Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Walter Jones Update

The lab wrote me today with a quick update.  It sounds like they are just working with a few seeds to start out with:

"...the seeds swelled nicely - starting off with a few to practice on - but nothing germinated yet...No news is simply no news, not bad news, at this point!"

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Seed Delivered

My sister dropped off the Walter Jones wheat seed at the lab in Madison earlier today.  There are 500 wheat seeds, which I counted out and separated from the weed seeds.  The weight is 12 grams, meaning that the TKW (thousand kernel weight) for the sample is 24 grams.  For comparison, I have some certified Turkey Red wheat with a TKW of 30 grams.  I actually feel like this is a pretty high TKW considering all the time these seeds have had to shrink.

The sample had about .5 grams of wheat seeds, which I am hoping the lab will also try to germinate.  I don't think the harvest had quite this many weed seeds in it originally.  I think the lighter weed seeds migrated to the top of the museum jar over the years, from being shaken and jostled.  At the museum I just dipped the spoon into the top without jostling or shaking up the jar at all, so my sample has more weeds seeds than the sample as a whole.

Update: Edgar informed me that the germination trial began this Thursday (Mar 24).  He is hoping that an example of every seed in the sample will germinate.  Oh man!  Could you imagine if there are sprouted seeds to look at on Easter Sunday, 2016?????

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Walter Jones wheat trial

Several years ago I noticed a jar of old wheat in the collection of the Racine Heritage Museum.  The wheat came from the 1914 harvest of a local farm owned by Walter Jones.  More recently I had the idea to try growing this wheat, with an eye towards propagating it until there is enough to harvest, mill, and bake it.  So I contacted the museum and the staff very generously agreed to let me try to germinate some of the seed.

I did as much research as I could about germinating old wheat and discovered that the claims of germinating wheat from Egyptian tombs were all hoaxes.  Wheat is normally not expected to be very viable after 20-30 years.  I found mention of one study that gave me a little hope, however.  Under ideal conditions, according to this study, after 240 years you would expect to have 1 in 1000 wheat seeds viable.  Those are odds I can live with.

On March 17 I visited the museum and got my first close look at the seed.  The seed looks plump and intact.  In fact, it does not appear particularly old at all.  The smell was clean.  I removed about 20 gm of seed.

This closeup shows some smaller seeds in the sample.  There is clover seed and buckwheat seed, and several other unidentified seeds.  I hope to figure out what they are.

Edgar Spalding at the University of Wisconsin has agreed to try germinating a sample of the seed in his laboratory.  He plans to treat the seed for 24 hours in a warm bubbling solution of the hormone gibberellic acid because it promotes germination.  I will keep track of the protocol and report back on the results.  Needless to say, I am very, very excited about this project!!!

I think the clover and other small seeds in the sample could also be germinated, so I am going to ask the lab to treat these seeds as well.  Weed seeds are known to be very long lived so I think there is a pretty good chance that we can at least get some century-old weeds to grow.  It would be another window into old farming practices and the conditions that farmers faced in 1914.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Garden Survey

Although the weather is currently just slightly above normal temperatures, this Spring did get very warm very early and things have a head start.  The garlic is higher than I have ever seen it in March, and it looks very good.  The experimental onions that I planted with the garlic have not appeared yet.  I am leaving the mulch in place.

In the middle you can see the three strips of wheat from the genebank.  The one on the left is Turkey Red and it looks strong and perfect.  The middle strip is Wisconsin Pedigree No. 2.  The Bacska is a lighter color of green and shows some brown leaves, which may be winter kill.  The Bacska did not germinate all that well in the first place, which accounts for the gaps.

From the right, every three rows, is Stephen's Turkey, Heartland Turkey, and Ehmke Turkey.  The Stephens Turkey looks the strongest to me.

All the straw I am using this year makes for a fantastic mix in the compost pile.  It's been running just great lately.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Sourdough bread

Here is the bread recipe I am currently using.  I am taking elements from Thom Leaonard's The Bread Book, Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads, and whatever secrets I can trick Andrew at Madison Sourdough Company to let slip out when I talk to him.

