Ellen King, owner and baker at Hewn Bakery on Dempster Street is stretching beyond hand-formed loaves and pastries, back into time to re-create bread that has not been produced or eaten in nearly 100 years.
Going back into history with a three-year project, Hewn’s Midwestern Bread Experiment aims to revive the unalloyed bread recipes common to America’s Heartland in the early 1900s by returning to the grains that have since been replaced by the genetically modified varieties most bread eaters settle for today.
The project is a collaboration among bakers, scientists, seed savers and farmers, all aiming to resurrect a bread recipe that connects us back to American roots through heritage grains long lost to the food industrial complex.
Together with expert grain scientist Stephen Jones of Washington State University, Hewn has found the grain variety common to the Midwest 70-100 years ago through agricultural journal research from tomes housed at the University of Wisconsin. With Professor Jones’s findings, Ms. King contacted Andy Hazzard of Hazzard Free Farm, a Midwestern family farm that has been in operation since 1847. From Seed Savers Exchange, a nonprofit committed to conserving rare plant seeds, Ms. Hazzard obtained the seeds, named Heritage Wheat and Marquis Wheat, and planted them on her family farm in late April. These varieties have Ukrainian origins and were brought to the U.S. in the late 1800s. The resulting flour is said to make the type of bread that Americans largely enjoyed until the 1940s.
When farmers began switching to a more efficient, homogenized variety of grain, the product of the early fertilizer- and pesticide-heavy farming practices, the Heritage and Marquis wheats all but disappeared.
The mid-August harvest is expected to yield 20 pounds of grain, enough to plant an acre. The yield will incrementally increase for the next couple of years until there is enough to mill. “It will probably be three years until we get a loaf that’s really good,” Ms. King said.
A Harvest Party in mid-August will celebrate the project’s first milestone, which revitalized legacy grain and may yield a loaf of bread that no one has tasted in close to a century.