Tag Archives: gluten

A bike ride, “gluten-free” cake, X-Men and orchids. Lots of orchids

Bank of orchids near Lewes

One of the things that bugs me about the whole anti-gluten issue is that bakeries are induced to label products as “gluten free” even if they’re traditional types of cake or biscuit that have always been made without wheat flour. It’s not like these things have just been invented to cash in on a food fad / epidemic of wheat-related health issues. Think things like the classic sachertorte, its south Italian cousin torta caprese, various Sicilian almond paste delights. Never mind other things made up by celeb chefs more recently, like this lovely citrus polenta cake that’s based on a Nigel Slater recipe.

I adore cakes based on ground nuts or featuring alternatives to wheat flour, like polenta, which is maize, Zea mays, or what Americans call corn (when I was growing up we still used the word corn in the old English sense as a generic term for cereal grain). Maize, being a cereal plant and a member of the Poaceae (grass) family does contain proteins related to those that people have issues with in wheat, which specifically contains gliadin, one of the proteins that forms “gluten”. I also enjoy things made with other non-cereal flours like potato and buckwheat, which isn’t a Poaceae cereal or grain, it’s the seed of a member of the rhubarb, sorrel family and Japanese knotweed family, Polygonaceae. They can create all sorts of interesting textures and moistness. But sometimes you just need wheat.

More orchids

So anyway, today I took a quick jaunt on my bike from home in Lewes up to Uckfield, about nine miles away. Not exatly being overburdened with employment at the moment, I don’t have any excuses to not keep relatively fit. I was also toying with the idea of catching a matinee of X-Men Days of Future Past. As a former film critic, sometime comics journalist and increasingly reluctant comics collector (that stuff is just so heavy!), I was keen to see it, especially as the original comic storyline the film is loosely inspired by, first published in 1981 and created by Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Terry Austin, is an utter classic.

While in Uckfield, I checked out Hartfields Produce Store. It’s a cool little place with the right attitude – “a small independant produce store and cafe based in Uckfield. Our aim is to provide great, fresh food, locally sourced wherever possible and always full of flavour!” [Sic] As I love the aforementioned ground nut-based cakes I had to try their chocolate and almond torta, despite it carrying the now-essential sign declaring its gluten-free status.

I know this shouldn’t rile me, but I’m a baker, and wheat is the backbone of baking. I’m a firm believer that many people wouldn’t suffer their wheat-related issues if they ate properly fermented bread, and avoided any and all shit industrial wheat-based products, that are made in a rush without sufficient fermentation. I touched on the evils of the Chorleywood (so-called) Bread Process here, but also went into more detail about this subject here. So I won’t rehash here. Suffice to say, I don’t consider industrial wheat-based products fit for human consumption. And frankly, I wouldn’t feed white sliced “bread” to my pigs or chooks (if I had any).

Hartfields chocolate almond torta

Anyway, back to Hartfields. In total, my bike-ride apparently burned 697 calories – presumably kcals – according to Strava. I know nothing about the calories (ie kcals) in food, as I’ve always tried to have a sensible attitude to food and fitness, and not get hung up, but I’m guessing there were at least half the number of kcals I burned on the ride in the slice. But you know, that’s why I cycle and walk regularly – so I can enjoy cake. And this was great cake. Bravo Hartfields.

After the cake, I stopped by the cinema to discover it was a parents-and-babies matinee, so as I didn’t fancy earnest X-dialogue combined with potential squalling, and as it was a nice day, I headed home. Into a terrible headwind on the final five miles heading south down the Ouse river valley on the A26. But that’s fine – the whole stretch was utterly littered with orchids, with some patches of dozens, even hundreds. I’ll have to check with my brother, who’s the family expert on such things, but I believe they were common spotted orchids (Dactylorhiza fuchsii), in varying shades of pale pink through to a darker almost-purple, some of them up to half a metre tall. Wonderful.

Orchid

Info
Hartfields Produce Store, 71 High Street, Uckfield TN22 1AP

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Hundred per cent local spelt loaf

Spelt loaf 1

The collection of different flours in my cupboard is getting a bit silly (again). I just can’t resist it when I see a new type I’ve not tried before. In this case, it was some spelt flour, grown and milled by Toos Jeuken, who I buy a lot of my veg from at the weekly Lewes market.

There’s a full profile of the Dutch-born Toos here on The Guardian site, from 2004, and a more recent profile on the market site here. They say she arrived in England on a bike in 1978 and has been farming in Sussex, specifically at Cuckfield, 16 miles from Lewes, since.

