Winter can seem to be a dark, desolate and frigid wasteland. Whether you believe it is because Persephone ate pomegranate seeds, or the angle of the sun, winter tucks the Northeast into a coat of frozen white. But wait, driving past farmland mid-February you may notice verdant green fields and wonder if spring has come early. What you are looking at is winter wheat or winter rye. These grains are planted in the fall to germinate into young plants that stay in a brilliant green vegetative stage during winter and then resume their growth in the spring. Vernalization is when certain plants and seeds need a period of 30-60 days of icy cold temperatures in order to develop and fruit. Winter wheat needs the cold to develop their seed heads which will be harvested late summer or early fall.
Wheat is believed to have originated in the mountains of Southeastern Turkey. Cultivation of Einkorn and Emmer wheat date back 10,000 years. Both varieties developed from wild grains and have higher protein and micronutrients than modern wheat. Wheat, which is a grass, is grown for its seed as a cereal grain. It is botanically a type of fruit called caryopsis. This grain was first brought to North American in the 19th century by Russian Mennonites. It is now the number one cultivated field crop in the world and it’s acreage is greater than all other crops combined. There are 30,000 varieties and 14 different species. Wheat has unique properties due to its high gluten protein. They are viscoelastic and adhesive properties which help facilitate the production of processed foods. In other words, wheat is a natural glue that holds ingredients together to form veggie burgers, hot pockets and energy bars. Unfortunately it is this “glue” that causes people who are gluten intolerant to experience a reaction when exposed to it. Gluten is found in food products made from wheat, barley, rye and oats. People who are diagnosed with a wheat allergy are usually fine with these other grains.
Wheat is an important source of carbohydrates and is a form of vegetable protein. It must be consumed as a whole grain to be a source of multiple nutrients and dietary fiber. For our bodies to be able to absorb the nutrients, wheat should be combined with legumes, cheese or other animal proteins.
Most modern wheats are broadly divided into categories by color (red or white), protein content (hard or soft) and the season in which it is planted (winter or spring). “Red” or “white” refer to the colors of kernels, which does not mean the flour will be that color. “Hard” wheat tends to have a high-protein content (13-15%) that is ideal for baking bread or pasta making. “Soft” wheat is low protein (10-11%) and is best for tender, crumbly pastry. Winter planted wheats tend to produce yields 20-25% higher than spring wheat, and compete better with weeds. All wheat varieties can be planted in either the spring or the fall but they are not always grown as a food crop. Winter wheat is sometimes grown as a cover crop because it prevents soil erosion, helps to maintain the topsoil, and adds green manure to build up the organic matter of the soil when plowed under.
There are six basic varieties of wheat grown in the Hudson Valley, 2 of which are being grown this winter season at the Hudson Valley Farm Hub. Jay Goldmark, Field Crops Production Manager at the Hudson Valley Farm Hub in Hurley explained what varieties they have growing this season: Medina, a soft white winter wheat which I’m sure Tone Loc would approve of for making pie crust and pastry, and Expedition, a hard red winter wheat with high protein used for making bread. This flour is generally mixed with other wheats to increase protein in pastry flours.
Other varieties that can be grown in our region include: Soft red winter wheat which is lower in protein and has less gluten strength. This makes it ideal for cookies, crackers, flatbreads and pretzels. Soft red wheat is even used in the distilling of Maker’s Mark Kentuky bourbon.
Durum wheat also called pasta wheat or macaroni wheat is a hard wheat typically ground to make pasta noodles or pizza dough.
Hard White winter wheat was developed from hard red and has the same nutritional claims, but is lighter in color and sweeter in taste. This wheat is ideal for brewing witbier. The higher protein levels contribute to beer quality, flavor enhancement and foam stability.
Soft White spring wheat is a light tan, short and chubby grain compared to the harder wheats. It is perfect for tender bakery products that require a more delicate gluten structure. This wheat is high in carbohydrates and low protein. Soft white wheat prefers warmer, moist growing conditions so it is more commonly grown in the southern states.
