Shepherd’s Grain started a movement years ago with a campaign enabling consumers to find the farmer who contributed to a particular bag of flour. The collective of Columbia Plateau Farmer-Owners, Shepherd’s Grain was early giving consumers a link to the folks who grow their food. Fast forward to 2022. Rather than call a number on a bag of flour, I can follow farmers, millers and bakers on Instagram. I can subscribe to farmer newsletters, order flour or grain directly or have great phone conversations about where to find their products. One such farm is Moon Family Farm in eastern Washington.
I first learned of the Moon’s when they contributed grain to our burgeoning Northwest Bread Baker’s group founded by the inimitable Katherine Kehrli. We were having a workshop with Mockmill Grain Mills and the Moon’s sent several pounds of both their Hollis and Sequoia grain for us to try. It wasn’t long before I placed my own order for 25lb of each. Since then, Cairnspring Mills has been milling the Moon’s Sequoia, finishing it partially sifted, which I use to make my scones and pie pastry. I mill the Hollis berries myself for use in my Whole Grain sourdough loaf. Having lovely flour to work with comes at a price. I’m happy to pay whatever is charged, but behind the bag of flour is a much deeper story, a much higher cost that’s paid each season. The following is a post from the Moon’s on Instagram @a_place_they_call_heaven. I don’t have the pictures referenced, but see for yourself on IG.
Even in the short days of winter there are always lessons to be learned by watching fields & crops.a_place_they_call_heaven Moon Family Farm
One driven home repeatedly in our open & dry country is that we must protect our soil from wind – our most powerful and destructive force.The bones of that protection are made by the wheat itself – the stubble left post harvest, strong & resilient enough to last through a fallow year, until the next crop takes its place. But only if we let it.
That forest of little straw is an amazing microclimate. It might only reach your boot tops, yet in that space is lower wind velocity, higher humidity, shade & protection for tender seedlings.
It’s quite sturdy enough to bear the brunt of blizzards, screeching winds, burning sun. It will shrug them all off, standing defiant to shelter its offspring. But it has to be nurtured in its own right to do so. What sets our farm apart from others is the effort we spend doing that – treating stubble as our zero-water desert cover crop.
We begin at harvest, using a special header to maximize height. I drill tractor & truck drivers relentlessly about where & how to drive in a field – to reuse existing tracks, to never enter a field unnecessarily. We reuse GPS lines, practice 100% no-till, hand hoe weeds. The goal is to touch a field as little as necessary, and to leave straw as untouched as possible.
The results of all that can be seen most readily following wind & snow. The first field is ours, qnd among the stubble is even, clean, protective blanket of snow. One that will melt slowly and soak uniformly into the soil.
The second field – not ours – has been worked & chopped excessively. There’s nothing left to protect it. The wind whisks the snow off, eroding topsoil, leaving swirled drifts of snirt. There’s nothing to shelter seedlings. There’s no shade against rapid snowmelt, or resistance to runoff & soil loss.
This is one of many posts highlighting the pains taken to protect the soil from erosion. This family farm, run by those who grew up on it, with young families to support, is held up with the desire to make things better. Yet, that desire doesn’t protect from a harsh summer, smaller harvest yields, aching hands and feet. I, as consumer, need to be part of a buffer created for them. Every time I grind that grain or make those scones, I’m playing a small part in this farm family’s life. Maybe someday I’ll be able to visit or meet them in person. To me, they are heroes-my kind of celebrity.
Remember New Year’s Eve 2020, imagining 2021 would easily be a better year than its predecessor? Like most of life, this year has been up and down, frustrating (maybe infuriating), rife with heartbreak and the mundane, but the sun continued to rise, those moonlit nights were perfect, and we learned, again, that western Washington is not meant to live in extreme heat. I’ve experienced deep grief, unexplainable joy, physical pain, subsequent healing, and, among many other things, the pleasure of meeting the amazing people who come to my bakery popup. Not quite a year in, I am honored to cross paths with folks transplanted from Brooklyn, farmers forging their first year of growing food, an apple specialist who identifies unknown varieties, the chef who designs tastings for wine flights, an individual who wanted to know if I used the “good flour” in my products, many who listened to my stories of wheat, and those who wanted to talk bread-making with me. I am grateful to, and for, you all.
