The best thing about baking for the holiday season is that so many of the ingredients can be sourced locally. But that wasn’t always true. Five years ago at farmers’ markets, eggs were scarce, butter was hard to find, and freshly ground flour was just a pipedream.
With the increasing demand for everything local and with more farms diversifying, growing everything from seed crops and test trials for WSU, to quirky crops that chefs love, we’re seeing crops that haven’t been grown in the Northwest for decades.
One of those crops is wheat. But mention wheat and many people conjure images of Montana or even the Palouse in eastern Washington. You don’t usually think of the Olympic Peninsula.
That’s changing thanks to WSU extension center and farmers like Nash Huber in Sequim who have been growing test trials of wheat to determine the varieties of wheat that grow best here.
Sequim lies in a rain shadow and it’s possibly one of the best places to raise wheat west of the Cascades. And Nash’s Organic Produce has been growing the whole-meal-deal—from row crops, apples, and berries, to eggs and pork, beans and grains.
Patty McManus-Huber, Nash’s wife, recently told me “What Nash really wants is to have a farm like the one he grew up on in Illinois.”
Nash’s parents and grandparents on both sides had been farmers—“all the way back,” he'd told me. When he was young, in the 1950s, farms grew a variety of crops with livestock and grass. An average farm size was about a hundred acres. “We didn’t call it organic then,” Nash explained. “That’s just the way we farmed.”
But agriculture changed after World War II. Farms grew and began specializing in one or two crops, using pesticides and chemical fertilizers. A drought in 1953 drove a lot of Illinois farmers out, and by the 1960s many farms had already converted to single-crop farms of a thousand or more acres. Nash left his family’s farm, got a degree in chemistry, and worked for an agribusiness company before he was drawn to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula in 1968 and back to farming.
Nash started his farm by growing hay and raising bees on a few acres. Eventually, he bought a dozen acres and leased additional farmland, and in 1979 his farm was the fourth in the state to be certified organic. He built a packing shed and sold produce at his farm store and farmers’ markets, to restaurants and through wholesale accounts.
Today, Nash farms 400 acres, all certified-organic, and his dedicated crew also grows, harvests, processes and grinds flour for local consumers and chefs. I've mentioned before how the flavor enhances cookies and cakes, and if you're up for checking out this flour, why not search out other local ingredients baking quick breads and cookies.
For baking during the holiday season, look for locally grown and processed wheat flour. The fresh flavor recalls memories of what baked goods were meant to be.
And speaking of adding local to your holiday baking, look for locally produced eggs, butter and hazelnuts or walnuts.
I posted this recipe before but it's so good, it deserves rerun. It's from my book and it was one of my mom's favorite recipes when I was young. She used to hide a personal stash of these cookies in Tupperware behind the pans because we all devoured the cookies so fast. I discovered them one day quite by accident and I remember helping myself, thinking she'd never notice if I left the ends--her favorites. She never did let on that she knew I'd raided her treasures, but those cookies were soon moved and I never did find her final hiding place.
What you have to keep in mind, is the texture of the biscotti must be stiff enough so you can touch it and form it into logs. All whole wheat pastry flour doesn't always work very well because it contains too much moisture, the cookies spread out and crumble too easily. It's the gluten that holds the dough and cookie together. Also, these cookies are just as good with walnuts and when you add some chunks of dark chocolate, they are amazing.
Makes about 3 dozen
3-4 cups flour (use a combination of unbleached, whole-wheat and whole-wheat pastry flour)
1 teaspoon each: baking powder and baking soda
Zest of 1 lemon, finely chopped
1 cup chopped hazelnuts, lightly toasted
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
2. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, lemon zest, and hazelnuts in a large bowl and mix well.
3. Cream the butter and sugar together in a separate bowl and blend in the eggs. Mix in the lemon juice and vanilla extract. Stir the wet into the dry ingredients, adding enough flour for a very stiff dough, if necessary.
4. Divide the dough in half and roll into 14-inch logs. Place on an ungreased baking sheet, flatten the tops of the logs, and bake until lightly browned on the bottom, about 25 minutes. Turn the oven off. Remove the logs from the oven and let them cool completely.
5. After at least 1/2 hour has elapsed, reheat the oven to 325ºF. When the logs are cool, slice 1/2 inch thick at approximately a 45º angle. Lay flat on a baking sheet or pizza screen. Bake until lightly browned, about 25 minutes. If using a baking sheet, turn halfway through baking to ensure even browning. Store the biscotti in a covered container at room temperature for up to a week or freeze.