I came across an article that was extremely skeptical towards the "health-food craze" that the author seemed to think was simply a scam to get us to spend more money on groceries. My first response was to agree sarcastically, for if you don't mind whatever is or may be in the packages you find at the store, then by all means buy them and eat whatever is inside.
But there are people who do care what is inside the food packages--like those of us who do not want to eat horsemeat under the impression that it is beef. Is there something offensive in our insistence that products be labeled accurately? That is beyond me. Where is it written that we must "shut up and eat it?"
The food industry is all excited about irradiation of meat to kill bacteria. I don't object to it in theory; I just want to be sure that the irradiated meat is harmless to human tissues. You know, it doesn't have to be glowing in the dark to be dangerous.
I am rather of the opinion that the present mindset of the food industry has converted America into a huge lab experiment. We are all subjects of that experiment, and only the passage of time will tell us that somebody shouldn't have done such-and-such fifty years ago. And if that sounds foolish, let's remember the fifty years of marketing margarine to Americans after World War II.
Margarine was touted as the enlightened alternative to butter, until heart problems began showing up and we learned what trans fat is. The situation was not unlike the surprise of scientists in the United States military when they discovered that nuclear weapons produce radiation sickness--after they bombed Japan. The joke's on us! We were pumping slabs of saturated fat into our systems for two generations.
Last week I made what I thought of as a rather important discovery: the hybridization of wheat over several decades, which produced a super-protein carbohydrate grain that looks and smells like wheat, but is actually something different from what Cleopatra's empire sold to the Romans. The author of one of the articles I read even went so far as to advise readers that if you think you have gluten intolerance, you should try changing your flour instead of eliminating gluten from your diet. It was at that point when I discovered Heritage Wheat, such as the Red Turkey variety. You can actually get unaltered wheat if you look for it.
Well, gosh--heritage turkeys at Thanksgiving, pure grains that have not been altered, the removal of hormones from milk and dairy products (after its effects showed up in American children)--am I wrong in thinking that it just might be a good idea to be careful about what we eat?
It has been documented by now that the rise in the use of High-Fructose Corn Syrup corresponds in pathology with the Diabetes Type II epidemic that has swept America in the past generation. So what? Well, the corn industry denied everything and simply says that "sugar is sugar" and that it isn't their fault that the lab-created, unnatural substance made of super-concentrated fructose seems to make people diabetic. Hey, it's sweet! It tastes good! What could possibly go wrong? It's your fault!
Over the weekend I carried through on my resolve to get acquainted with Spelt and the flour that is made from it. I bought two bags of it at Sprouts in Tucson: Bob's Red Mill Spelt Flour. Then I made a loaf of conventional bread with it, using the recipe that I use all the time and that I have shared in this column. The bread, I must say, is delicious. However, it did not rise much at all. It resembles more a coffee cake than a loaf.
What that tells me is this: I can advise you that if you wish to return to ancient grains, you can start immediately by substituting spelt flour for pastry flour in any recipe for cookies, cupcakes, cakes or quick breads.
Do not attempt to mix any flour into self-rising flour, though, or you will get tangled up trying to figure out whether you need to add leavening, or how much to add. Stick with self-rising flour right out of the package when you want to use it.
I have yet to order some heritage wheat flour because it is sensible to use up what I have before I do that. So it will be awhile before I report on that, but of course you can choose between bread flour and all-purpose flour, between whole-grain and white grinds of heritage wheat flour just as we do with conventional flour.
What I plan to do next in bread is to use the soaker-sponge method, mixing in the spelt flour with my wheat flour to get it rising. This will be my next project, but meanwhile if you are all set to go out and get some spelt to try it yourself, use it to make this quick bread.
ANYTIME COFFEE CAKE
For coffee cake:
1-1/2 cups spelt flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup organic brown or light-brown sugar
4 Tablespoons organic butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large organic egg, at room temperature
2/3 cup organic milk, at room temperature
For streusel topping:
2 Tablespoons conventional organic wheat flour
2 Tablespoons cold organic butter
5 Tablespoons organic brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped nuts
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Combine all the coffee-cake ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix to create a smooth batter.
Transfer the batter to an 8-by-8-inch baking dish and set aside.
Quickly combine the streusel topping ingredients in a food processor and run the machine until the nuts are ground to a fine consistency. Sprinkle the streusel over the batter.
Bake the coffee cake for 30 minutes and test to see if it is done. If the top springs back in the middle, take it out and allow it to cool before serving.
Spelt flour is noted for its rich, nutty flavor but I found that the Red Mill brand is not overwhelming. I have heard that some people don't like to make cookies with whole-wheat flour because of the "wheaty" taste that you get. That won't be a problem with the Red Mill spelt flour; just think of it as a particularly good, soft flour that will bake up just fine in non-bread recipes.