On Saturday December 4, 21 Acres will be hosting a Holiday Market in and around their Farm Market space. I’ll be there from 10A to 3P with the usual breads and goodies, as well as some holiday treats. For any of you who stop by and mention this post, I’ll have a Pepparkakor waiting for you! Come see me and the other vendors with their local gifty wares. Browse the Farm Market to pick up some late Fall produce or one of the many other local products they champion. Most of all, use this time to embrace the end of another calendar year. I wish for you beauty, connection, healing, and, somehow, joy. Cheers to you!
Spend Saturday, September 25, in the Sammamish Valley, celebrating small farms producing great food! Sponsored by the Sammamish Valley Alliance, the Fall Harvest Celebration provides opportunity to explore local farm stands, markets and stores that support local agriculture in the beautiful Sammamish Valley. 21 Acres will be the hub for the day’s activites, with a farm tour, the ever-lovely Farm Market, a few extra vendors and a bluegrass band. The Tiny Kitchen will be one of those vendors, on hand to bring you bread and sweets. If you’ve not been to 21 Acres, make this the day for your first visit. See you Saturday!
The Slim Fir Seeds
The nimble ovenbird, the dignity of pears,
The simplicity of oars, the imperishable
Engines inside slim fir seeds, all of these
Make clear how much we want the impermanent
To be permanent. We want the hermit wren
To keep her eggs even during the storm;
But that’s impossible. We are perishable;
Friends, we are salty, impermanent kingdoms.-Robert Bly
Pears have always been my favorite fall fruit, the best coming from a box directly from someone’s orchard. This year my pears came from Smallwood Farms in Okanogan, Washington. Pears directly from the farmer are real pears, with diversity in size and ripening times. Grocery store pears have to meet certain standards, standards of sameness. That’s not real.
I’ll be eating these pears fresh, relishing the fleeting moment of each fruit’s perfection. I’ll also pack them into cardamom scones, fill tender hand pies, blend into smoothies, and use as a topping for waffles.
Farming is hard work. Tough, physical labor tied, enduringly, to the whims and changes of nature. Supporting those who bring beautiful food to my kitchen bestows a richness, a dignity to that food which a grocery store could never provide. As for pears, I love what Robert Bly saw in this fruit. Only a poet would see the dignity of a pear, opening the rest of our eyes to the same.
The bread I make is about the flours I use. That, and the absence of baker’s yeast, also known as commercial yeast. I maintain a sourdough, or wild yeast starter, using this to leaven the bread. This elixer of flour, water, lactic acid and wild yeast, gives each loaf rise, flavor and a longer shelf life than many store-bought breads. I maintain a starter and use this starter to create a levain, which I add to the dough. Using this levain gives my loaves a very mild sourdough flavor. Many customers don’t even realize these breads are indeed sourdough! I use flour milled by Cairnspring Mills in Burlington, Washington, from grain grown with care by Washington farmers. Every loaf is mixed from nothing but flour, water, starter and salt.
My primary loaf is the PNW Country Loaf. Country loaves are typically made from 90% white bread flour + 10% whole grain flour. Rather than typical white flour, I use partially sifted Yecora Rojo wheat flour, one where the mills sifts off most of the bran but leaves the germ, with all of its vitamins and minerals intact. This flour, that the mill has named Trailblazer, is roughly halfway between white and whole wheat flour. For the 10% whole grain portion, I use Expresso wheat flour, an amazingly tasty wheat. I can’t say this loaf is whole wheat or whole grain, but I can use the hashtag #nowhiteflour! This loaf is about 80% hydrated and contains just over 2% sea salt. These percentages are a ratio based on the amount of flour used. This bread has a simple flavor, great as a conveyance for many spreads from Cherry Valley Dairy Butter to homemade strawberry jam, or as the base of any sandwich you might imagine. I sell this as 1.5 and 1.0 pound round loaves.
My Expresso Spring Loaf features 50% whole grain Expresso wheat flour and 50% partially sifted Trailblazer. This little loaf is made with about 85% hydration, just over 2% sea salt, and is loaded with flavor: deep, nutty, with a subtle sweetness from the grain. Right now, I’m only selling this as a 1.0 pound round loaf.
