Saturday, January 1, 2011

An ode to Sourdough Rye and its neutralizing properties of Ergot and Phytic Acid!

Sourdough Rye Bread is amazing with its deliciously complex flavour, ease of digestion, ease of preparation, complex nutrition and excellent storability. We eat it every day, share it with friends, and it makes us feel great! We've been operating our little roadside completely organic summertime restaurant 'Monkey in the Garden' for three years now (as well as aseason at various Vancouver Farmer's Markets), for which we grow amazing organic heirloom and open pollinated veggies, fruits and herbs. Ecclectic dishes are served up all season long using the freshest, in season organic ingredients.We also bake up a wide array of baked goods using sprouted spelt flour (for the cookies and cakes and such), as well as authentic sourdough rye bread for the breakfasts, soups & sandwiches and for sale by the pound loaf. As we grind all of our flour from organic whole grains (from Fieldstone Granary in Armstrong), we get to appreciate and inspect each cupfull before it turns into that magical powder. Very seldomly do we come across any ergotized grain- usually there's an occasional split pea or lentil, or a different grain variety- Fieldstone does a great job in providing us with top quality cleaned grain!
Now you may have heard of Ergot, or not at all. Ergot is a fungus that, when the weather is just right (cool and wet), loves to spread itself throughout grain fields infecting the grain (usually rye). It has existed for as long as grain cultivation has been going on- at least 10,000 years. It has quite a remarkable history- causing the horrible affliction 'St. Anthony's Fire'.
Now just last week we got to haul a ton of certified organic uncleaned rye/spelt grain for the garden and to supplement the diets of the goats, and chickens (as well as the dogs!). This batch of grain wasn't cleaned as there was just too much spelt ratio to rye (it was being grown as a rye only crop)- it would be a hard sell to bakers lookingfor consistency and a pure rye product. This wonderous treasure (filling two freezers, two 55 gallon barrels, and four 25 gallon barrels!) is a real treat and joy! You can just sink your hands into a pile of it, and read the story of a season- the weeds that were growing there, a grasshopper skeleton here and there, lots of hullsand chaff, and Ergotized Rye! There it is, for all the world to see- Ergot- looking very much packrat poops! Finally we could inspect real specimens of the famous Ergot that we'd read so much about over the years. We can also very easily pick them out when soaking the grain for the animals.The past few years of baking sourdough rye bread has led to much interest in articles written about Rye grain- its nutritional properties, gluten content, folklore, and such. Rebecca Wood in her excellent book 'The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia' says that 'Rye is said to build muscles and promote energy and endurance, and is medicinal to the liver'. Rye also contains an abundance of vitamins and minerals including vitamin E, eleven B vitamins, protein, Iron and more. It has less gluten than wheat- but due to it's gluten content is still best avoided by people with gluten intolerances- including celiacs and some people with Crohn's Disease. Folks with 'B' type blood and who follow the Eat Right For Your Blood Type Diet might also choose to avoid Rye. For many centuries there have been flare-ups of St. Anthony's Fire all around the world, the horrible ailment that folks who consumed Ergotized Rye succumbed to- including hallucinations and often leading to gangrene of the extremities. Because of this problem and many others, the sourdough process with grain and breadmaking is extremely important. There were periods of time where populations were so hungryand poor that they were left with no choice but to consume ergotized rye. If you were milling your own flour, you could easily pick out the ergot. If, however, the only rye flour that you had to eat had been milled already with Ergot- the traditional sourdough process would completely neutralize Ergot's alkaloid substances (check out 'The Bounty of Rye' article by Jacques De Langre in Paul Pitchford's book 'Healing with whole Foods'.). Now true sourdough, yeast free bread-making does more than neutralize the effects of Ergot- which if you're buying your grain from a reputable dealer or mill shouldn't be a problem. It also neutralizes Phytic Acid. All grains, nuts, seeds, and beans, contain Phytic Acid, which when eaten binds with Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc, Copper, and Iron in the intestinal tract and blocks their absorbtion. This leads to allsorts of digestive disorders and nutrient deficiencies. Other ways of neutralizing phytic acid include soaking grains and beans for 12-24hours in water with a splash of something acidic (apple cider vinegar, lemon juice), and changing the water before cooking them (skimming all the foam off of beans if they're what's being cooked...). Sprouting is also an excellent technique. We like to sprout all of our spelt grain,then dehydrate it, and fresh grind it for more nutritious and delicious cookies, brownies, and cakes and such. Sprouting also lessens (and is some cases completely rids) the gluten content of grains! Nuts and seeds should be soaked overnight with a small amountof unrefined sea salt, then dehydrated or toasted. Your belly will thank you for the little bit of extra energy expended! Check out Sally Fallon's excellent book 'Nourishing Traditions' for more info on proper preparations of grains, beans, meats, pickles and more. Just for the hell of it: Here's how we make our sourdough rye bread.

