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

Carolina Gold Rice: Best Method

carolina gold rice

Carolina Gold rice is a long-grain, non-aromatic rice, sometimes referred to as “Charleston ice cream” for its delicate texture.

First grown in South Carolina after the Revolution, Carolina Gold almost became extinct after the Great Depression. Anson Mills began growing Carolina Gold for research in 1998, and today has organic rice fields in Georgia, North and South Carolina, and Texas.

Carolina Gold is a “new crop rice,” meaning that is milled and cooked within two months of harvest. While new crop rice can be sometimes become sticky when cooked, this precise recipe from Anson Mills guarantees perfection.

Carolina Gold Rice
6 cups spring or filtered water
Fine sea salt
7 ounces (1 cup) Anson Mills Carolina Gold Rice
2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 300 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a heavy-bottomed 3½-quart saucepan, bring the water and1 tablespoon of salt to a boil over high heat. Add the rice, stir once, and as soon as the water returns to a boil, reduce the heat to low.

Simmer gently, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the rice is just tender with no hard starch at its center, about 15 minutes.

Drain the rice in a fine-holed footed colander and rinse well with cool water. Shake the colander to drain off excess water.

Distribute the rice evenly on the prepared baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the oven and allow the rice to dry for about 5 minutes, gently turning the grains from time to time with a spatula.

Dot with the butter and sprinkle with the pepper and salt to taste. Return the baking sheet to the oven and allow the rice to warm through, occasionally turning the grains, until the butter has melted and the rice is hot, about 5 minutes more.

Transfer to a warmed serving bowl and serve immediately.

Learn more about Anson Mills founder Glenn Roberts.

Cooking, Craftsmanship

Sourdough Starter Is a Living Thing

“Sourdough starter is a living thing,” author Stephen Yafa told us on a warm Saturday afternoon in August. “Think of it as being the union of lovers. Yeast falls in love with lactobacillus and together, they’re perfectly harmonious.”

Yafa had a bowl full of love with him when he joined us in our upstairs Grange to demonstrate his sourdough starter recipe and support his new book, Grain of Truth: The Real Case For and Against Wheat and Gluten.

Turns out, your main job with starter is simply to provide what Yafa calls a “honeymoon suite.” Yeast and lactobacillus, he says, “like to be left alone, fed, and to be safe in a warm, hospitable place.”

An award-winning North Bay journalist and screenwriter, Yafa fell upon the topic of starters and yeast and gluten and wheat and lovers when his wife came home from a spa day announcing that she had “gluten neck.” Whatever that is.

And indeed, what the heck is it? Yafa was intrigued.

Grain of Truth follows wheat from the good old days when it harmed only those with true celiac disease through to today, where the majority of the wheat consumed in the U.S. has been disastrously stripped of its nutrition and vitality and is quite literally making us all sick.

Like Tartine’s Chad Robertson — who also became interested in heirloom wheat and ancient grains in an effort to help his gluten-intolerant wife  — Yafa bakes whole wheat bread that has an extraordinarily long rising time, usually 16 to 18 hours. This extended fermentation produces loaves that those who are ordinarily gluten intolerant can consume with pleasure. (It is still not edible for those with celiac disease.)

But none of this yummy goodness can happen without the starter — a mix of whole flour, water, wild yeast, and bacteria that takes about two weeks to mature and, when properly maintained, can last a lifetime.

“The starter is the engine that drives the sourdough,” Yafa said. “It can be a legacy that you can pass to other generations.”

SHED’s pastry chef Lorrette Patzwald understands Yafa’s point of view.

“For me, the process of building a new starter is akin to bringing home a new baby,” she says. “You can glean advice from professionals and read about how to take care of it in books, but it’s entirely up to you to figure out what it takes to help it thrive.”

Patzwald has been so successful at keeping her starter thriving that she’s named it “Shirley.” Of course we’re not kidding.

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“Once I was able to get consistently good results with my new starter it was time to give her a name,” Patzwald explains. “Shirley is not just used for bread. She gives additional depth of flavor to the Little Shirley cookies sold at our coffee bar. She has also made appearances in pancakes, shortcakes, and waffles. Shirley has traveled to the Gold Coast of Long Island and to Greenwich Village for a bread baker’s competition.

“I often offer some Shirley to my baking students,” she says. “Hence there is little bit of her here and there around the Bay Area.”

Once you have a stable starter — regardless of its name — you have the basis for your bread. Using some of the starter, you add flour to create a levain basis for your loaves.

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“You’re doing a ‘build,'” Yafa explained. “The levain reduces the vinegary quality of the starter. You want to balance sour and sweetness.”

By taking some of the starter and mixing it with flour to make a dough, you’re also ensuring that there is enough starter to continue on to its next iteration. You want a wet dough, Yafa assured, and you want to slap it about to wake it up.

Several audience members gamely stood with Yafa slapping dough to awaken its gluten. He appeared to be delighted.

“You will screw it up,” he assured the audience happily. “Everyone screws up. So what. Throw it out and start again.”

Stephen Yafa’s Sourdough Starter Tips

  • Use non-chlorinated filtered water for both your starter and your levain to nurture the growth of good bacteria.
  • Use organic whole grain wheat or rye flours, not all-purpose. They’re more nutritious and offer more fuel to the microorganisms that will build your starter.
  • An electric plant propagation bed used to help sprout seeds is a nice way to keep your starter warm during its first few weeks. Place your bowl on it and leave it.
  • Buy a digital kitchen scale and use it. It takes the element of volume out of your recipe and reduces everything to weight. (Be certain, however, that you measure water and flour in the same signature. Yafa once tried to make bread with the water in ounces and the flour in grams. He needed a bathing suit, he says, to handle the ensuing tsunami.)
  • Try to use your clean, freshly washed and carefully dried hands to handle the dough, not a mixer’s dough hook. You can feel the gluten strands hardening and you can transfer more natural bacteria to your starter if you use your hands. Plus, it just feels good!
  • Need help, direction, or inspiration? The King Arthur Flour website is Yafa’s go-to site.

Artisan Producers, Farming

Introducing new miller Mai Nguyen

We’re proud to announce that Mai Nguyen is the new miller at SHED, in charge of making fresh flour and polenta each Friday afternoon. But Mai’s ability to competently mill is such a small fraction of who she is that we can’t leave it at that.

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