Ancient grains undergo renaissance in Langhorne Creek

Ancient grains undergo renaissance in Langhorne Creek

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Langhorne Creek is playing host to an unusual wheat variety trial.

Langhorne Creek is playing host to an unusual wheat variety trial.

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Unlike most, this plot is not dedicated to new wheat cultivars – instead it is a return to some very old ones.

Emily Salkeld and Chris Duffy have been sowing ancient and older wheat varieties, in part to produce more options to use in their business, Small World Bakery.

But they are also driven by a desire to see more diversity in the grains sector.

They were inspired by a growing trend in the United States and the United Kingdom to localise and develop wheat for different regions.

“Since 2000 there has been a really calculated effort to develop wheat lines with options for farmers, millers and bakers, instead of just increasing yields, freezing dough or export opportunities,” Ms Salkeld said.

They started Small World Bakery after relocating to the region for Mr Duffy to continue his work as a viticulturalist – they also own a small vineyard – but after eight years wanted to try something fresh.

“Aside from developing new markets, not much was changing,” Ms Salkeld said.

She said the chance to work with different varieties introduced new flavours, while using their own mill allowed them to access the grain’s full nutritional benefits.

They set up some small plots – about 2.5 hectares on their property and some at other local farms – and sourced seeds through the Australian Grains Genebank in Horsham, Vic.

The seeds come in packets of about 25 grams so their initial goal has been trying to build up enough seed, as well as seeing how the different varieties perform agronomically and through the mill. Some of the better yielding varieties should be ready to use in their own stone mill from next year.

Ms Salkeld said it was difficult to know what varieties to request from the Genebank, as the historical method used for assessing grains did not fit in with their need to “produce a delicious loaf or baked product”.

“We decided to grow as many varieties of wheat as we think are tolerant to low rainfall, thin soils, breezy conditions and a hot finish,” she said.

“Some might not produce quality grains because of a lack of disease resistance but we want to give it another go in another season. It will be interesting to see how they stand up to disease pressure.”

With sowing beginning this week they have selected a wide variety including the “parents of modern day wheat” – Einkorn, Emmer and Khorasan, as well as some of Australia’s early varieties – Federation, Rattling Jack, Caliph and Purple Straw, which was sourced from Mount Barker.

They are also using some red wheat varieties, such as Red Thatcher, Marquis 1927 and Red Fife – one of the first cultivars to come with early settlers to Australia.

“We’re trying to revive red wheat in breadmaking,” Ms Salkeld said. “We haven’t worked out why they fell out of favour in Australia.”

They had initially hand-sown but this year managed to source a small-scale seeder.

“One of the biggest challenges at this scale is the equipment,” she said.

“Through history we’ve grown grain more and more efficiently on a larger scale so when we try to scale it down again, it challenges everybody.”

They imported their own stone mill from Vermont, Canada, had it installed in January, and mill wheat, rye and spelt flour.

Until they can supply their own, they source grains and flour from Four Leaf Milling, Tarlee, Laucke Flour Mills, Strathalbyn, and Wholegrain Milling Co, Gunnedah, NSW.

Ms Salkeld said it was great to see the interest from other bakers and farmers.

“As a movement it’s still pretty niche and may remain niche,” she said.

“If customers get to taste more diversity in their bread and baked goods they may demand more. And it may give farmers opportunity to be paid a better price for grain.”

They sell their bread at the Willunga Farmers’ Markets every Saturday and deliver online orders into Adelaide. 

  • Details: smallworldbakery.com.au 
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