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From seed to bread.

Kids gain hands-on experience with the staff of life

Ask a kid where bread comes from, and "the grocery store" is the probable answer. Unlike children of earlier generations, whose parents most likely lived on a farm, grew much of their food for the table, and baked bread every week from grain they had raised in the fields, children today don't usually make a connection between what they eat and where it came from. But landscape designer and author Rosalind Creasy is changing the way some kids think of bread.

"I started growing grain as an experiment to see if fresh grain really would make a difference in the flavor of homemade bread," Creasy explains. "As a gardener and cook, I'm always looking for the most flavorful ingredients.

"The growing and harvesting turned out to be so much fun, I got the neighborhood kids involved. It's amazing to watch the light bulb go off in their heads--they suddenly understand the connection between the earth and the food they eat."

Creasy has been holding her neighborhood harvest party for eight years now. The ritual actually begins in fall, when the children help sow the seeds, watch the grain grow through the winter and spring, and then check its progress as it slowly turns brown. By early July, it's ready to harvest.

First grader C. J. Lion compared his harvesting experiences to those of the Little Red Hen in the classic children's book. None of the animals would help her harvest the wheat, but they all wanted to eat the bread. C. J. told his more, "No wonder the Little Red Hen didn't want to share. It's a lot of work to harvest."

Nine-year-old Sandra Chang says she'd never thought about where bread comes from. "Now I know you have to grow the wheat, harvest the heads, and grind the berries to get flour."

Eleven-year-old Jill Main says she likes the harvest togetherness--and doing things the old-fashioned way. But at first she wasn't sure about eating the bread. "I like whole-wheat bread from the store, but I thought homegrown wheat bread would taste gross. I was surprised. It tastes really good!"

"You don't need 2 1/2 acres and a McCormick reaper to grow wheat"

"The great thing about wheat," says Creasy, "is that it's one of the easiest crops to grow. Since it's planted in fall, winter rains do most of the watering for you when it's a moist year."

Creasy found that a patch of soil of about 100 square feet (hers is 4 feet by 24 feet) provides flour for about 20 loaves. "The learning process is much more important than how much wheat you harvest and store," she explains.

To get the best production, soil should be well drained and thoroughly tilled, with plenty of compost mixed in. Before planting, Creasy tills in blood meal and bonemeal (about 1 pound each per 100 square feet).

She grows hard red spring wheat, but she's also had success with winter wheat from a natural-food store. If you buy wheat seeds--also called wheat berries--at a natural-food store, check to make sure they'll grow before you plant them by putting some in a damp paper towel. Keep the towel moist until they sprout.

The best time to plant is two to three weeks before winter rains set in--in most of the West, that means planting in October or November for a June or July harvest. In cold climates, gardeners must wait to plant spring wheat until the soil can be worked in March or April (expect an August or September harvest).

To plant, scatter seeds over the prepared soil (about 6 handfuls, or 1/4 pound, per 100 square feet), then rake seeds in so they are buried to about three times their diameter. This allows plants to get a strong foothold and helps prevent them from lodging--falling over--later.

After planting, soak the soil thoroughly; water to keep moist (every week or two if rains don't come). If cats are a nuisance, stretch bird netting tautly over stakes about 4 to 5 inches off the ground.

As the wheat sprouts, weeds can be a big problem. Creasy advises weeding regularly, so weeds don't compete with the young wheat shoots.

When the wheat is about knee-high, Creasy ties it up to keep it from lodging in the wind and rain. She places heavy wooden stakes at the corners, then encircles the area at knee height with heavy twine. If the twine needs more support, place more stakes between the corner stakes.

Once winter rains end, continue watering (about once a week) until the wheat starts turning brown. Creasy says the experienced young wheat harvesters often stop by to check the progression. They've learned that when the wheat turns brown and a tooth can no longer dent the berries, the wheat is ready to harvest. In mild climates, you can normally start harvesting in early June, but Creasy lets her crop stand awhile to harvest at her traditional Fourth of July party. To harvest, follow her step-by-step process pictured on these pages.

Where to get seeds

Buy wheat berries at natural-food and farm supply stores. Or order by mail from Bountiful Gardens, 18001 Shafer Ranch Rd., Willits, Calif. 95490; (707) 459-6410 (catalog free).

Grow- Your-Own Whole-wheat Bread

Enjoy the aroma of bread made with freshly ground flour. Use home-grown hard spring or winter wheat or buy it at a natural-food store.

1 package active dry yeast

2 3/4 cups warm water (110 |degrees~ to 115 |degrees~)

1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

1/4 cup (1/8 lb.) butter or margarine, at room temperature

2 teaspoons salt

4 cups bread flour

About 3 1/2 cups freshly ground whole-wheat flour (directions follow)

In a large bowl, soften yeast in 1/4 cup of the water, about 5 minutes. Blend in remaining 2 1/2 cups water, sugar, butter, and salt. Stir in all the bread flour until moistened. Beat with an electric mixer or a heavy spoon until dough is stretchy, 10 to 15 minutes. Add 3 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour.

If using a dough hook, beat on low speed until flour is moistened. Then beat at high speed until dough pulls cleanly from sides of bowl, 5 to 7 minutes. If dough still sticks, add whole-wheat flour 1 tablespoon at a time until it pulls free.

If mixing by hand, with a heavy spoon stir flour into dough until moist. Scrape dough onto a lightly floured board. Knead until smooth and elastic, adding as little flour as possible to prevent sticking, about 15 minutes. Place dough in a large bowl.

Cover dough with plastic wrap; place in a warm, draft-free place. Let dough rise until almost doubled, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Knead with dough hook or on a lightly floured board to expel air bubbles. On a floured board, divide dough in half and shape each portion into a loaf. Place each loaf in a greased 4- by 8-inch loaf pan. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free place. Let rise until almost doubled, about 45 minutes.

Uncover and bake in a 375 |degrees~ oven until richly browned, 40 to 50 minutes. Turn loaves onto a wire rack to cool. Makes 2 loaves (each about 1 3/4 lb.).

Per ounce: 76 cal. (14 percent from fat); 2.2 g protein; 1.2 g fat (0.6 g sat.); 14 g carbo.; 89 mg sodium; 2.3 mg chol.

Freshly ground wholewheat flour. Sort through 3 cups (about 1 1/3 lb.) hard spring or winter wheat; remove any grit or dirt (some chaff is all right). Grind wheat in a grain grinder or whirl 1-cup portions in a blender until finely ground. Makes about 4 cups flour. If flour isn't used at once, store airtight in freezer.
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Title Annotation:includes recipe; first graders are taught bread-making process
Author:Swezey, Lauren Bonar; Anusasananan, Linda Lau
Date:Nov 1, 1993
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