Hard White winter wheat is known for its storage and baking qualities. For people who prefer white bread, whole grain hard winter wheat will fit the bill without losing the nutritional benefits of consuming whole grains. It also makes for a delicious pilaf, breakfast porridge or added to soups when left whole.
Easy Whole Wheat Crackers
These crackers are extremely versatile. You can experiment with different flours, seeds, herbs and even cheese.
Preheat oven to 350
1 ¾ cup whole wheat flour
1 ½ cup all purpose flour (or spelt, oats, rye – your choice)
1 tsp. Sea salt
⅓ cup sunflower oil
1 cup water
1 tsp dried herbs (dill, rosemary, thyme, garlic powder, smoked paprika, even poppy seeds… your choice!)
In a medium bowl, stir together flour, salt and herbs. Pour in oil and water. Mix until combined, but not over mixed.
On a lightly floured surface or a sheet of parchment paper, roll out the dough as thin as possible. No more than ⅛ inch or the crackers will be chewy.
Place the dough on ungreased baking sheets (depending on how thin you can roll them out, this can be 2-4 trays). Score the surface to create the size and shape cracker you want, being sure not to cut all the way through. Prick the surface of each cracker a few times with a fork and sprinkle with salt.
Bake 15-20 minutes or until crisp and light brown. When cool, separate into individual crackers. Store in an airtight container to stay fresh.
Wheat Berry Salad
1 cup hard red wheat berries
1 green apple, chopped into ¼ inch pieces
2 carrots chopped into ¼ inch pieces
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup sliced red onions
1 Tbsp olive oil
Juice of one lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Place wheat berries into a medium saucepan and cover with water (2 inches above berries). Bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer for 45 minutes.
Once the wheat berries are chewy soft, drain in a colander and add to a medium mixing bowl. Add apples, carrots, onions, cranberries, olive oil and lemon juice. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve alone or on a bed of mixed greens.
Fluffy Buttermilk Biscuits
Preheat oven to 475 degrees
2 cups white, wheat flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
½ cup very cold, unsalted butter cut into ½ inch cube
¾ cups buttermilk
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour until the pieces are the size of small peas.
- Stir in buttermilk until a shaggy dough forms. Using your hands, knead the dough a few times to incorporate all flour that may be left in the bottom of the bowl and form a ball.
Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and flatten the dough to ¾ inch. Dip a 2’ round cutter into flour and cut out the biscuits.
Place the rounds on the prepared baking sheet with sides barely touching. Bake for 8-12 minutes until golden.
Globalization has triumphed in the produce aisle. More than half the fresh fruits and one third of the vegetables in our supermarkets are imported from other countries. But anyone with taste-buds knows that just because it looks good, doesn’t mean it tastes good.
We are incredibly lucky to be living in one of the most fertile valleys in the Northeast. The soil in the Rondout Valley is called unadilla silt loam. It is a mineral rich, glacially deposited topsoil ideal for growing fruits, vegetables, and grains. Our region’s farms produce a wide variety of seasonal crops which are bursting with flavor and personality. Here is our Autumnal locavore’s dilemma.
We have so many varieties to choose from; butternut or hubbard? – or should we try kabocha, acorn, buttercup, golden nugget, delicata, pink banana, neck pumpkin, turk’s cap, Long Island cheese, cushaw, cocozelle, Rouge Vif d’Etampes and many, many other squash and pumpkin —which are technically in the same family “cucurbitaceae” varieties—in various colors, shapes and sizes. What does this all mean?
The name “squash” comes from the Narragansett Native American Indian word “askutasquash”. Originally believed to have been from Central America or Mexico, humans have used their hard shells as containers for utensils and have eaten the flesh, flowers, and young shoots raw or cooked for almost 10,000 years. Learning from the Native Americans, European settlers adopted squash as a staple in North America. They baked the squash and then cut and mixed it with animal fat, maple syrup or honey.
