I LOVE bread. I am not very good in the kitchen, but years ago, I had grown weary of store-bought bread with a list of chemicals I did not recognize and I resolved to make my own. For a number of years (I won’t say how many), I tortured the family with my attempts at yeast breads that were barely edible. Then about two years ago, two transformative events occurred. First, my wife found a recipe that I could follow successfully, almost without fail. Second, local farmer Wilson Freeland found a hard red winter wheat (with the help of county extension agent Herb Reed), that would grow well on his White Cliff Farm in Southern Maryland.
Hard red wheat is used to make bread. Most wheat grown in Maryland is soft red winter wheat and it is used for making cakes, pastries, flat breads, and crackers. Mr. Freeland bought his own stone-ground mill and I was one of his first customers.
Then last year I had another local supplier when Next Step Produce began raising rice, buckwheat, rye and wheat organically. They purchased equipment to thresh, winnow and mill the grain. I now alternate between both sources!
A bushel of wheat weighs about 60 pounds. The market price for wheat has ranged from $5.00 to $8.00 per bushel in the last few years, or roughly 11 cents a pound. In 2012, Maryland farmers raised 14 million bushels of wheat or 840 million pounds, with a market value of $87 million dollars.
According to the USDA Agricultural Resource Marketing Center, per capita consumption of wheat flour has hovered around 134.5 pounds in the last few years. With a population of nearly 6 million residents, Maryland consumes roughly 800 million pounds of wheat product and, since most Maryland wheat is not processed in Maryland, our state’s economy gets very little of that income. The milled price for wheat flour would retail for at least $1 per pound to several dollars per pound for organic flour, many times more than the price per bushel from wholesale markets.
There used to be hundreds of mills in Maryland – dozens in my home county –Calvert. The creek behind my house powered a mill. You can still see the dam formed in the stream bed used to funnel the stream that turned the mill. Mill Creek is a common name for streams. There is only one large mill in Maryland according to a Baltimore Sun article published last year. The Wilkins Rogers mill is located in Ellicott City and its headquarters is in Halethorpe, Pennsylania. The Ellicott City mill operations may be consolidated to Halethorpe within 10 years.
But according to the Sun article, the long-term trend might mean the return of more local mills to Maryland. “Where it once made sense to mill wheat where it was grown and ship flour across the nation, it is now more cost effective to haul trainloads of grain to the country’s population centers on the coasts and produce flour there,” said James A. Bair, vice president of the North American Millers Association.
I am loving my locally sourced flour and make a loaf or two every week. I encourage more Marylanders to find their local source and help keep our dollars local. But I realize that most people don’t make bread. Therefore, I believe that we will have made it when we have locally-sourced bakeries throughout the state!
My Bread Recipe (prep takes about 20 minutes and bread in a total of 90 minutes)
- 3 cups whole wheat flour (hard red winter wheat or hard red spring wheat)
- 1/2 cup rye flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 tablespoons yeast
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 cups warm water
Add yeast and honey into 1/2 cup of warm water in a small bowl. Stir and let sit a few minutes until yeast begins to work. In a large bowl, mix flour and salt and then stir in the yeast mixture. Then add remaining warm water (about 1 1/2 cups) until all ingredients are moist.
Butter a 9″ x 5″ pan and add moistened ingredients. Set aside to rise in warm place for 12 to 18 minutes until mixture rises to fill the pan. Heat oven to 390 degrees and bake for about 33 minutes.
Note: Maryland Farm and Harvest will be presenting a story on November 11th about Aunt Annie’s pretzels, produced in Maryland using Maryland produced wheat flour. Aunt Annie’s headquarters are in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (just 80 miles from Baltimore) and it has store locations throughout the country.