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Breaking Bread with Local Grains

Jun 25, 2018 ● By Peggy Malecki

Photos Courtesy of Hewn

Ellen King, head baker and co-founder of Hewn Bakery (, in Evanston, missed eating the really good, rustic European breads found in European bakeries after moving back to the Chicago area. Part of the problem, she quickly learned, was that most bakers don’t have access to heritage grains.

She’s on a mission to help bakers, chefs and home cooks gain access to better grains so they can not only help revitalize the grain economy, but to bake delicious bread like our ancestors used to make.

Grains are like grapes, King says. Just as there are many kinds of grapes to make wine, there are many kinds of grains to make bread. The bread we find at most grocery stores today is made with flour that is extremely processed for a product she says really needs only four simple ingredients.

Why We Need To Support Local Grain Farmers

“Local grains are a vital piece for building regional foodsheds,” says Erin Meyer, MSRD, a consultant working with Artisan Grain Collaborative (, a collective of individuals, businesses and nonprofits working to promote a regenerative food system through the entire value supply chain from farmers to consumers.

According to Meyer, supporting the local grain community provides an opportunity to advance the three legs of sustainability: social impact, economic viability and environmental health. As more people want to put a face on where our food comes from and want to eating delicious and wholesome foods, supporting a regional grain economy is important.

“Grains grown by organic farmers bring farming back to the basics and do not sacrifice the safety of the product for speed or convenience. We need to support those farmers doing great things all around the U.S.,” King declares.

There’s another reason grains are important: they provide a lens to our local history that tells the story of a community. “Immigrants who came over here brought some of these seeds with them sewn into the pockets of their jackets!” says King. “Over the past couple of decades, these different varieties have become more and more extinct, and once they are gone, they are gone.”

That is one of the reasons King and several local midwestern farmers have banded together to form the Artisan Grain Collaborative: they’re working hard to revitalize the grain economy. The first step is to educate the general public why heritage grains are important, letting them taste the difference at shops like Hewn Bakery, and how to access them. She and her team work with many heritage grains that are unheard of by most of the public such as the Red Fife, Marquis and Rouge de Bordeaux.

The Rouge de Bordeaux is a wheat that was commonly grow in the 18th and 19th centuries in France, according to King, who uses it for all of Hewn’s whole wheat bread. “It reacts a little differently, and the bread has a true tang to it,” she says.

One of the most surprising heritage grain discoveries for King has been the Marquis, which was almost extinct. She worked with Andy Hazzard, of Hazzard Free Farm (, in Pecatonica, Illinois, to plant seeds they found through a professor that had a small amount. The first year, they harvested 30 pounds using scissors. This year, their third year, they harvested 3,000 pounds.


Baking With History

“We need the revitalization of the grain economy to happen nationwide, and we need to it to happen now,” says King. “It is a piece of history that cannot be lost, and I feel we are well on our way to a resurgence.”

King’s first cookbook, Hewn Heritage Baking, will be released on October 23; in it, King discusses not only the easy varieties we can get our hands on right now, but also recipes to try. Local grain can be found online and at local cooperatives or farmers’ markets throughout the city. Hewn also sells grain at their shop.

Some CSAs, including Prairie Wind Family Farm (, in Grayslake, include heritage grains on occasion in their share offerings in an effort to support small-scale grain family farmers and introduce grains to a wider audience. Recently, subscribers received a special Hard Red Winter Wheat Flour from Molly and John Breslin, of Breslin Farms (, in Ottawa, Illinois. Not only was the grain grown locally and organically, the flour is unique in that it was stone-milled locally and organically at The Mill at Janie’s Farm (, an organic grain mill located in Danforth, Illinois. Janie’s Farm Organics is a member of the Artisan Grain Collaborative.

Local restaurants are getting into the scene, too, with many bakers producing loaves based on their needs, whether it be the size of the loaf or grains they use. They’re going as far as including on their menus where the wheat is grown, according to King, further helping to bring attention to those farmers and their brands. 

Find bread made from local grains at Found/The Barn, Inovasi, Range Chicago, Sweetgreens (four locations), The Robey Hotel (Chef Kevin McAllister), Midtown Athletic Club, Booth One (LEYE), and The Wyndham Chicago River Front. Pastries featuring local grains can be found at Backlot Coffee, Metric Coffee, and Ridman’s.


Megy Karydes is a Chicago-based writer interested in sustainability issues. Find her at


Sourdough Ginger Peach Scone

435 g (3 cups) sifted heritage flour (SWS), such as White Sonora

125 g (½ cup plus 1 Tbsp) sugar

40 g (¼ cup) crystallized ginger nibs (optional)

6 g (1 Tbsp) freshly grated lime zest

7 g (1½ tsp) baking powder

2 g (½ tsp) baking soda

3 g (½ tsp) fine sea salt

227 g (1 cup) cold butter, cubed

100 g (1 cup) sourdough starter

50 g (¼ cup) cold heavy cream

50 g (1 large) egg

15 g (1 Tbsp) grated fresh ginger

4 g (1 tsp) pure vanilla paste or extract

1 ripe peach, diced

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter a large rimmed baking sheet.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, combine the flour, 75 grams (⅓ cup) of the sugar, the ginger nibs (if using), lime zest, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and mix on low speed until just combined. With the mixer running, slowly add the butter, a few cubes at a time, and mix for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the butter is the size of small peas. Do not overmix. The dough should look like wet, shaggy sand.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the starter, cream, egg, grated ginger, and vanilla. In another separate bowl, toss the peach with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar.

Let stand for 5 minutes.

Slowly pour the cream mixture into the flour-butter mixture and mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are just moistened, about 45 seconds. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the peach mixture with a rubber spatula.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and shape into a 10-by-8-in [25-by-20-cm] rectangle that’s about 1 to 1-1/2 in [2.5 to 4 cm] thick.

Using a large knife, cut the dough into twelve 2½-in [6-cm] squares. Arrange the scones on the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 2 in [5 cm] apart.

Bake the scones for 18 to 20 minutes, or until golden around the edges and a metal skewer or toothpick inserted into the center of a scone comes out clean.

Serve warm with butter, or let cool and freeze for up to 2 months in a resealable plastic bag. To freeze unbaked scones, place the cut scones on a baking sheet and freeze until firm, then transfer to a resealable plastic bag to freeze. Pull them out as needed to bake and increase the baking time by 7 to 8 minutes.

Reprinted from Heritage Baking, by Ellen King with permission by Chronicle Books, 2018