Artisan Producers, Farming, Field Notes, Foodshed, Meet the Makers

Honoré Farm and Mill Gives Us Back Our Daily Bread

Fifteen years ago, Episcopal vicar Elizabeth DeRuff was presiding over the eucharist at a retreat center in Healdsburg when a congregant declined to take communion. This wasn’t unusual, but the woman’s reasoning was, at least for the time: she was allergic to wheat and certain that eating the Bread of Heaven would make her sick.

Cut to 2010. The number of people avoiding gluten is trending upwards (it will go on to triple over the next 8 years). It’s a post–South Beach Diet world. Bread is now seen as a guilty pleasure at best. But that moment at the altar is still firmly lodged in Elizabeth’s mind. As she puts it now, “what does it say about our food and farming systems if someone can be allergic to the food that is the very symbol of all food?”

That year while working on an agricultural service project, Elizabeth met a farmer who was growing heirloom wheat—wheat which, seemingly by magic, even gluten-sensitive people could eat with abandon. The problem for most people wasn’t actually wheat or gluten but rather industrial processing, which strips grains of their nutrients and divorces bread from traditional sourdough fermentation, which makes wheat more digestible. The problem was equally compelling to her from a theological point of view: the supply chain behind most communion loaves hardly reflects care for creation. Thus began Elizabeth’s 8-year deep dive into the science and spirituality of wheat, and thus began Honoré Farm and Mill.

Honoré is a nonprofit that integrates spiritual care, climate action, and heirloom grain stewardship. In practice, their work is multifaceted: Honoré grows, mills, and sells Red Fife and Sonora wheat (and incredible shortbread cookies!), hosts sourdough classes and educational workshops, and runs a flour and communion wafer CSA for churches. In 2016 they crowdfunded a mobile stone mill to travel to schools, churches, synagogues, and markets.

The mobile mill was Honoré’s answer to what Elizabeth sees as the biggest barrier to thriving grain economies: lack of infrastructure. There used to be more than 20,000 stone mills around the country, but now that industrial agriculture is the status quo there are just a small handful. In fact, when Elizabeth first started working on heirloom grain issues she had to drive to Ukiah to find fresh flour. Most people don’t think of flour as perishable, but the difference between fresh-milled and conventional flour in terms of both flavor and nutrition is astonishing. To a grain-lover like Elizabeth, “it was like if you had to drive 200 miles whenever you wanted a good cup of coffee.”

Thankfully, Honore’s community saw the value in getting a little closer to their daily bread. Their kickstarter campaign reached 125% funding, and the mobile mill was able to take its first major trip in June, to the Episcopal General Convention in Austin. It’s also the centerpiece of Honoré’s “Wheat Wednesdays” educational program at underserved local schools. Their next project is a conference in May of 2019, which will gather farmers, millers, bakers, and church members together to build community through workshops, panels, and a planting day. (In a bit of spiritual kismet, the Growers Guild Conference will be held at the very retreat center where that fateful 2003 communion took place.) They’re also searching for land to create a home base for Honoré, which has been loosely based in and around Marin County thus far. Elizabeth envisions an educational farm for land-based healing ministry—simply touching organic matter is good for us, Elizabeth points out.

Spirituality and nutrition are singularly slippery topics that can be difficult to discuss. Trying to relate one to the other is an even more esoteric challenge. But listening to Elizabeth, it feels like the most natural thing in the world. She says the reception to Honoré’s work has been overwhelmingly positive (though she’ll admit a Dow Chemical executive’s wife walked out on one of her climate-focused sermons once). Not only that, but people seem to be more and more interested as time goes on: their booth at the general convention three years ago garnered mostly blank stares, but this year they were deluged with interest.

“I haven’t met very many farmers who don’t think farming is a very spiritual practice,” Elizabeth says. “And spiritually it’s so rich to be able to inhabit the life of scripture for a moment while you’re threshing or harvesting.”

Eat Good Food

Springerle Recipe

Springerle are German cookies scented with anise and lemon, pressed into molds and dried overnight. This thorough springerle recipe from House on the Hill is sure to help you through the baking process for these biscotti-like cookies. Baker’s ammonia creates a crisp, honeycomb-like crumb, but baking powder will work in a pinch.

Springerle

1/2 teaspoon baker’s ammonia or baking powder
2 tablespoons milk
6 large eggs, room temperature
6 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon anise oil, optional
2 lb. cake flour, sifted
Zest of 1 lemon
More flour as needed

Dissolve baker’s ammonia in milk and set aside. Beat eggs till thick and yellow, 10 minutes. Slowly beat in the powdered sugar, then the butter. Add the ammonia and milk, salt, anise oil, if using, and zest. Gradually beat in as much flour as you can with the mixer, then stir in the remainder of the flour to make stiff dough. Turn onto floured surface and knead in enough flour to make a good print without sticking.

On a floured surface, roll dough into a flat pancake approximately 1/2 inch thick. Roll thinner or thicker based on the depth of the carving in the cookie press you are using. Shallow carvings will need to be thinner while deeper carvings will need to be thicker. Using a sieve, generously flour the cookie mold for every pressing. Press the mold firmly and straight down into the dough, then lift, cut and place the formed cookie onto a flat surface to dry.

Do not cover the cookies while they dry. The goal of drying is to set the design. Let the cookies dry for 24 hours is best. Larger cookies and warm humid weather may require longer drying times. Cookies that are not dried long enough will not retain the beautiful designs, but will taste fine.

Bake on greased or baker’s parchment-lined cookie sheets at 255° to 325° till barely golden on the bottom, 10-15 minutes or more, depending on size of cookie.

Store in airtight containers or in zipper bags in the freezer. They keep for months, and improve with age. Yield 3 to 12 dozen.

Eat Good Food

Millet Muffin Recipe

SHED co-owners Doug Lipton and Cindy Daniel adored the millet muffins at Alice Waters’ beloved Cafe Fanny and would often drive from San Francisco to Berkeley on Sunday mornings to enjoy them.

Millet Muffin
Makes 12 muffins

1 egg
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup melted butter
12 tablespoons millet
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat an oven to 375°F.

Beat the egg and brown sugar well with an electric mixer. Add the melted butter and 1/2 of the buttermilk.

Stir in the millet. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together and add to the other ingredients. Add the other 1/2 of the buttermilk and mix until incorporated. Place in greased muffin tins.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Serve these crunchy, tangy muffins hot out of the oven with plenty of butter.

Learn more about the history of millet.

Eat Good Food

Millet History

A healthful grain that can grow with little water and is a nutritious substitute for rice or quinoa, millet has a long history.

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Cooking

Love (and a Sugar Cookie Recipe)

Baking is a meditative art. Unlike cooking, baking doesn’t reward the slapdash choice, the inspired switch, the last-minute ingredient. Rather, baking finds its highest art when accompanied by thoughtfulness and attention. As we near Valentine’s Day, we take the leap to suggest that, like baking, so too does love benefit from thoughtfulness and attention. And how about this: Baking is really its own form of love. (more…)