Eat & Drink

Kansas’ Turkey Red winter wheat provides history, freshness and flavor

Taylor Petrehn, co-owner of 1900 Barker Bakery & Cafe in Lawrence, grinds 50 to 75 pounds of Turkey Red hard winter wheat in-house every week.
Taylor Petrehn, co-owner of 1900 Barker Bakery & Cafe in Lawrence, grinds 50 to 75 pounds of Turkey Red hard winter wheat in-house every week. Special to The Star

For all the locally grown food available these days, some staples are still hard to come by.

Take flour. Kansas is the country’s largest wheat-producing state, averaging 328 million bushels a year, and it tops the list in flour milling.

But buying flour from a farmer in the way you might purchase apples or tomatoes isn’t easy.

That’s where Common Harvest Farms in Lawrence comes in. Two of its partners, Moon on the Meadow and Buller Family Farm, began growing wheat four years ago in a bid to fill that market gap, and they now sell freshly milled, certified organic flour at the Lawrence Farmers Market.

Like the bulk of the Kansas crop, theirs is a variety of hard red winter wheat. It’s not just any variety, though. It’s Turkey Red, the wheat Mennonite immigrants brought to Kansas in the 1870s and the granddaddy of all other hard red winter wheat grown in the United States.

“It is what made Kansas the Wheat State,” says Jill Elmers, Moon on the Meadow’s owner. “The amber waves of grain — that’s Turkey Red wheat.”

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Farmers loved Turkey Red because it was hardy enough to survive Kansas’ cold, dry winters, but its 4-foot height made it vulnerable to damage from wind and hail. It had largely been replaced by shorter, higher yielding hybrids by the mid-1940s, according to Slow Food USA, and figuring out how to resurrect it was no easy feat.

Elmers and the Buller family sourced seed from Heartland Mill in Marienthal, Kan., and bought used equipment, including a planter, seed cleaner (so they could save seed for the next year’s crop) and combine. That first year, they planted 1  1/2 acres.

(To see a video of the 2012 harvest, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hl1RanrVK-Q.)

They’ve expanded their field every year since and this fall planted about 8 acres of wheat for their 2016 crop.

“We figured out it’s easier to grow wheat than it is to mow, so we planted wheat everywhere we’d been mowing,” Elmers says.

After harvesting, the wheat is cleaned and stored. Elmers and the Bullers then mill it weekly and sell fresh flour at their booths at the Lawrence Farmers Market, held every Saturday until Nov. 21. The flour, which costs $2 per pound, will also be available at the Holiday Farmers Market on Dec. 12.

It’s perfect timing for holiday baking, and the flour lends a nutty, almost sweet flavor to recipes. For those that benefit from a lighter flour, Elmers recommends sifting off part of the bran (save the bran to sprinkle on yogurt or cereal or add it to casseroles in lieu of bread crumbs).

“This is the wheat people used to make bread with back when everyone used to make their own bread,” Elmers says.

1900 Barker Bakery & Cafe purchases 50 to 75 pounds of wheat every week, grinding most of it in its own small mill.

“To get good flavor, you have to start at a great source,” says Taylor Petrehn, who together with his brother, Reagan Petrehn, owns the bakery. “The fresher it is, the more it translates to flavor.”

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