To some markets, I also bring my Yecora Rojo + Skagit 1109 loaf. Both of the flours here have been partially sifted, this being as close to a white bread as I will get. Skagit 1109 is a very exciting grain. Developed by the Bread Lab, this hard red winter wheat was first bred for the maritime climate of the coastal PNW. It was bulk bred, which allows for natural selection to determine which elements of the seed will thrive in the areas it is grown. Skagit Valley 1109 will be different than that grown in the Willamette Valley or that grown on the Washington penninsula to that grown in my backyard. It was never developed to be a white flour first. This flour has a “rich, pronounced wheat flavor; robust and mildly sweet, with a warm, buttery aroma.” (Cairnspring Mills) It is a lower protein/gluten flour, so pairs well with higher protein flours like Yecora Rojo aka Trailblazer. I sell this loaf as a 1.5 pound oval loaf.
Finally, I’m working on a tangier version of the PNW Country. Mixing very early one morning, I added too much water to my usual PNW mix. Panicking, I grabbed a fistful of the Expresso Spring mix and threw it into the bowl. Stopping myself, I rationally started another batch of correctly measured PNW. I did, however, have a large bowl of flour and water staring at me from the counter. I figured there was no harm in finishing this batch, though I didn’t have any levain prepared for such an event. In my fridge, I did have enough sourdough starter discard, still vibrant from recent additions, of which I eyeballed quantity, scooping it into my bowl of potential disaster. I took this dough from mix to loaf and was VERY happy with the result. If every accident turned out like this, the world would be a happier place! This bread was so good, I became tasked with recreating the accident and recording measurements and movements. Hopefully I’ll have it nailed in a few weeks.
Eventually, I’ll offer a more whole grain loaf for preorders, one at least 80% whole grain for those who want most of the bran.
My bread is naturally yeasted, wild yeasted, naturally fermented, sourdough bread. The time these flours spend mingling with the lactic acid renders the loaves more nutritious for many people. I have eaters who enjoy this bread without spiking their blood sugar, those who can eat smaller amounts without encountering effects they usually experience with other forms of gluten. These experiences are anecdotal and may not be the same for all. Mostly, the bread is made by hand, each loaf unique and undeniably delicious!
With all bread making, but especially when using wild yeast, time and temperature are everything. The time between starter feedings, the temperature it ferments at; the amount of time the dough is mixed; the temperature of the water, the room and the flour; the time the dough bulk ferments and its temperature while doing so; the time the dough rests before shaping, after shaping before heading to the fridge, all work together to make a great, or not-so-great loaf of bread.
Moving home to bake, with the varying microclimates of prep room and kitchen, coupled with the distraction of being home, have proved to be a challenge I didn’t foresee. The commute is great, early or late hours aren’t a problem, I’m never without an ingredient or piece of equipment, and you can’t beat the rent, but there has still been a learning curve to producing bread in this little Cottage Bakery of mine. I have been baking bread for thirty-plus years, most of that at home. When I wasn’t baking at work, I baked here. I’ve made loaves upon loaves but usually not more than four at a time, and always in my usual kitchen, with usual house temperatures, and with distractions that didn’t matter since there was no self-imposed pressure that this bread be perfect.
I am a firm believer that learning happens all the time, that it is never too late to learn, that opportunities to learn should be greeted with open arms. Routine is good and helpful to cope with the many moving parts of life. Routine gets the house tidied, the work surfaces cleaned and sanitized, gets the ingredients measured. Sometimes, however, routine can lull a person into thinking things are fine, when actually they forgot to set the timer, they guessed on the water temperature, they didn’t take notes during a bake-something they always tell their students to do! This auto-pilot state of routine landed a spate of inconsistent bakes. These less-than-my-ideal loaves sent me back to my textbooks, back to my note-taking and flow chart creation, back to the scrutiny of time and temperature. This also means baking more bread, with or without orders, getting repeatable results. The photo above is from today’s bake. Now to repeat this tomorrow.
Baking naturally-fermented bread is a life choice. Baking it well brings me back to the place of noticing, of taking time to know the dough, each batch unique to itself.
