wheat Rejected Globally: Groups Respond to Industry Plans for GE Wheat

Monday, May 25, 2009

Burgeoning Regional Wheat Initiatives

            North Carolina is not alone in its effort to create a regional bread wheat economy. Burgeoning regional grain initiatives have sprouted up (pun most certainly intended) all over the United States and Canada. A combination of factors have contributed to this resurgence in regional grain growing-- crop failures in the Great Plains states, increasing global food demands, volatile fuel prices, and the shift from grain to corn production for ethanol--all of which have affected the price of grain, which in turn has affected both the price of feed for livestock, and the price of flour, that most essential ingredient for the baker. Another factor contributing to these burgeoning grain initiatives is an upsurge in demand for local.  Whereas in the past, the centralization of large-scale food production meant food security, this was based on the premise of cheap fuel.  Today, local, smaller-scale food production equates to  food security and sustainability, and consumers are demanding local.

            So what does this look like nationwide? If the demand exists, what about the supply?  And then there is the business of the consumer—the consumer wants local, but is the consumer willing to buy local bread that may perhaps not look or taste the same as the bread one is use to? The country's largest outdoor farmers market program, Greenmarket in New York, with 46 locations across five boroughs has set a 15 % minimum of local grain for its baker vendors to sell at its market. Although the bread does not need to be made with local flour per se, the bread and other baked goods must contain at least 15% local grains. Setting minimums like this not only puts all bakers on a level playing field, it also serves to educate the consumer as to what local grain really means.

In the Bay Area, Eduardo Morell of Morell’s Breads, has one loaf made completely with local wheat. On the back of his packaging, along with his other breads, he has listed one bread called simply, “Local Loaf.” This bread may change its appearance—from pan to hearth—or perhaps its texture from lofty to dense, depending on the variety of wheat that is available locally.  Eduardo sells his bread at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market where his Local Loaf has conjured a devoted following.  Not only does he have a market for this bread, but this baker has found that his customers are interested in what local looks and tastes like in terms of bread. Eduardo’s wheat is grown by Full Belly Farm, located in Capay Valley, northwest of Sacramento. The wheat is both cleaned and milled on-farm. 

But lets rewind a bit-- before the bread can hit the market, one first must consider the grain, as it all begins, first and foremost with the grain or seed-- that is, finding varieties of wheat and other grains that will grow well. In 1991, Monica Spiller of Whole Grain Connections in Los Altos, CA,  began trialing old varieties-- landrace and heritage wheat-- focusing on what wheat grew historically in California . Using organic growing practices, she noticed the advantages of the older varieties whose height shades out weeds, and deep root structure sequesters nutrients from the soil. She saw this as especially advantageous to the organic grower. Sonora wheat was one of her winning varieties, as she found this wheat also contains a natural resistance to stripe rust. This is what Morell’s Local Loaf is made with at present. It is a softer wheat with lower protein, and so Eduardo bakes it in a pan. 

Three thousand miles east, in North Hampton, Massachusetts, Hungry Ghost Bakery gets 100 of its customers to grow plots of wheat in their backyards in order to figure out what wheat will grow well in their area. Initially, this bakery approached local farmers to grow for them, but the farmers did not know what varieties of wheat would grow well in their area, hence the trial plots in customers yards... Northeast Organic Wheat (NOW), a consortium of farmers and bakers in Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, and Maine led by permiculture activist Eli Rigosa and funded by a Northeast SARE grant is working to identify varieties of wheat, both heritage and modern, that grow well in the Northeast, and perform in the bakery.  NOW is looking at yield, disease resistance, and quality, specifically within organic systems.  (On a side note, and something I will go into in later posts-- Eli sent down 18 varieties of wheat for trialing here in NC. I passed the seed on to local organic grower, Anne Gaines of Gaining Ground Farm, who planted trial plots in Leicester and Swannanoa. We are in the process of counting plants and wheat heads.)

 What about the infrastructure to process this grain, once it is grown? Remember the loss of the regional mill? This too is experiencing a resurgence. The town of Skowhegan, Maine recently took bids for their old jailhouse located in the center of town. Built in 1887, the jailhouse was no longer serving the town's needs. With an asking price of $200k for the 14,000 square-foot building, the town took bids for the most interesting idea. The winning bid went to Amber Lambke who proposed  a grist mill, wood-fired oven bakery, and restaurant. Not only did Lambke win the bid, but the town approved the sale of the jailhouse at the reduced price of $65k. According to Maine Organic Farm and Garden Association (MOFGA), there are 4,600 certified organic acres within a 30-mile radius of Skowhegan. Lambke will not only be processing grain into flour at her micro-mill, but the facility will be equipped for grain cleaning and grain storage. Lambke is one of the key organizers of the Kneadering Conference in Skowhegan, which on July 30th and 31 will have its third annual conference, bringing together farmers, breeders, oven designers and builders, and bakers to learn from one another, bake, and eat local bread 