Monkey's Amazing Sourdough Rye!!!
First you need to start your sourdough, and catch a culture. Mix a cup of non-chlorinated water with a cup of whole rye flour (ideally fresh ground or as fresh as you can get it for the best nutrition and flavour) in a non reactive bowl (ceramic or glass) and cover it with cheesecloth or a cotton towel. Leave it in an undisturbed clean, room temperature spot. Every day add another cup of water, and another cup of flour- between two days and a week, your flour water mixture should get bubbly and smell sour. This is your sourdough starter! You can keep adding water and flour every day indefinitely to keep your starter alive. What we like to do is mix up a quantity over a week or two, then pour it into several pint and litre mason jars with lids and rings, label them, and keep them in the fridge to set them into dormancy. I just pulled out a two month old jar of sourdough from the fridge and it worked great. Make sure you always make more starter for storing and reviving, as the longer you keep your starter alive, the better it gets (ours is now four years old- there are some in France over a century old and supposedly excellent!). So the night or morning before breadmaking, you need to make a 'sponge'. The other night I started with a litre or so of sourdough starter, and added about two litres of liquid (I used cultured goat's milk whey, though water works great). I then tossed in several handfulls of organic sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds (often I add lots of sunflower seeds), a small drizzle of organic blackstrap molasses, and a smattering of caraway seeds (which also aid in digestion and flavour). A bunch of fresh ground organic rye flour was added (maybe seven cups or so) so that the mixture was thick yet a little soupy. A cotton cloth was laid over it, and it was left overnight to get bubbly and sour. In the morning I added the rest of the ingredients- simply a small sprinkling of unrefined coarse sea salt (it's important not to put itin the night before as it can inhibit sourdough fermentation), and the rest of the rye flour- however much it can absorb (maybe another nine cups? I like to practice bread making as an art and not so much as a science....). I mix it with one hand adding flour as needed until I'm left with a sticky messy goo reminiscent of peanut butter that's lost much of it's oil. At this point, you scrape as much of it from your fingers as you can, put the cloth back over it, and leave it to rest for an hour or two or three (or half an hour).When you're ready to form the loaves- you find yourself rewarded for your patience. The beauty of sourdough rye is that it doesn't require laborious kneading like spelt and kamut or wheat. You simply set your dough onto a well floured surface, work some flour into it until itisn't so sticky, then cut it into the sizes of loaves you desire (wehave a scale and measure them out into one pound loaves for sale and gifting, and two and a half to three pound loaves for ourselves and using in the restaurant). With your smaller balls of dough, you work more flour into them and knead them for a moment until you can form smooth cohesive small loaves without too many cracks or cavities.Place your loaves into well floured (not oiled) baking dishes or loafpans, cut a slit into the top of each loaf (or design or several slits- so that as the bread rises it doesn't blow out the sides of the loaf), cover with a damp cloth, and put them in a warm, draught free spot, with a box overtop of them. That night (or the next morning-ideally six to eight hours, though longer is all right) you can fire your loaves into an unheated oven with a pan of water in the bottom (for steam), put the temperature up to 415 degrees fahrenheit for ten or fifteen minutes, then turn it down to 350 degrees and bake until they're done (around forty five minutes or when you can smell them). The loaves are baked when you can thump them on the bottom and they sound hollow. Cool your loaves completely on a rack with a cloth over them. Sourdough Rye bread is fantastically delicious when very thinly sliced and toasted with your favourite topping or made into open-faced sandwiches. It keeps very well, and actually improves in flavour overtime. We store the loaves in a paper bag inside of a plastic bag, out of the fridge and freezer- and they last for two to three weeks in perfect condition. So there you have it!
Enjoy your delicious, nutritious Sourdough Rye Bread!

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