Oh the things you can do with local, whole wheat flour…
In the last month, I’ve visited about 10 farms for various stories and projects I’m scrambling to complete before baby arrives (less than two weeks!). Farms are among my favorite places, even if I’m rarely dressed appropriately (they don’t make pregnant farmer clothes, really), perpetually hot (yet thankful for this relatively mild August!) and always a long drive away. I come home from these visits exhausted and inspired — and often with a bag or box full of food goodies I couldn’t resist.
The photographer who’s accompanied me on most of these trips and I recently came home from the Charlottesville area with peaches, huge boxes of ginger gold apples, a hand-formed sourdough loaf, squash I foraged from between the rows and some tomatoes the owner of a market stand picked from his own plants out back (there were some in the store, but he insisted we have his “organic” variety). That’s not to mention the CSA that has been filling our countertops with in-season produce (and more cucumbers than I can pickle in a timely manner) this summer.
We even had the chance to share a gorgeous meal with one pair of farmers after a long day’s drive to and from Blacksburg, a meal that has inspired me to pickle turnips in the future. (This photo is by the illustrious Jami McDowell.)
And a recent trip to a farm in Gettysburg, Penn., sent me home with perhaps the most exciting and vexing ingredient of all: whole wheat flour.
I had spent a morning with the farmer who grew this hard red winter wheat in rotation with his pigs and chickens for this story for Beacon (you can still subscribe to the food project!). Then he used a century-old seed cleaner to remove the chaff and we carted it over to the nearby, historic mill, where it was ground into whole wheat flour. The flour will end up sold through farmer Beau Ramsburg’s CSA or on Chef Spike Gjerde’s menu at Woodberry Kitchen. And some went home with me.
Obviously, there is no shortage of uses for flour. That’s the problem. I didn’t want to do just anything with this flour. I wanted to transform it into something spectacular, something worthy of the effort I know this farmer and this miller went to to create it. But I don’t have a sourdough starter to make some gorgeous hand-formed loaves (I am in the market for one!), and I’m really not much of a baker.
I was about halfway through my boxes of apples, turning them into applesauce that — as I told myself while I made it — might be my unborn daughter’s first taste of solid food months from now (that make you feel better about being on your feet for three hours canning when you’re 8 months pregnant). And I decided to turn the remainder into pie. Pie crust is one of the easiest endgames for flour, and I like it as hardy and wheat-y as possible.
I know it’s not exactly apple pie season, but we were having friends over for dessert, so it worked. Ginger golds are some of the first apples to hit markets in Virginia, and they have that perfect tart-sweet balance that befits pie. I combined a couple recipes to make this one work, and was pretty pleased with the result.
Wheat, you see, is a living thing. And it’s so rare for us to get to bake with it freshly milled. I would say without a doubt that it tastes better, that it falls into the category of foods that are worth buying locally (even if you’ve never thought of it before), milling fresh (like coffee) and preparing simply. I know a wheat breeder in Washington state and a growing number of chefs who’d agree.
Ginger Gold Apple Pie with Whole Wheat Crust
Ingredients for crust (makes top and bottom crust):
- 1 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
- 1 cup old-fashioned oats, finely ground (I ground them in my Vitamix)
- 4 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2/3 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
- 4 to 6 tablespoons very cold water
Ingredients for filling:
- 5-7 apples, peeled, cored, and sliced fairly thick (I used an apple corer, which is the best thing ever.)
- 3/4 c. sugar
- 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- dash of salt
- 1 Tbsp butter
COMBINE flour, ground oats, sugar and salt in medium bowl. Cut in butter with pastry blender or two knives until mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle with water; blend together with a fork until mixture holds together.
SHAPE dough into two equally sized balls; place each on a lightly floured sheet of wax paper. Top each with an additional piece of wax paper. Roll out each dough ball to 1/8-inch thickness. Remove top sheet of wax paper and invert one sheet of dough into 9-inch deep-dish (4-cup volume) pie plate. Slowly peel away wax paper. Trim excess crust. Turn edge under.
(Filling) WHISK sugar, spices, salt, and tapioca together in a large bowl. Toss with apples.
LAY a row of apple slices all over the bottom as tightly as you can. Make it pretty if you want. Then pile on the rest of the apples. Scrape every bit of the sugar and juice on top of the pie. Dot over with butter. Dampen edges of undercrust, cover with upper crust and press edges together. Crimp prettily with thumb and forefinger… or just let it be.
BAKE. Loosely cover the pie completely with aluminum foil and set in the middle of hot oven (400º F.). Bake for 45 minutes. Remove aluminum foil for the last fifteen minutes and bake until the pie starts to bubble.
• If you need a pre baked crust, use half of the crust recipe and preheat oven to 400º F. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Cool completely on wire rack.
Today, I also put some of the flour into peach muffins that may or may not be gone by the end of the day. I woke up craving muffins and couldn’t stop thinking about them until I made some. I highly recommend this recipe if you have your hands on whole wheat flour. And feel free to share your favorite whole wheat recipes. I still have plenty of flour waiting for a higher calling than my fridge.
Happy summer cooking!