 An  innovative approach to ensuring a market for grain has been the emergence of Grain Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) projects. In Canada, Matt Lowe of West Kootenany EcoSociety reached out to farmers within a 75 mile radius. He found 3 interested growers and then he recruited 180 shareholders who each paid $100 for 100 pounds of grain, and one bakery that bought 20 shares. The grain was transported via sail boat on Kootenay Lake, the quickest, least environmentally impacting route. Shareholders paid half the money upfront, in order to share in the farmer's risk. In 2009 this grain CSA expanded to 600 shares. 2009 shareholders pay $125 for 20# of Hard Spring Wheat, 20# of Hard Winter Wheat, 20# of Spelt, 20# of Khorasan Wheat (aka Kamut), and 20# of Oats. For an additional $50-- 20#s of Little Green Lentils and 20# of Red Fife Wheat.

So this is somewhat of a brief overview of what I have observed thus far nationwide. And this is just an overview, because there is more-- there's Thom Leonard with his Turkey Red wheat in Kansas, and there's Pioneer Valley Grain Project's grain CSA in Massachusetts, and there's Daisy Flour in Pennsylania, and there's Westwind Milling Company in Genesee County, Michigan and there's Anson Mills in Columbia, SC, and there's also what I do not yet know about, or have forgotten to mention, and I have not even begun to really speak about the the growers, who are the true pioneers in this movement, but the point is-- this is a MOVEMENT and it is taking shape in many different and innovative forms.
Here in North Carolina, we have our own exciting work underway. 

Next post-- North Carolina Wheat Initiative.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

what happened to the regional mill?

Regional wheat initiatives have sprung up all over the United States and beyond. Rising fuel costs, as well as the volatile price, availability, and quality of wheat have bakers thinking hard about this fundamental ingredient. Total reliance on the Midwest for wheat carries with it an inherent flaw in terms of regional food security. Historically, local mills and regional grain growing was the norm. Wheat had been grown throughout the United States, arriving in North America as early as the 1500s, according to Monica Spiller of Whole Grain Connections, a non-profit committed to the rebuilding of our local grain economies through research and propagation of heritage grain seed. Wheat first arrived in Mexico via explorers from Portugal and then, along the Eastern seaboard in the 1600s, with settlers from Western Europe; next, it was California by the late 1700s with settlers from Spain; and finally, in the 1870s, into the Great Plains and all the way up to Canada, wheat found its way, via settlers from Eastern Europe and the Ukraine. In Spiller’s Local Organic Landrace Wheat Programs: Position Paper, she explains wheat’s arrival into the different regions of North America, with each wheat type reasonably well matched to the corresponding climate. The Great Plain States would become the Modern Breadbasket due to the high volume of wheat produced on its large swaths of land, which, in turn, created the incentive to advance milling technology, thus the transformation of milling technology from stone milling to roller milling. According to Spiller, the greatest economic success due to America wheat came to the Plains states by about 1880…This huge success in the Plains had a difficult beginning because the hard red wheat type that grew there was unlike the familiar softer white wheat varieties from the West, and the East, or the softer red wheat varieties from the East. All wheat was milled with stones, and although there was some attempt to sift out the bran and germ to produce refined endosperm flour, the flour was usually whole grain even after sifting, in the sense that all the parts of the original grain where still present. The sifting process was to remove larger particles, which meant in practice that a portion of the bran was removed, but the germ was still present, having spread into the endosperm flour.... The same stone milling process produced unfamiliar whole grain flour from [the] hard red wheat [of the Great Plains]. Even after sifting, the brittle and finely divided hard red wheat bran remained in the flour; in particular it produced darker colored bread at a time when the ideal for bread was a light color….The sheer volume of wheat being produced, suddenly, throughout the Plains generated an extremely rapid development of a milling process to remove the dark red bran, as well as the germ from the hard red wheat grain. The new milling method was roller milling, using metal rolls grooved especially to slice away the germ and peel off the bran from grain that had first been moisturized to ease the process. The resultant refined endosperm flour was instantly popular; the bread was whiter than people ever experienced and had an appealing texture. In retrospect, it appears that stone mills were abandoned almost instantly in 1880 all over the Western world, in favor of the new roller mills.
Thom Leonard, author of The Bread Book refers to the “stone age” of milling that lasted for thousands of years, until the late 1800s when “the stone age has at last ceded to the age of steel.”
The rest of the United States could not compete with the sheer volume being produced in the Great Plains, and the softer varieties of wheat grown in the East and West did not mill as well with the new roller mill technology. Roller milling not only added speed and efficiency to the milling process but it made for a shelf stable product, as it is the oils contained within the germ that cause rancidity in flour, and in the roller milled product, the germ is completely removed; hence, the centralization of the milling and growing of wheat. There is more to this story, but this is a brief synopsis of how we got to where we are today, with our reliance upon the Great Plains to grow our wheat.
Next post: the burgeoning regional wheat initiatives

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A great loss

Although his passing happened literally on the other side of the world-- in Tasmania, Australia-- Alan Scott left his mark here in Western North Carolina with at least seven wood-fired brick ovens that he designed, and a few he was here to build—and this is just a count off the top of my head. Alan Scott was a pioneering oven builder and designer. He was also a baker of desem bread, a Flemish Old World, whole grain, naturally-leavened bread. I apprenticed under Alan fifteen years ago at his then home in Marin County, California. Alan was my teacher of bread, and a dear friend. But beyond my own personal experience with him, his impact on the world of artisan baking should not go unnoticed. Alan was an innovator who brought the concept of wood-fired brick ovens baking into reality in backyards and bakeries throughout the United States and beyond. He was wonderfully eccentric—his oven plans were likened to drive the type-A recipient of such designs, a little crazy. But his ovens are tried and true and unbaked loaves that finds their way to the hearth of an Alan Scott oven are blessed with a radiating heat that caramelizes the crust and provides a welcome oven-spring, assisting even a highly-hydrated artisan dough into perfect form.
Alan was born in Toorak, Australia in 1936, and raised in Melbourne with summers spent in Tasmania. After university, Alan hopped on a ship headed for Greece and spent the next couple years abroad, a good bit of that time in Denmark. It was the early 1960s. He returned to Melbourne for a bit, claiming to be “the first hippie” in Melbourne. He took off again, this time, heading for the States. Alan settled in Marin Co, California for more than thirty-five years. He raised his daughter, Lila, and son, Nicholas, in Marshall/Peteluma/Point Reyes area. Alan ran a little underground bakery out of his kitchen—kitchen table converted from dining to mixing dough with the addition of a few blocks to raise it up, and a piece of plexi-glass clamped to its surface. He baked a couple hundred loaves of desem on his weekly bake in his backyard wood-fired brick-oven that he designed and built himself. People came to bake with Alan all the time-- a range of visitors—from the backwoods hippie-type to the chef from highly acclaimed culinary circles. During my apprenticeship with Alan, he was asked to give a demonstration at the George Lucas Studios, nothing too out of the ordinary for him.
When Alan was not baking, he was traveling around the world, leading oven building workshops. Alan’s ovens can be found all over the world. The publication of The Bread Builders (Chelsea Green Publishing Co., 1999), co-authored by Alan and Daniel Wing fed the flames of a growing movement in artisan baking. Alan moved back to his ancestral homeland of Tasmania a few years ago to give attention to his ailing heart. Roger Jansen of Jansen Gristmills, who was inspired to build mills after meeting Alan and tasting desem, reflects, "The contribution that Alan made to our pursuits cannot be overestimated. I felt the space when I learned he had gone back to Australia." In Tasmania, although faced with congestive heart failure, Alan was still driven by his passion for real bread. In Oatlands, Tasmania, he began the process of setting up a bakery. Sadly, his ailing heart continued to persist, and on January 27th, 2009 Alan Scott passed away.
Last April, Alan called me from Tazmania and planted another seed of inspiration that we shall hopefully feel here in North Carolina. He called to tell me about the farmers he who will be growing wheat for bakeries in Tasmania that have his ovens. At the time of the call, wheat prices were soaring. His call got me thinking in terms of local wheat, and the revival of the centuries-old tradition of linking the farmer, and baker, and the miller. I knew the USDA-Agricultural Research Service had been working on hard wheat trials in North Carolina. Alan’s call pushed me to dig deeper. The result-- NCOBFP. The process has just begun, and there are many factors to consider, but the idea is in motion, and I have Alan to thank for planting the seed. Alan’s passing is a great loss, yet upon reflection, Roger Jansen aptly put it, "Alan was a great storyteller and he will now become part of our story repertoire."

Monday, January 19, 2009

Welcome to the NCOBFP blog

The North Carolina Organic Bread Flour Project (NCOBFP) aspires to revive the centuries-old tradition of linking the farmer, the baker, and the miller. As I would imagine anyone reading this blog already knows, due to a combination of factors, most prominently-- drought conditions in the major bread grain growing regions of the world and the displacement of bread grain production with corn production for ethanol-- 2007/08 experienced a deficit wheat crop, causing the price of wheat to soar. Additionally, in North Carolina where the vast majority of bread wheat is trucked in from other parts of the United States, the price of wheat is compounded with the ever-increasing cost of fuel. On the other side of the coin, it is now economically viable for North Carolina farmers to grow bread wheat.
The idea of this project is to link the farmer, the baker, and the miller, forging relationships and creating security for all three. Under the auspices of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, this initiative has been supported with funding through the NC Tobacco Trust and Sante Fe Tobacco. Partnering in this project is North Carolina State University’s North Carolina Organic Grain Project, the USDA- Agricultural Research Service, and NCDA with funding from the Golden Leaf Foundation.
This blog intends to be both informational as well as an interactive site to guide the discussion. So, here we go...