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I went to Kansas for the flour and came home with at least a 50 pound sack of ideas.


I flew into Kansas City, Missouri and drove right to St. Joseph, Missouri, where Aunt Jemima pancake flour was invented in 1889. Newspaper editor Chris Rutt saw an opportunity in a bankrupt flour mill, and his business partner took the title of a minstrel song as the product’s name.


The Pattee House museum, the old hotel where the Pony Express began is crowded with Western lore, and has 2 cases dedicated to Aunt Jemima. I didn’t think I would care for the Jesse James stuff, but the mythology of the mammy and the mythology of the frontier kind of go together, like peanut butter and jelly. And the pancake mix, born of an era when there was suddenly too much food, represents another myth, the myth of the land of plenty.


I also visited Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, and met people from the Kansas Wheat Commission. Everyone was a little worn out from 11 days at the state fair, but they still gave me a wide-open tour of their work. I got to see the kitchen where they test recipes for promotions, and the seed vault, and greenhouses full of breeding projects. I learned that there is a celiac safe research project, which is just in the mapping stages, not plant breeding.


Mark Fowler from the International Grains Program took me on a tour of the K – state mill. I have very little affinity for roller mills, but I like flour so very much that I’m even excited about this kind of milling.

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I met Mark at the Kneading Conference and he was very helpful as I wrote the book. At the university’s mill, students were working on a problem the instructors set up. Mark made sure I understood as much as I could in an hour, taking off caps from the sifters and lining up samples of the flow so I could see what a milling student would study. I tasted fresh wheat germ. The whole thing was a great treat.


The reason I took this trip was to go to the Prairie Festival. My friend and grain buddy Howard comes to this spot in Kansas the last weekend each September. Seems like the trip puts roots under his feet, deep roots connected to the Iowa farm where he grew up.


Roots are a good way to think about the Prairie Festival and the work of The Land Institute. Wes Jackson began to investigate re-perenializing grains nearly 40 years ago. He wanted food farming to mimic the interdependency of natural ecosystems. The tall grass prairie and its web of plants, microorganisms, and deep deep roots hold an answer for what he sees as the 10,000 year old mistake of annual agriculture.


The festival is described as an intellectual hootenanny, and brings together speakers to push forward progressive thinking. Attendees often camp on the prairie, as I did the first time I went. Oh how windy that was! I felt like I was levitating in my sleeping bag.


That night, I understood something about the prairie. Everything has to dig deep and hang on. The roots of perennial grasses can dig 35 feet down. This matters to me as a metaphor almost more than a real phenomenon. I guess this shows how much I like ideas.

Kansas Kernza on the right.
Kansas Kernza on the right.

This year, Zach Golper from Bien Cuit came to make bread from Kernza, the name for the perennial wheat under development. He made two kinds, one from Kernza grown in Kansas, and one grown in Illinois. He preferred the Kansas bread he made, because its taste reflected the deep subsoil.


The speakers planted great thoughts. Mary Evelyn Tucker spoke about Pope Francis’ encyclical as a gathering force, drawing together her colleagues at the Forum On Religion and Ecology at Yale. Ricardo Salvador from the Union of Concerned Scientists and Angus Wright both made me more curious about the agricultural history of America in the mid to late -1900s.


Wes Jackson closed the weekend with a talk that compared soil to oil. “We’re not realizing that soil is as much of a nonrenewable resource as oil,” he said. “It’s hard to understand, but soil’s foundations require geologic time, not human time, to happen.”




Here is a flour postcard from Oregon, where I had a great time talking about flour and flatcakes at Cook’s Pots and Tabletops, a cooking store in Eugene. 15 people sat at a counter in front of me, including Sue Hunton and Stephanie Powers from Camas Country Mill, which I wrote about in the book. I passed around samples of flour, pancakes and crêpes, evangelizing about the great taste and nutrition of whole-grain flours. We had some extra time so I asked everyone what they wanted more of, and I invented a Red Fife cocoa crêpe for them on the spot. Funny I never thought of adding cocoa to the batter — worked really well.



Stephanie Powers with her flour recipe chart at Camas Country Mill.
Stephanie Powers with her flour recipe chart at Camas Country Mill.

