Posts Tagged ‘spelt’

Local Spelt Pizza Crust

Whole grains of the spelt.

The spelt is here. I have been waiting for this day since the summer of 2009. Back then I drove to my Amish friends in Chesterhill, Ohio to get some late season asparagus and stawberries. As I popped over the roller-coaster road that was being slowly strangled by undergrowth, I came to Joe Hirshberger’s sprawling farm.

The hilly panorama around Chesterhill is like a Grant Wood painting. Undulating hills and steep ravines bottom out into small farm ponds used by horses, cows and sheep. Joe’s  farm is always worked the old fashioned way; with huge hairy-hoofed horses, carriages, buggies, peach trees, drying timber, sheep, chickens, dogs and steel-wheeled contraptions to capture the oats, wheat, spelt and corn. Barefoot kids in straw hats come and go past my window. Off to my right I see the fields where farmers grow, cut and stack all the corn and grains for the season. Closer in, near the road, some Amish women and kids kneel mosque-style (bad analogy.) They look like big black boulders slowly making thier way along the earthen potato rows.

Brandon in the foreground and Joe in the distance, guiding draft horses as they cut the spelt.

Then I see the Hirshberger house over the next hill, and there’s Joe, guiding four huge draft horses as they pull a cutting device through his field. He’s being followed by a dark haired guy stacking up the bundles that joe has cut.

“That job sucks.” I thought, and got out of my air-conditioned comfort to greet them.  Joe halted the horses and flies buzzed around in a moving cloud of chaos. I now regretted getting out of my car, as the air felt like a sauna. A horsefly bit my neck.

“Hi, my name is Brandon,” the dark haired guy said. His shirt was covered in sweat and field debris. “Who are you?’ he asked.

“I’m John, from Avalanche Pizza. Just stopped by to say hi to Joe.” I said, pointing at Joe. I wondered if Brandon was a migant worker. Then realized that I had seen him in the paper. He was that back-to0nature, seed-and-wheat guy who the paper said was bringing back the old-world style connection between local markets and local farmers.

Brandon gathering the spelt after Joe cuts it.

“How do you know Joe?” Brandon asked, just as Joe walked up and shook my hand. Joe’s white collared shirt was soaked but still pulled tight around his neck. His black felt jacket,  black pants, and beard were coated with beige wheat debris. Joe had no shoes on, and as he walked around (he never stands still), I cringed at the thought of those sharp 3-inch stalks stabbing my feet like punji sticks.

“Hello John,” Joe said, stroking his long beard.

“I buy some stuff from Joe every so often,” I explained to Brandon.”It’s a hot one, huh?” I said to both, and realized instantly how stupid a question that was.

“Are you interested in this spelt for your pizzas?” Brandon said.

“What’s spelt?” I asked. Both Brandon and Joe looked at each other quizzically then they both laughed. I thought they were gonna fall down in shared hysterics then realized I was standing in a field of spelt.

Well, that’s how this all started.

Spelt “on the vine” from Joe’s farm in Chesterhill, Ohio.

From then on, it’s been a great partnership. Joe Hirshberger still puts up with my ignorance about his religion, plants, vegetables, culture, and farm animals. He has taken a big chance on me and has planted part of his valuable acreage for my handshake promise to use his spelt and corn flour.

Brandon and Michelle Ajamian (His partner in Shagbark Seed and Milling) have come though in spades with their new mill and plans for the future. They have ground this hard-shelled grain fine enough for me to work into a crazy-good nutty pizza dough.

Moist local spelt on the right and the stone ground whole wheat from Con Agra that we had previously used.

This truly local flour has been incorporated into Avalanche Pizza’s menu-mix for a week now.  We’ve sold over 100 pounds of spelt pizza crust and breads in seven days!

Thank you Brandon, Michelle and Joe.

Local Corn Flour for Pizza and Bread

On a cold December morning, I ducked out of my pizza business long enough to accompany Brandon Jaeger to Chesterhill Ohio see some “Dent corn”  stripped off the stalk by our Amish friends. This same corn was used by the Fort Ancient Native Americans, and kernels have been found in several burial mounds right in this region. Brandon would process it, and I will have a chance to make a non-gluten bread with it.

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The horses bring in the corn, and the (slightly) modified “Farmall M” is ready to strip the corn off the stalks.

I met Brandon  last summer, when I trekked to Joe’s farm to get some Northern Ohio Spelt for my Purple People Eater, a combination of 20% high-gluten pre-ferment, (poolish) with 70% spelt flour and 10% stone ground whole wheat. This bread has similarities to those annoying but delicious Christmas cookies that stick to your teeth, especially as I put a sticky blueberry, mango, apricot compote on top before the bake.

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Purple People Eaters, and the Goon (Sounds like a new Harry Potter movie) in Chesterhill.

Brandon and his partner Michelle Ajamian have dedictated themselves to the long-forgotton growth, production and use of local high-nutrition bean, grain and seed crops.

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Michelle Ajamian prepping soil for buckwheat planting. Brandon and Michelle’s field of amaranth.

Through Appalachian Staple Foods Collabrative (ASFC) they’ve forged a new way for small businesses like mine to offer these local, fresh, foods. Plus, they keep the money local at the same time. This team has a laser-beam focus on bringing local sustainable grains and beans to the people and businesses in the area.

That summer, as I approached the Hirshberger acreage, Joe was on his 4-horse binder contraption that looked like it was from the 18th century. This machine cut the spelt, gathered up the stalks and bound them with string. As my eyes followed this wild rig driven by Joe in his buttoned up white shirt, black overcoat, black hat, rolled up pants and bare feet, I saw someone following him who was not Amish. It was Brandon, grabbing the bundles and stacking them in the hot late-day steam.

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Brandon Jaeger stacking spelt after Joe cuts it the old-fashioned way.

“That job sucks,” I said to myself as I watched both men work toward the horizon. I walked into the field of spelt, hoping that they wouldn’t ask me to help, and introduced myself to Brandon and waved to Joe. He looked familiar and I remembered that I’d read about him in the newspapers. Ever since, he had tweeked my interest in using local grains in my day-to-day menu mix.

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Summer harvested spelt, and Brandon stacking the spelt bundles for drying.

As you can see in the video, it was winter now, and I was watching the corn being stripped off the stalks by an ingenious contraption that takes the stalks right up to the top of the barn for use later. This is done with the engine of a “Farmall M” and alot of back-breaking work, which is par for the course for these guys.

When we got back to Michelle and Brandon’s mill, he took me on a quick tour of his new milling equipment and showed me some of the corn he was going to turn into flour.

I am truly grateful for Michelle, Brandon and all the people bringing back locally sourced grains for small businesses to choose to serve their customers. Soon I’ll have some recipes using this local corn flour for pizzas and breads. Yum.

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From raw corn kernels too usable corn flour.