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Sweet potato tart with coconut pecan crust, left, and brown butter sourdough banana bread from Heirloom by Sarah Owens.
Heirloom by Sarah Owens.
Morning kasha porridge from Heirloom.
Our cookbook of the week is Heirloom by horticulturist and James Beard Award-winning writer Sarah Owens. To try a recipe from the book, check out: Morning kasha porridge , sweet potato tart with a coconut pecan crust and brown butter sourdough banana bread .
Grain, the very foundation of so many of our staples, inhabits a forgotten frontier of enlightened eating. Considering where ingredients come from — how they’re grown, harvested and processed — has become more commonplace in the mainstream, yet grain has been mostly exempt from these discussions. Run-of-the-mill grocery-store flour, lining the shelves in its nondescript packaging, can be difficult to decipher: Where did it come from, how was it milled and how long ago?
“It’s not an easy thing to address, so it doesn’t get addressed often,” says Sarah Owens, a horticulturist and James Beard Award-winning author. “But more and more, I think people want to know and are motivated to understand the differences. What it really boils down to for those who may not be curious is when they taste it: It’s a completely different experience. When you taste bread made with freshly milled flour that’s been grown organically in a way that takes care of the soil and has all of the germ oils intact, it lights your whole body on fire.”
Flavour can be a powerful motivator, and as Owens emphasizes in her third cookbook, Heirloom (Roost Books, 2019), in supporting small farmers and millers who work with heritage grains — those in existence prior to the 1950s — bakers and cooks are also promoting the production of “traceable food with character.” Alternatives to industrial products are becoming more readily available across Canada and the U.S. with companies such as Flourist in Vancouver, B.C., Hayden Flour Mills in Queen Creek, Ariz. and Grist & Toll in Pasadena, Calif. reviving the craft of milling in fresh ways.
“At this point we have the choice to move away from — if we want to move away from — these more industrialized food sources, and to really take things into our own hands and forge new paths,” says Owens. “I think that we are more aware of our actions than we ever have been and it’s also becoming so apparent that our past actions are having detrimental effects, and now’s the time to do it. But it’s not always easy to create new systems, especially in agriculture and in rural communities. It’s a little bit easier to find communities of people who have similar values in urban areas. In rural communities, where people may not have the same kind of income to spend on these ingredients, it becomes a little trickier to have that conversation, but people are doing it.”
In addition to an insightful guide to cooking with whole heirloom grains and seeds (e.g. rye berries, freekeh), baking with heirloom grains and flours (e.g. einkorn, Red Fife wheat), and using sourdough as both natural leavening and a means of improving digestibility, Owens includes chapters devoted to modes of preservation for fruits and vegetables (e.g. lacto-fermentation, making jams and jellies), and meat and animal products (e.g. rendering animal fat, fermenting dairy). Growing up in eastern Tennessee, along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains, her childhood was steeped in traditions similar to the ones she shares in the book.
An ode to the pleasures of slow cooking, Owens highlights the many applications of time-honoured techniques in flexible seasonal recipes that draw on inspiration from around the world. Slowing down in the kitchen — a practice that may seem, at first blush, to be at odds with the pressures of daily life — is an invitation to be in the moment. While embarking on multiday practices such as lacto-fermentation or sourdough can feel daunting, much of it is hands-off and the rest can be stretched to fit your lifestyle once you’ve gained an understanding of the processes at work.
“A lot of people say, ‘Well, it’s not always so practical for me to make these long recipes,’ but sometimes it’s about making time for yourself once a week to try something new and to open your mind, slow down,” says Owens. “Even if it’s not every day, you’re giving yourself an opportunity to find joy in something and it’s not always (about) the end result. A lot of it is engaging in the practice, whether it’s making a loaf of bread and watching the dough rise, and engaging your senses in the fermentation from the smells to the way the dough changes; the way it feels to how it lights the kitchen with its aroma. It’s just a beautiful way to celebrate life.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019