Some time ago, listening to CBC Radio One's Here and Now, I heard food columnist Sarah Elton (the Locavore) talk about a Toronto chef using Red Fife flour for his baking. Red Fife is considered the grandfather of Canadian wheat and is a heritage wheat. It was sent, in 1842, to a Mr. David Fife in Peterborough, Ontario by a friend who got it from a ship in the Glasgow port originating from Danzig (see Sharon Rempel's Grassroot Solutions for more information on Red Fife and other Canadian heritage wheats).
Apparently bread made of Red Fife flour has a unique appearance, aroma and taste. Here's how it is described on the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity site:
Artisan bread made from Red Fife Wheat has a hay yellow crumb, with an intense scent of herbs and vegetables colored with a light acidity. The nose has notes of anise and fennel, and in the mouth the bread is unexpectedly rich with a slightly herby and spicy flavor.
Yum! The language in this description is reminiscent of that used by wine and, more recently, coffee and tea sommeliers. Could there be such a thing as a bread sommelier? Why the heck not? A bread sommelier would be a bread steward who possesses expert knowledge about fine breads and is responsible for serving them. A bread sommelier, carrying the wine, tea and coffee analogy further, should possess detailed knowledge of the breads in their stock, including: grains used, regions where the grains were grown, farms where the grains were grown, where and how the grains were milled, and even 'terroir' (that combination of soil type and microclimate that gives a grain and, by extension, a bread its character).
Anyway, getting back on track here, Jihan recently learned, from my mom, how to make her own homemade bread. I'm talking from scratch, by hand. No throwing of ingredients into a bread machine. My mom was quite well known, back in the small Mexican village in which we lived when I was a child, for her homemade Mennonite bread. It's not so much the ingredients as the technique that distinguishes her bread.
Now that Jihan has a foundation of homemade bread-making, a skill I hope to pick up from her very soon, we intend to build on that and use better flours, from better grains, to make even better, more wholesome, breads. From there we can expand to baking different types of healthy, organic, wholegrain vegan breads.
Because we are also becoming increasingly interested in both the locavore and slow food movements, as both contribute not only to individual health, but also to the health of communities and the environment, we want to, as much as economically feasible, use more local ingredients to make our own bread the slow way. To this end, we purchased some Red Fife flour at our local Bulk Barn today. Since it is somewhat expensive, I think we will generally have to mix it into standard unbleached flour rather making bread exclusively of it, though we do intend to make at least one batch purely with the Red Fife flour.
While at the Bulk Barn today, having just recently found out that most standard flours contain a variety of additives, I did some ingredient checking on at least two fairly standard commercial flours. Here are the ingredients in Five Roses All Purpose Flour: wheat flour, niacin, thiamine, mononitrate, riboflavin, reduced iron, folic acid, benzoyl peroxide, ascorbic acid, amylase. And in Cake & Pastry Flour: wheat flour, chlorine, benzol peroxide, niacine, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid. Some of these ingredients are vitamins, but others are so-called conditioners, ingredients designed to produce a consistent dough that rises well.
Both sets of ingredients, the vitamin additives and the conditioners, disturb me. If we use whole foods with as many of their natural nutrients left intact, and we eat a variety of plant-based whole foods, there should be no need to add artificially isolated nutrients. As T. Colin Campbell emphasises in his seminal book, The China Study, the human body has evolved along with the rest of nature and therefore can best absorb nutrients as they are found in nature. Isolating nutrients to add back into all manner of foods, many of which did not naturally contain the nutrients added, nor in the same form, combination or ratio, is simply not the same as eating a variety of whole foods. Nor is ingesting isolated nutrients in the form of nutritional supplements in capsule, pill or powdered form the same. The body does not process nutrients in isolation the same as in whole foods.
The addition of conditioners disturbs me because, first of all, they don't belong in the natural product and may actually be unhealthy. Secondly, it reflects our inability or unwillingness to spend the time to learn a craft--we seek ease and instant gratification. Thirdly, it reflects an unwillingness to accept uniquenes, difference and diversity--we want everything to be familiar, uniform, homogeneous. How tedious and how boring! And how sad if you reflect on how these traits factor into other aspects of our lives.
Getting back to the organic Red Fife flour, we'll be sure to share with you our experiences with this heritage grain flour. I very much look forward to it.