The Whole Grain Pantry
Setting up a whole grain pantry is as simple as it sounds. Simple yet intentional. It harkens back to different times, the times of our great grandparents when convenience was not king. Luckily when it comes to grains today we don’t have to grow our own grains, harvest, thresh and winnow and store them in large quantities – although it’s pretty fun to try at least once! We can look to our local farmers and beyond as resources and we can find space in our refrigerators or freezers to keep enough grain on hand to cook as needed.
I like to think of myself as a bit of an urban Laura Ingalls Wilder so I like to buy 25–50 lb bags of grain and store them in my “cellar” – squeezed in between the cans of tomatoes, jams and pickles and the water filter system – because frankly it costs less when you buy in bulk. I travel from my basement to the freezer filling up bags to store there as needed for milling. Stone milling can generate quite a bit of heat so freezing the grain beforehand helps to prevent degradation of all the nutrients released when milled - but really a cool basement, preferably below 70 - is all you need for storage. Milled flour requires more careful storage in the refrigerator or freezer to preserve freshness and prevent spoilage from the oils released from the germ.
Now the fun part – stocking your pantry with different wheat varietals! With just a few basic varietals you can make substitutions for all of your favorite recipes. Think of it as a color palette that you can mix and match – following some basic guidelines – to create new flavors and textures. My color wheel has 3 “primary” varietals – hard winter wheats, soft wheats and ancient wheats. Used as a single varietal they each have their own qualities of protein and gluten that render them more or less suitable for making bread, pasta or baked goods. When combined they can add layers of flavor and texture. If you were to stock 1 varietal from each of the 3 categories you would be off to a great start! The ancient grains such as Einkorn, Emmer, Spelt and Kamut are easily found even in your local natural foods market. Heritage varietals such as Turkey Red, Red Fife and Sonoran White are becoming more readily available online – or talk with your local farmers to see what might be growing in your own backyard.
Now that you have all these whole grains on hand and at the ready let’s talk about how to prepare them! Once again, we can look back to learn from our ancestors. Traditionally grains have been prepared by soaking, sprouting, and/or sour leavening (fermentation). Grains have a tough outer shell around them to protect the seed so it makes sense that we need to break it down. These processes remove potent anti-nutrients and break down complex food molecules contained in all grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. These include phytic acids, lectins, complex sugars, gluten, tannins, and more. These substances not only block absorption of food nutrients, but they also have the potential to irritate the intestinal tract.
Right about now you’re probably thinking I don’t have time for this – I just need to be able to grab something and go – but with just a little intention you will find that a shift in your kitchen preparation can be seamless and actually afford you more time and of course better flavor and nutrition. It just takes a little planning and what we like to call at home, “production” time.
Here’s the quick low-down for these processes.
Soaking - before cooking or sprouting whole grains, soak the grains in water with 1 TBSP/cup of something acidic like lemon juice or apple cider vinegar for at least 12 hours.
Sprouting – after soaking rinse and drain the grains in a strainer or colander. Place in a container with a lid. Keep out of direct light at room temperature for 1-2 days. Rinse and drain every 12 hours until you see tails begin to emerge then rinse and drain a final time and refrigerate for up to a week.
Fermentation – milled or cracked grain can be fermented using a natural levain or sourdough to make breads or porridges.
Whole grain flour tends to be a little thirstier than refined flour so you may have to make some adjustments to your pasta or bread recipes. I have found that baked goods do not need increased hydration but do benefit from a rest period of at least 30 minutes after making your batter. It’s best to work with recipes you know well at first so that you can make subtle adjustments based on feel and prior experience. Start by following your recipe and you can always add in more liquid if needed – but much harder to take it away. Lastly keep notes and become your very own test kitchen – then you can become the whole grain expert in your own community!