Sue Hunton and Stephanie Powers were great to have in the class – I kept asking them to talk about the grains, and their perspectives added so much to mine. They are both retired schoolteachers, and have an easy and engaging way of delivering information. I admire how they bring their first careers into the life of the mill, taking kids field to flour with hands on lessons using simple tools to grind grains, and making muffins. Milling is so invisible in our lives and the tactile experiences they offer really plant the work in kids’ minds.


I also got to visit the mill, which is expanding, and I went to their new store and schoolhouse project. Mill owners Tom and Sue Hunton are restoring an old one-room schoolhouse to be their education center. The inside walls are signed by kids — in 1917 — who grew up to farm land that Tom and his son now farm – what a perfect place for Sue and Stephanie’s lessons!


Camas also works hard to get whole-grain flour into school meal programs. Stephanie experiments with formulas that fit within the nutrition guidelines and kitchens’ tool limits – a really tall order. How fun to see her in her lab! She made me tortillas from Edison flour, a white hard wheat with great taste. At home, I’ve been having a little wheat tortilla mania, playing with her recipe and all the flours I collect.


James Henderson of Hummingbird Wholesale smiles near wall of food he's helped grow.
James Henderson of Hummingbird Wholesale smiles near wall of food he’s helped grow.

In Eugene, I also got to visit James Henderson, Farm Liaison for Hummingbird Wholesale. James was a great resource to me as I wrote the Oregon chapter, helping me understand the seemingly glacial pace of change in farming. I really love the work that he and the company do, pioneering Distributor Supported Agriculture. This business model functions like a CSA, leveraging change on both the farming and marketing sides of the food chain.


My last Northwest event was an evening at Tabor Bread hosted by Slow Food Portland. I loved reading from the book at a place I profiled. Bakery owner Tissa Stein spoke about running a fresh milling bakery, and people got a tour, and saw the mill and woodfired oven up close. Again, it was wonderful to have people I wrote about speak for themselves. Some books are private retreats, but I want this book to be an ongoing public conversation. I want people to know the people I’ve met, and get curious about their work in grains.


Seastar Bakery and Handsome Pizza is a new spot in Portland very worth finding. Annie Moss worked at Tabor, and left to start this with friends. The bakery is investigating grains as the wildly flavorful ingredient they can be, and I’m so happy to know a place like this exists, drawing staple crops out of the shadows and into the spotlight.


I had two servings of toast that are strangling my imagination: a perfect piece of Red Fife with peanut butter and strawberries, and another made from a seeded rye bread with hazelnut butter, hazelnuts, honey and big flakes of salt.


I am not the kind of person to admire toast, because it is stiff competition for pancakes, and also because it is dangerously trendy. Yet I can't get that food out of my head.
I am not the kind of person to admire toast, because it is stiff competition for pancakes, and also because it is dangerously trendy. Yet I can’t get that food out of my head.


Flour Tour

My flour tour of the Pacific Northwest began at the Grain Gathering, a serious salute to the revival of regional grain production. The conference was at The Bread Lab, the ship wheat breeder Steve Jones steers to help develop local grain farming and use. There were workshops on baking, milling, and even making a mill. I got to meet people I talked to on the phone, like baker Dave Miller, and people I only knew from word-of-mouth, like Josey Baker. I met people I felt I’d known my whole life: Marie-Louise from Skaertoft Mill in Denmark, and Dick Scheuerman.

White Lammas in the field.
White Lammas in the field.

For three years, Dick has been growing out a sample of White Lammas wheat that was stored in 1916. This year, he finally had enough wheat to use, rather than saving just to grow again, and he asked me to make pancakes. I consulted cookbooks to see what English settlers might have eaten in the 1820s to 1840s. I settled on a crêpe batter, and the taste was really great.

I brought some of this flour with me and made it into crêpes at my flat cake classes. The first was at Book Larder, a cookbook store with a kitchen in Seattle. I also had some white Sonora from Grist & Toll, a mill in Pasadena, and I made these heritage varieties side-by-side for people to try.

I did a similar event at Seattle Tilth’s Rainier Farm.

9.Jonathan Milling
Jonathan Bethony milling the White Lammas.

I realized that my job is to be an ambassador for flour. Gluten is the latest target in the American diet drama, and I want to make people less afraid of eating grains. I’m not trying to convert anyone who has celiac disease or a true wheat allergy. But I do think that people should fall in love with flour, and I love showing them how.

