Did you know that grain is both a fruit and a vegetable? I didn’t until I did some research for this blog post. Grains are one of those things we take for granted, having been an indispensable food source for millennia, though it seems we still need reminding to eat enough whole grains!
Cereal grains are grasses cultivated for the edible components of their fruit seed, which is composed of endocarp, germ and bran. Whole grains include all these components but refined grains have had their bran and germ removed, leaving only the endosperm which is mostly carbohydrate and lacks the majority of nutrients found in whole grains. All grains are annuals, where one planting yields one harvest.
Most everyone is familiar with, and loves, corn so I’ve included a fab Corn bread, Cranberry & Riesling Sausage Stuffing recipe for your Thanksgiving table – but, with Thanksgiving around the corner, it seemed appropriate to pay tribute to the grain harvest and give you the goods on the lesser known, locally grown grains that thrive in our cool climate!
Red Fife is a heritage spring wheat originally brought to Otanabee Township (east of Peterborough) in 1842 by David Alexander Fife of Scotland. Prized for its ability to resist rust and the superior quality of the flour, Red Fife is credited with producing the boom in wheat production which occurred across North America in the 19th century. Rising in popularity are wheat berries – these are simply the threshed wheat that is harvested from the fields and cleaned and then usually stone-milled into flour. Recently, cooked wheat berries are finding favour starring in several scrumptious sides and salads, like the wheat berry, dried cherry & pancetta salad featured in our last newsletter.
Spelt is a species of wheat that has been grown since 5000 BC and has been found in the tombs of Pharaohs. Spelt flour can substitute for wheat flour though recipes will frequently require less water. People with allergies to wheat starch often say that spelt is easier to digest but spelt does contain gluten so if you have gluten allergies (or celiac disease), you are likely to have issues with spelt as well.
Buckwheat, on the other hand, does not contain any gluten and that’s because it isn’t a grain at all – it’s a “pseudo-cereal” related to the rhubarb family of plants. Groats are the hulled, crushed kernels and kasha refers to groats that have been roasted for a nuttier flavour.
Barley, which dates back to the Stone Age, is most commonly malted and used to make whiskey or beer. The most nutritious form is hulled barley, which has only the outer husk removed. Pearl barley has also had the bran removed and has been steamed and polished. Try Barley & Beet Risotto for a festive and flavourful feast!
Rye, related to barley and wheat, has a faintly sour trait. It contains less gluten than whole wheat or all purpose flour and is heavier and darker, resulting in the dark, dense loaves you see on bakers’ racks.
Oats, according to a definition in Samuel Johnson’s 1755 Dictionary of the English Language, were “a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but which in Scotland supports the people”. Being descended from a Scot myself, I’m pleased to report the Scots had it right as oats are the most nutritious of all the cereal grasses. Unlike horses, we don’t consume them until they have been cleaned, toasted, hulled and cleaned again at which point they are known as oat groats (which still contain most of the original nutrients). Steel cut oats are groats that have been cut into two to three pieces and have a deliciously chewy texture and take about 45 minutes to an hour to cook. When groats are steamed and flattened with huge rollers, they become rolled oats, which take about 15 minutes to cook. Quick cooking rolled oats are groats that have been cut into several pieces before being steamed and rolled into even thinner flakes, requiring only about 5 minutes cooking time. Try our Scottish Cranberry Oat Scones and see why the Scots were gaga for their groats!
It seems a Scottish writer had the last word on Dr. Johnson’s dictionary entry with these words of wit: “Which is why England is known for its horses and Scotland for its men”.
So, there you are… go get your oats!