There's no denying that the best kind of bread comes from a bakery or a farmers' market—not the middle aisle of the grocery store. Not only does it have the perfect "chew," but it's also sans artificial ingredients and preservatives. But let's be honest. It's not as though these artisans are reinventing the wheel. It's no secret that anything homemade is better tasting and better for you. Even so, that didn't stop Ellen King, master historian and owner/head baker of Hewn artisanal bakery in Evanston, from taking on the ultimate three-year bread experiment: recreating a bread recipe that hasn't been produced or eaten in nearly 100 years.
Through arduous research over countless hours, King and expert grain scientist Stephen Jones of Washington State University found the grain varieties called for in the recipe—Heritage Wheat and Marquis Wheat—via agricultural journal research at the University of Wisconsin. Once common to the Midwest, these wheat varieties were brought to America by Ukrainian settlers in the late 1800s.
Then, to help make this unbelievable idea a reality, King contacted Andy Hazzard of Hazzard Free Farm, a Midwestern family farm that has been in operation since 1847. Hazzard sourced the original wheat varieties from Seed Savers Exchange—a non-profit committed to conserving rare plant seeds—and proceeded to plant them on her family farm this past April.
In a couple of weeks, it will be time for the first harvest, which is expected to produce around 20 pounds of grain—or enough to plant an acre. Over the next couple of the years, the yield will incrementally increase until there's enough to mill. Even then, it isn't exactly showtime. "It will probably be three years until we get a loaf that's really good," said King.
If you're curious as to why this "staff of life" morphed into Wonder Bread, here's the scoop: Heritage and Marquis wheat disappeared when farmers began switching to a more efficient, homogenized variety of grain in the 1940s—the first signs of early fertilizer- and pesticide-heavy farming practices.
While this may be an ambitious experiment for King, we can't help but wonder if it could be the future of bread making—among other things—should it prove to be successful.