This is a sourdough and I am having the best luck with my 92% extraction Turkey Red flour.  This extraction is an estimate and I have variously labeled it as 90%, 92%, or 94%.  It's all the same thing--stone ground and sifted with a 630 micron screen.  I always make enough for a loaf of bread and a few pizzas.  On baking day, after bulk fermentation, I divide the dough, put 1/2 of it into a proofing basket, and the other half gets made into pizzas.  I eat one pizza and freeze the rest.  When I am done making pizzas, it's just about time for the bread to go into the oven.

Day 1, remove starter from the fridge, dig out the soft inside (I use a stiff starter, wrapped in a dish towel), add 1/2 cup water, and mix in enough flour to make it stiff again.  Keep at 70 degrees for the day.

In the evening, divide the starter, add more flour to the portion that will go back into the fridge, wrap it up, and put it in the fridge.  Add 1 1/4 C water to the starter that remains and dissolve the starter.  Mix in at least 3 C of flour, knead a little bit, and let sit overnight at 70 degrees.  I do all my mixing by hand.

In the morning, dissolve the entire thing in another 2 C of water, add a little less than 3 teaspoons of non-iodized salt, and mix in at least 5 C of flour.  I use so much flour straight from my mill that my volume measurements are very suspect.  Freshly ground flour is very light and airy.  I should weigh it but I never have.  The ideal bread dough is as wet as you can possibly stand it while preventing it from sticking.  I find the wet hands technique to be too much bother, so I just keep dusting in small amounts of flour to keep it from sticking.  Also, you need to keep the dough in motion while it's on the counter.

Immediately retard the dough after kneading.  I put mine into the root cellar, which got it down to about 55 degrees or so.  I think the fridge could be tried, too.  If possible, fold the dough once or twice over the course of the day.  We are going to wake up this dough at some point in the next 12-24 hours.  To do this, heat up a thick earthenware bowl by letting it sit in your proofing area for awhile, and use a proofing area that is ideally 75-80 degrees.  

About 2-3 hours before you want to bake, put the dough into the preheated bowl and put it in the warm proofing area.  At about the same time, you can start pre-heating the oven.  At home I have an ordinary gas oven that I put 6 thin firebricks into.  This will be the baking surface for pizza and bread.

After an hour or so of re-awakened bulk fermentation, divide the dough into your pizza dough and your bread dough.  Don't punch it down or knead it.  In fact, don't ever punch the dough down when working with this kind of flour.  For your bread dough, fold it carefully a couple of times, dust it, and put into your proofing container.  I have been using a cane banneton lately, but a cloth towel in any kind of bowl also works fine.

While the bread dough is doing it's final proofing, you have time to make and eat pizza.  With this recipe I can make 3 for freezing and one for eating.  I usually work in a little more flour so that the pizza dough is a bit stiffer and drier.  Enjoy.

After no more than 90 minutes of proofing, tip the dough onto a baking peel, slice the top with a sharp, wet knife, and slide it into the oven.  The oven is as hot as you can stand it--you may need to pull the kitchen fire alarm off the wall.  You'd like to get 600 degrees in the oven, but of course most home ovens red line at 450.  So just get it as hot as you can.  I use 450 at home.

Use a spray bottle and spray the entire inside of the oven for 10-15 seconds.  Then close the oven and don't open it up again for at least 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes you can check on it. I usually go about 25 minutes.

Cool it on the rack, and enjoy!  Don't forget to put your smoke detector back on the wall and test it.  I mean, test the bread, and also test the fire alarm.

This last shot is a loaf from Madison Sourdough on top, and my loaf underneath it.  Both loaves are really quite nice, and they are both made from exactly the same wheat, from the same field and the same harvest.  I think Madison Sourdough is using 100% extraction, which gives it the darker color. (they have their own stone mill, I just sell them whole berries)  It's also a bit sharper and tangier than mine.