The image of rolling wheat fields calls to mind sprawling Midwestern farms, but that may be changing. Just look at Amber Waves Farm in Amagansett, Long Island, where farmers Katie Baldwin and Amanda Merrow are growing wheat on 16 acres.
They started their farm in 2009, bucking the then-emerging, now-rampant, gluten-free trend. “For every customer that we sell wheat berries or our whole wheat flour to, there is a customer that is really excited that we’re working to close the gap in the foodshed in the Northeast by bringing grains back from the Midwest,” said Baldwin.
In addition, Merrow said, there’s a growing interest in the nutritional benefits of whole grains like wheat berries. “Wheat berries are wheat seeds,” she explained. They are what farmers plant in the fall, and the young sprouted seeds quickly grow into wheat grass. Put wheat berries through a mill and the result is flour. In their complete form, they can be cooked for use in numerous applications — as a breakfast food or in salads and soups.
Baldwin and Merrow use an electric table-top stone mill that they’ve named “Milton” to grind wheat berries into flour. Their customers have also used Vitamixes and food processors to tackle the job. There’s a notable benefit to locally grown wheat and freshly milled flour.
“You can imagine a tomato being a fresh tomato, an heirloom tomato picked from your garden, and the burst of flavor that that has and its freshness,” said Baldwin. “Grains also have a terroir. We’re by the beach, so it picks up traces of flavor in the soil and elements there. And bread should have a lot of flavor characteristics.” She adds that the wheat grown at Amber Waves Farm has a nutty flavor with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg.
(Photo: Katie Baldwin and Amanda Merrow/Courtesy of Amber Waves Farm)
New York City farmers markets have been key in creating the demand for locally grown wheat. Bakers who sell at the greenmarkets use as much as 65,000 pounds of local flour each month.
Turns out that New Yorkers aren’t the only ones appreciating the local wheat. “Really our primary challenge on the East End, in addition to expensive land, is that there are a lot of deer on the East End who also love wheat berries,” said Merrow. “And so that’s really our greatest challenge, is trying to keep the deer away from the wheat.”
What the deer don’t realize is that cooking wheat berries make them even more delicious. Below, check out instructions from Amber Waves Farm on how to cook wheat berries. Then you can use those prepared wheat berries in the spring salad recipe below or in this Easter Wheat Pie recipe.
Cooking with Wheat Berries
- 1 cup wheat berries (makes approximately 3 cups)
- 1 tbs salt
Cooking: Add 1 cup wheat berries, 3 cups of water and a tablespoon of salt to a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and bring to a simmer, then cook for 50 minutes or until wheat berries are soft and chewy. (For faster cook time and softer wheat berries, soak wheat berries in water overnight prior to cooking). Drain any excess water and transfer to a bowl to cool. Toss with a splash of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Storage: If not using immediately, store the cooked wheat berries in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator for up to a week. To reheat, put wheat berries in frying pan with splash of water, stirring over low heat until hot.
Simple Spring Wheat Berry Salad
by Amber Waves Farm
- 1 cup cooked wheat berries
- 5 sliced radishes
- 1 cup chopped arugula or spinach
- 1 tbs of chopped chives
- 1/4 cup of chopped parsley
- 3 tbs extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tbs lemon juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
Preparation: Add vegetables and herbs to the wheat berries and mix in the olive oil and lemon juice. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature.