Saturday, November 26, 2011

Heirloom With a View

How do we pass on a legacy? 

When most people hear the word ‘hierloom,’ they probably think of their grandmother’s pearls or their grandfather’s watch. For some, the word might conjure images of bulging tomatoes or unique breeds of turkey. We believe all of these are important things to preserve. Just as Wendell Berry declared eating to be an agricultural act, we think that what we eat says something about our values, and what we want to hand down from generation to generation. This is why we’re so excited to announce a new heirloom wheat bread from H&F Bread Co.: the Red Fife Wheat Bread.

Friends of local farmers markets and farm-to-table restaurants will recognize Anson Mills as our purveyor of delicious grits and other high-quality, hand-milled products. It’s an honor to use one of their heirloom varieties of wheat in this new bread.

Our friend Glenn Roberts, the founder of Anson Mills, has an adventurous spirit that is carefully juxtaposed with a reverence for tradition. In 1998, Roberts walked away from a 30-year career as a historic restoration consultant and restaurant and hotel designer, bought four native granite mills and 40 chest freezers, and began operations in a big metal warehouse behind a car wash in Columbia, South Carolina. He trekked back roads in search of lost or all-but-lost varieties of corn, wheat and rice.  One of Roberts’ first discoveries was a single-family hand-select corn varietal known as “Carolina Gourdseed White” that dates back to the late 1600s. Thanks to his diligence and dedication, dishes that might have been lost forever are now restored to pantries and kitchens throughout the southeast and across the country.

As our head baker Rob Alexander says, baking bread is about “preserving traditions,”  which is particularly resonant with this new bread, a batard made from Red Fife wheat.  This grain, offered by Anson Mills, originates in the mid 19th century.  The wheat is first found in Saskatchewan in the late 1840s, although some historians believe that a Scottish nobleman discovered it as early as 1732. By 1870, it was commonly grown in the Canadian prairie, in New England and throughout Appalachia. During this time, Red Fife wheat also became a staple in the states of Kansas and Texas as well.

Red Fife is grown as a spring wheat in areas where the winters are harsh, but does quite well as a winter wheat in the southern U.S., due to the mild autumn and winter seasons that the region is typically known for, according to Roberts. Roberts finds the wheat is much less bitter than the flour used to make bread found in most grocery stores—the taste, he says, is very similar to honey.  Red Fife bran also has a thinner consistency than most conventional varieties of wheat, and a naturally higher mineral content . Mr. Roberts recommends eating a slice of Red Fife wheat bread with pure buckwheat honey and quality butter.

The expertly baked Red Fife wheat bread also is a perfect accompaniment to holiday meals, the ideal vessel for a turkey sandwich, and a great way to start your day. You can find a loaf (or baker’s dozen) of this baked treasure at the many farmers markets where H&F Bread co. sells every week or you can place a special order at our shop today by calling 404.350.8877.

Beyond the value that Mr. Roberts' efforts have for horticulturists, farmers and gourmands around the world—no small company, to be sure—Anson Mills’ vigilance is a boon to families and eaters everywhere. We show our love and live our values through what we share, and there are few better things to share than good food (nothing against pearls or pocket watches).  How do we pass on legacies?  At the table, or course, with friends and family over good food.  The Red Fife Wheat is no exception.  You have to eat it to save it.

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