(and not much more)
If I haven’t met you in person, then you haven’t been given the opportunity to hear my flour spiel. You haven’t been able to start out interested, only to have that interest slowly shift to bewilderment (“She’s still talking!”) then edge its way to wanting to break my gaze but there’s only the two of us and you know I’d notice. I do eventually stop talking. In fairness to me, asking about the flour I use is a loaded question. One whose answer includes some western Washington wheat-growing history, a little information about the Breadlab, finally to the flour itself, flour that comes from thoughtfully-grown wheat on both sides of the Cascades and carefully-milled next door to the Breadlab in Burlington. Most of the flour I use comes from this mill.
To save of us all some time, I bring to you the words of Cairnspring Mills regarding their process in producing such beautiful products. Read away!
From Field to Flour
Bakers made nutritious and delicious flours for thousands of years prior to the invention of the industrial flour mill. We are going back to the old ways of milling, but with a modern twist. Cairnspring Mills has reimagined the supply chain that turns wheat into flour: the land, the farmer and the customer. Here’s how we make that happen:
Select only the best varietals.
We test every varietal of wheat used in our products for flavor and suitability to our soils, not just for yield or protein—the primary measure of quality in commodity grains. For example, our Organic Expresso flour is known to have terrific disease resistance, which is especially important in wetter climates such as ours. It also produces a dark, rich crust and a rustic, earthy crumb that is so useful in hearth loaves—it’s become our standard bearer for Organic Bread Flour. Another varietal with tremendous flavor, color and resilience is our Skagit 1109 flour, bred naturally by our neighboring Skagit County-based WSU Bread Lab to thrive in local soils.Text
Buy directly from farmers committed to soil health.
Most of our farmers come out of our personal network; so personal they even casually swing by the mill for coffee and a piece of toast. These are friends we trust—we know their reputation as people. Our farmers are contractually prohibited from using glyphosate as a harvest aid, and from using neonicotinoid-coated seeds due to their documented harmful effects on humans, pollinators, and wildlife. We also pay our farmers a premium over the prices they get in the commodity markets because we want to ensure they are more than fairly compensated for the superior product they grow for us.
Commit to completely-traceable, identity-preserved grains.
We store our wheat locally in small-scale grain silos. Each varietal is stored separately, and our wheat is never blended with commodity wheat or any other wheat we didn’t buy directly from the grower. This commitment to identity preservation and traceability does come with tradeoffs. Whatever we take off the fields at harvest time needs to sustain our customers until the following harvest. If we get a spike in demand, we can’t call a commodity grain broker to replenish our silos. But we believe this is a worthwhile tradeoff because it is core to the unique flavors and quality baked goods, we are able to generate with our flours.
Utilize stone-milling technology.
We use stone mills, rather than just relying on technology that is standard for industrial flour mills. Stone-milling requires more attention and craft and our customers tell us it creates a flour with superior texture. In addition, all our flours preserve more of the bran and the germ. The germ is particularly important, because it is where many of the nutrients, antioxidants, oils and flavors are stored. Industrial mills remove this germ in order to create a shelf-stable product. Although it reduces shelf life, we preserve this germ to retain its nutritional advantages.
Create clean flour, without treatments, added enrichment or stabilizers
Our flours are not artificially enriched or treated. We don’t add dough stabilizers or conditioners such as enzymes, ascorbic acid, mononitrate, or malted barley. None of our flours are bromated or bleached.
From Carinspring Mills
February 12, 2021 marks my first bread delivery point outside the 21 Acres Farm Market. I am baking in my WSDA Cottage Food Licensed space and will begin taking orders for Valentine’s weekend. Orders will open on Sunday of each week and will close Tuesday evenings at 5:00PM for Friday pickup and Wednesday evenings at 5:00PM for Saturday pickup. All sales will be online through my Square Store. The Square Store that I set up. I won’t be surprised at hiccups in the system, but hope that you all will pardon me when it does. The end goal is to get bread into the hands of those who want it. I’m keeping it simple this first weekend with just one kind of loaf and one kind of cookie. I plan to include two to three breads, bagels and more. Something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, using the beautiful flours of the PNW in breads, pastries and sweets, not just in teaching, but in a commercial enterprise. So, here’s to new beginnings! Hope to see you in Woodinville!