Heirloom grains (also referred to as heritage grains) offer us the same taste of history and culture as their fruit and vegetable counterparts, and they have a special place in baking. After all, the essential joy of baked goods is that they remind us of the past, fill us with comforting memories—Mom’s chocolate chip cookies during the holidays, or Grandma’s famed apple pie every summer, or even your sister’s experimental gluten-free vegan brownies from her wheat-free phase. Baking is, at its core, inherently tied with these memories of family, history and emotional warmth. To bake with heirloom grains is to imbue your breads with even more culture and preserved history. Here are five to try.
Kentucky Heirloom Cornmeal
Grown in Eastern Kentucky on organic, permacultured lands, this heritage grain is an excellent addition for any home baker's kitchen. Ground cornmeal can be used in cornbread, muffins, scones, pie crusts, and porridges or stews. Good-quality cornmeal is an indispensable ingredient for the home baker, and while you may not use it in every recipe, it will absolutely transform the ones that do call for it. Find it here.
White Lamas Cake Flour
Cake flour is typically made from a variety of soft winter wheat berries, usually bleached to make it more “white” and refined for commercial purposes. White lamas is a unique heirloom variety of the wheat family coming from Virginia. It was held in high esteem to royal families up until the American Revolution. The flour has a natural golden-white color, a honey-like sweetness and a hint of cream flavor. Use white lamas cake flour in your recipes, and bake up a royal treat suitable for a high tea (or was it low tea?) party in the 17th century. Find it here.
Emmer Flour (Farro)
Emmer, most commonly known as farro, is a traditional Italian variety of wheat, one that is dense, robust and full of minerals. It’s prized for its rich flavor and nutritional composition, and has been recommended as a whole grain for vegetarians to add to their diets. As a baking flour, you can use emmer in place of regular flour, but keep in mind that you need to add just a bit more moisture to your recipe, as the bran in emmer is very absorbent. Try it in any recipe normally calling for wheat, and enjoy the rich, full-bodied flavor it adds to any ol’ bread. Find it here.
Red Fife Bread Flour
Red Fife may be one of Canada’s most important heritage grains. This wheat variety was the nation’s premier baking grain from the 1800s until the early 1900s. It was thought to have come into Canada from Glasgow, and possibly from Turkey and Ukraine previously. Re-introduced into the commercial industry as of the late ‘80s, Red Fife is slowly making a comeback. This hard red wheat variety is rich and robust, with a nutty, herby flavor and undertones of caramel (Author’s note: This sounds like an excellent wheat variety for making beer!). Currently the only place to find this heirloom flour is at Anson Mills, where the tradition of heirloom grains is alive and thriving. Find it here.
Abruzzi Rye Flour
Rye is a grain that exudes “old world” flavor—assertive, hearty and a bit vegetal in essence, and to find an heirloom rye is to have even more of that flavor come through. Abuzzi rye was famous in the Carolina Territory during our Colonial era and was a leading flour used in traditional Americana breads like Boston Brown Bread. To give your breads and biscuits a rustic texture and old world appeal, try this heirloom variety for a taste of the past. Find it here.