Red Fife

I brought 5 pounds of Red Fife flour from Maine and the Kneading Conference. The Red Fife I got in Canada, where the revival of this heritage grain is well established, made some memorable loaves, flatbreads, crepes and pancakes. The taste was a very robust whole wheat; I wish I could describe it better, but even people who are good at describing tastes are entering new territory with grains, and deciding how to name the flavors. Trust me when I tell you I was ready to marvel over the flavor of Red Fife some more.

Peter Reinhart and two work study students making Red Fife pancakes at the Kneading Conference. Photo credit Jesse Cottingham.
Peter Reinhart making Red Fife pancakes at the Kneading Conference with Brenna MacNeil and Sophrinia Smith. Photo credit Jesse Cottingham.

However, I was a little skeptical of how this particular flour would work. This crop had sprouted in the field, which means the seeds started to grow, and the enzyme activity bakers rely on to cooperate with leavening in building dough had already begun. Normally, such grains don’t get milled, because the flour is unpredictable.

Yet Red Fife is in high demand in the Northeast, because it has a name and a story, in addition to its beguiling taste. So the mill decided to take a chance. This is the way things would’ve happened before grain production was centralized. Preharvest germination wasn’t a dealbreaker for farmers, because there weren’t alternatives. Grains that came from far away by water and land cost a pretty penny, and people ate what they had.

People around me have been pretty happily eating Red Fife pancakes. I made them using my standard formula, and I knew from the way the batter puffed in the bowl, and then the cakes shaped up on the griddle, that we were in for a treat. Jack wanted blueberries in them and I refused. This breakfast was purely about the flour.

Red Fife pancakes at home.
Red Fife pancakes at home.

I made a whole lot of them today to salute a cousin’s new baby. I did put some blueberries in some cakes, because I knew that the flour could speak for itself, and tell people that this was a lovely food they were eating.


Here is the way I make pancakes. I didn’t make any special arrangements because of the sprouting in the flour.


Basic Pancake Ratio

1 cup flour

1 tsp baking powder (the best choice is Rumford)

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp baking soda


Combine thoroughly and use for one batch of pancakes, or multiply ingredients to make mix, and store in a tightly closed container.


To Make Pancakes

1 cup mix

1 tablespoon yogurt

½ cup milk

2 eggs


Combine all ingredients. Let the batter sit for 5-10 minutes to allow the flour, and especially the bran, to absorb the liquids. Cook on a hot buttered griddle, and flip when bubbles begin to break on the surface of the pancakes.


The Kneading Conference

Andrew Janjigian   photographed by Jesse Cottingham.
Andrew Janjigian photographed by Jesse Cottingham.

I first heard about the Kneading Conference when I started talking to people about local flour, so it seems appropriate that the first place my book met the world was at this year’s conference, in Maine at the end of July.

Peter Reinhart gave the keynote address, and his words set the perfect stage for a two-day exploration of grains and bread.

“All cooking is transformational, but with bread we take something that was once alive and bring it back to life. This living organism called dough experiences secondary changes in baking. As it dies it transforms into something that we eat,” said the baker and cookbook author. The metaphor of the functions of baking and eat are themes Reinhart explores.

As he was researching his book about pizza, American Pie, he interviewed Chris Bianco, the poster boy of the artisan pizza movement. The man, he said was shy as he tried to get him to describe what was special about his pizza, but eventually admitted, “The secret is me. I can’t bottle that, and I can’t teach my passion.”

“What made his bread so special was the fact that he was making it,” said Reinhart, who said he also saw passion in action when he visited a cheese steak place in Philadelphia where he used to work.

Peter Reinhart and two  work study attendees have a ball at the griddle making sprouted wheat flour pancakes. Photo by Jesse Cottingham.
Peter Reinhart and two work study attendees have a ball at the griddle making sprouted wheat flour pancakes. Photo by Jesse Cottingham.

This idea stayed with me like a captivating flavor the rest of my time in Maine. Andrew Janjigian gave a workshop on the Middle Eastern roots of pizza.

“Pizza is the food that got me cooking. I started as a teenager and it is the thing that I have cooked the most,” he said. While his job as senior editor at Cook’s Illustrated doesn’t focus exclusively on pizza, the topic still engages him, especially after he spent two weeks in Eastern Turkey over the winter. The class he taught drew from this experience of seeing Lahmajun, the Armenian flatbread he knew from growing up, in very different, pizza-like context. Seeing the breads served flat and hot, rather than stacked in a bag for home use, Andrew said his long fascination with pizza made sense in a new fashion.