Saving Seeds and Pollination
The reason we have so many varieties is because people learned to save seeds from squash with the unique qualities they preferred. Many different varieties developed all over the world. Squash are pollinated by insects, so in order to avoid unwanted hybrids, you must make sure that the plant was pollinated by another member of the same variety. The first generation of fruit gets its characteristics from the mother plant, so you will indeed enjoy the delicata you had planted. But say your delicata squash was pollinated by a sugar pie pumpkin, the genes within the seeds will be altered and the following year, when you grow that seed, you will get a pumpcata, or is it a delikin? You need at least ¼ mile between squash varieties to avoid Frankensquash (unless you like that sort of experiment, who knows? You may come up with a fabulous cross that you can name after yourself … Pink Jenana d’ Etamps perhaps?).
Did you know the seeds are edible of all squash and pumpkins? The seeds are an excellent source of magnesium, zinc and potassium, as well as iron, protein and fiber. So don’t compost them with the stringy guts… Here is what to do with them.
2 cups raw, rinsed and dried squash or pumpkin seeds
1 Tbs. olive oil
½ tsp sea salt
After cutting open the squash, scoop out the “guts”. Pick the seeds out of the stringy fiber and toss them into a colander. Rinse under cold water, then pat dry with a tea towel. Spread the seeds into a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil and sea salt. Mix it around until all the seeds are coated. Place into a preheated 350 degree oven and roast in the oven, stirring occasionally until they are lightly golden. Allow to cool before snacking. Pumpkin seeds are best soon after roasting.
Curried Coconut Squash Soup
1 medium kabocha squash ( about 3 lbs)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cups chopped yellow onions
2 ribs celery, sliced
3 cloves chopped garlic
1 ¼ teaspoon cumin
1 ½ teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon ground coriander
1 can coconut milk
3 cups unsalted vegetable stock
2 teaspoons salt (more or less according to taste)
Hopefully the squash you just harvested the seeds from is a kabocha because curried, coconut squash soup is on the menu tonight and the kabocha, with its thick, solid, waxy, orange flesh that is ideal for soup. Take the two sides of your squash, rub with olive oil and place on a baking tray inside a preheated 400 degree oven for 45 minutes (or until completely soft).
Saute the onions, celery & garlic in olive oil in a heavy bottom, 8 quart soup kettle until golden brown. Sprinkle the spices into the kettle and saute until fragrant (about 1-2 minutes). Slowly add the vegetable stock and bring to a simmer.
Once the squash is soft, place the roasted flesh into the pot with the vegetables (I leave the skin on the squash for added vitamins & fiber, but you can remove it if you prefer). Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and partially cover for 8-10 minutes.
Turn the heat off, and add the coconut milk. Puree the soup with an immersion blender. Add salt & pepper to taste. Serve with chopped cilantro & a squeeze of lime juice.
Maple Cinnamon Roasted Neck Pumpkin*
8 cups cubed Neck Pumpkin (*butternut squash can be used as replacement if you can’t locate this graceful giant at your local farmers market. This squash is ideal because it is tender and juicy, yet holds its shape), about 3 lbs of peeled cubes
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp maple syrup
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp cinnamon
2 pinches cayenne
Preheat oven to 425
Line a baking 2 baking trays with aluminum foil (or use a silpat silicone liner so when the sugars caramelize it won’t be too hard to clean) Spread out the cubes evenly on the trays.
Drizzle the squash with 1 tbsp olive oil and maple syrup per sheet.
Sprinkle each sheet evenly with ¼ tsp cinnamon, salt & pinch of cayenne
Toss the squash on the sheets with clean hands to coat evenly
Place the pans in the preheated oven and roast for 30 minutes, switching racks halfway and cooking until all the squash is tender. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and turn on the broiler. Take turns placing each sheet under the broiler for 1-2 minutes to caramelize (be careful it does not burn! The sugars cause it to brown very fast).
This dish is delicious served warm or cold. As a side , or tossed onto a bed of raw spinach and dressed with a squeeze of lemon juice.
No matter what you call it – squash or pumpkin, our valley is flush with these disparate cucurbits this month. Whether you carve a jack-o-lantern or create a delicious meal, get out there and support our local farmers buy purchasing from your local farmstand.