I hadn’t really registered that she sold grains as she always has such a wonderful selection of veg at her stall, even now, in the hungry gap. (Spring might be verdant, but traditionally March and April were the time of year when, as Paul Waddington puts it in Seasonal Food, “winter stores ran low and new produce had yet to mature.” Sure, there is still a selection of local produce – last week the farmers’ market had its first asparagus – but it’s a long way from late summer.)

Anyway, at her Laines Organic Farm, alongside all the veg, Toos grows several grains, including oats, barley and spelt. Last week I bought some of her rolled oats (hand-rolled!) and wholegrain spelt flour.

Too many chromasomes
Spelt (Triticum spelta) is an older variety of wheat, less manipulated1 than modern strains of bread wheat (Triticum aestivum). Though they are closely related, with spelt alternatively classified as a subspecies: Triticum aestivum subsp. Spelta. Both are what is called hexaploid plant species – that is, they have six sets of chromasomes. By comparison, more ancient wheats have few sets of chromasomes: einkorn (Triticum monococcum) is diploid, with two sets. Emmer (Triticum diococcum) is tetrapolid, with four sets, as is Durum wheat (Triciticum durum, or Triticum turgidum subsp. Durum) – the wheat most commonly used for pasta, which was domesticated from emmer.

In the issue 19 of ‘True Loaf’, the magazine of the Real Bread Campaign, Penny Williams of the Artisan Bakery School, highlights the importance of long fermentation of proper bread, but also looks at the issue of wheat varieties and how they may affect digestibility. She quotes a 2011 Indian study2 and concern about a potential “impending epidemic” of coeliac and other wheat protein related issues as India transitions from older diploid and tetraploid wheats to hexaploid wheats, notably modern strains of Triticum aestivum. She goes on to quote a 2010 study3 that looks at a broad selection of wheat varieties, with an eye to their “antigenic gliadins” – that is, the gluten proteins that may be responsible for “triggering autoimmune response in people with coeliac disease.”

“The findings suggest,” she writes, “that modern wheat breeding practices may have led to an incresed exposure to these coeliac ‘trigger’ proteins. While they also identified a few modern wheat varieties that had relatively low levels of antigenic proteins… I question whether tinkering with modern wheat is really the right direction to be going in.”

Less tinkered with
I would have to agree with that. Although I can’t really entirely avoid using modern wheat as I like to made cakes and enriched breads that rely on white flours too much, and these are hard4 to replace with older wheats.

I do at least try to use older wheat varieties in my wholesome bread experiments. And while spelt may be hexaploid, it’s a lot less tinkered with than modern, industrially cultivated and processed bread wheat. Especially as I’ve been lucky enough to find an experienced organic grower so close to home in the form of Toos. Next time I see her I’ll have to ask if she’s growing any emmer or einkorn.

So anyway. This was my 100% (or 99.5%) spelt loaf.

Spelt loaf 2

500g wholegrain spelt flour, nice and branny
340g water
10g fresh yeast
10g salt
50g wheat leaven, 100% hydration

This wasn’t a proper recipe. I just made a sponge, or pre-ferment, with 250g of the spelt flour, the 340g of water and the 10g of yeast in the evening and left it overnight. I wasn’t planning to use any sourdough leaven, but was playing around with it in the morning, so just chucked a bit into the sponge. I then added the rest of the flour and the salt and formed a dough. Did the on-and-off easy knead thing, let it prove up, formed a ball, gave it a final prove, then baked it the hot Le Creuset (like this bread), spraying some water onto the top crust before putting the lid on, resulting in a shiny floury glaze.

It wasn’t my best loaf in terms of the crumb – it’s crumbly and a bit underbaked – but boy did it taste good. The 100% wholegrain spelt flour just had a nuttiness and depth of flavour that’s more pronounced than the breads I’ve been making recently with the Sussex Red wholegrain flour (from Barlow, a modern wheat variety). As I do long fermentations, and avoid foul industrial wheat-based products (white sliced “bread” etc), I don’t suffer from negative reactions to “antigenic gliadians” etc, but I suspect even if I did, this spelt bread would be perfectly digestible.

 

Footnotes
1. By which I mean selective cultivation, over many centuries, but especially accelerated since the so-called Green Revolution of the 1960s when new strains of various crops with higher yields were developed. Higher yields but, we know now, potentially higher environmental repurcussions, due to their heavy reliance on chemical fertilisers, pesticides etc. So not really very “green” in the modern, sustainability sense.

1. ‘Celiac disease: can we avert the impending epidemic in India?’

2. ‘Presence of celiac disease epitopes in modern and old hexaploid wheat varieties: wheat breeding may have contributed to increased prevalence of celiac disease.’

3. Hard, but not necessarily impossible. It’ll just be a lifelong challenge to revise favourite recipes etc so they work with these more earnest, properly old-school wheat varieties.

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