What do you do with 25 pounds of wheat berries?
Unlike most people these days, I have an affinity for wheat. My husband, Benjamin, grew up on a wheat farm not far from this valley up on a high plateau where you can see the tips of the rounded Blue Mountains in one direction and the toothy Wallowa Mountains in the other. In our early days as a couple, we took tons of road trips–through Washington, Montana, Wyoming and Oregon–and his ability to identify crops at 65 m.p.h. growing in fields impressed this New England girl.
“That’s barley,” he would say glancing over his shoulder. Or, “Smell the timothy,” a type of grass hay he loved so much he included it in more than one of his poems.
“Is that barley?,” I’d ask riding shotgun and straining to examine seed heads whizzing by in a roadside field. “No, that’s wheat,” he’d say.
Like most farmers, his dad (who was honest to god named Elmo and is the only Elmo in the world we recognize in this family) sold all the wheat they produced into the commodities market. The family had but a five-gallon bucket for themselves at harvest’s end. His mother, Jean, cooked those wheat berries for breakfast as long as they lasted through the snow-filled seasons. They squeaked and popped between the boy Benjamin’s teeth, a hot breakfast for a lone farm kid up on that cold and windy plateau.
I recently bought a 25-pound bag of soft white wheat berries with the intention of grinding the flour to bake the girls’ lunch bread I swore I’d start making faithfully. But I’m blocked, a bread baker with apprehensions about milling. I guess I’ve studied too much flour science to believe that it could actually be that simple.
So, the brown bulk sits in storage while I repeatedly buy small bags of professionally milled flours from Wheat Montana and Shepherd’s Grain for my renewed efforts at baking bread.
As for those wheat berries, I’ve recently become hooked on boiling them up in my pressure cooker instead. They are a real lifesaver at lunchtime, especially if, like me, you’re avoiding bready type lunches. (Paradoxical, isn’t it?)
You can take these berries in any direction, but I’m especially partial to today’s combination of ripe diced pear, chopped caramelized onions, walnuts, feta and the tiny beet greens Benjamin and I picked off our crop of beets last weekend just before storing them. (With all that flavor going on already in the bowl, I just splashed in red wine vinegar, avocado oil with salt and pepper and tossed.)
The wheat berries squeaked and popped between my teeth. I could not get enough.
Next school day I’m going to boil up a pot of them for our girls to warm themselves up on with maple syrup and milk. Just like their dad did. I’m guessing he’ll have a few farm stories to tell them.