Sam Fromartz spoke about his book In Search of the Perfect Loaf. This book is a great tour of our human history with grains, the science of sourdough, and bakers. “I went to Germany because I wanted to go to a place where whole grains were eaten because they were good, not because we should eat them,” he said. The loaves reflected the diversity of grains, and took him far from the book’s starting point, which was a quest for making the perfect baguette at home. This doesn’t differ drastically from his writing, but I loved seeing a more personal side of the information that was delivered in the book. Plus it was nice to see the author’s face smiling as he told the book’s story.

Steve Gonzalez from SFOGLINI pasta talked about using local grains, and got me curious about making noodles. Noah Elbers from Orchard Hill Breadworks gave a demonstration in shaping pizza dough, and I’ll never forget the slack dough round hanging over his big mitt hands. This is the way he described his hands, noting that people with longer thinner fingers and more slender hands have difficulty shaping with this method.

Noah Elbers shows us dough moves.
Noah Elbers shows us dough moves.

At these events, you never get to see all the presentations, and I’m really sorry I missed most of Richard Miscovich’s class, and all of Ciril Hitz’s workshop on whole grains. He is a very engaging teacher, and the flavor of his spelt bread made me regret my inability to be in two places at once even more. Luckily, I have a recipe to try at home.

I know what I make will be my version, and not even an estimation of his bread. That’s the way food works, as I’ve learned since I came home. I’ve been making ployes, a buckwheat pancake from a mix that Father Paul Dumais gave me. He spoke last year at the Kneading Conference about his family’s Acadian flatbread, and now he’s making a mix. What I make at home is tasty – and rather mystifying, because the buckwheat is yellow – but it doesn’t taste like the one he gave me in Maine. The texture is wrong, on the inside and on the surface. He is missing from his food, but at least I get a reminder.

Even the parking attendants are fascinated by wheat!
Even the parking attendants are fascinated by wheat!

NewBreadBasket_frontcover copy

On the Fourth of July in 1817, the Erie Canal began. Important men scooped symbolic shovels of dirt at dawn. Someone understood the moment’s power, and captured it beautifully.

Of course the canal began far earlier, perhaps as soon as colonists started to explore. An inland waterway would allow access to bounty and land.

One of the Erie Canal’s most articulate supporters was a flour merchant. Jesse Hawley went broke shipping flour and grains to New York City. Sitting still in debtor’s prison, he had time to consider how to improve his situation, and fixed his mind on carving the land to best serve commercial interests. The Genesee Messenger printed his essays, which laid out a proposed route, and spelled out the specific benefits, pointing to the success of other canals as an example.

While the idea of a 350-mile man-and mule–made waterway seemed absurd to many people, Hawley’s writings helped DeWitt Clinton and others argue the case. On Independence Day in 1817, politicians launched this project at sunrise. Modern beginnings are so much less grand.


I had a small beginning on Friday. I thought the day’s big event was going to be six kids drenching themselves with water guns at my son’s birthday party. Then the UPS truck pulled up.

I thought it might be a birthday present for Felix, but the small package had the return address of my publisher. I knew right away what it was, but I was still shocked. This book began in so many places, and since I’ve never published a book before, each of its milestones take me by surprise.

One place this book began was at the griddle. My dad was the weekend breakfast king, and when he made pancakes I begged to be involved. The day he handed me the spatula echoes each time I look at the rounds of batter, waiting for bubbles to break so I can flip the cakes.

I have been studying pancakes for most of my life, and a few years ago I began studying flour. My husband brought me a cookie made with freshly ground wheat flour, and freshly rolled oats. Those grains had flavor galore, standing strong with the very good butter and chocolate will.

I traced these ingredients back to the field and to the mill, and got to know the pioneers who are growing and using staple crops at a small scale. I wrote their stories for farming newspapers and locavore outlets, describing the challenges and work.

THE NEW BREAD BASKET: How the New Crop of Grain Growers, Plant Breeders, Millers, Maltsters, Bakers, Brewers, and Local Food Activists Are Redefining Our Daily Loaf will be in stores very soon. The birthday party got my copy a little wet pretty quick, but nothing dampens my enthusiasm for this project.

I have loved meeting the grains all-stars who are working to make bread and beer local products. I can’t wait for you to make their acquaintance in my book.