This could be the best 100% Rye Bread ever made on Pender Island.
There can’t have been too many over the years. I made it last weekend with rye grain grown in Pender Island soil, specifically that of the large Gorsefield off Craddock and Southlands Drive, South Pender.
The Rye was planted by Vince and Katie, the new owners of the Gorsefield. I joined them last Sunday, along with their three kids, to harvest the grain. Nothing fancy; no combine 1, no scythes, we just snipped the seed heads off with our fingers!
I took home two kilos, threshed and “winnowed” the grain and milled it into flour with my Jansen Grist Mill. Nothing was sifted off. I kept a few handfuls for making rye chops, rough chunks soaked in boiling water and added to the dough for texture and flavour.
I can’t speak for Vince and Katie, but for me, it may be the most satisfying bread experience ever!
Farmer, miller, baker
My role was small; our Gorsefield neighbours planted the Rye last Fall. I saw them out there in the rain, throwing handfuls of seed around them over large parts of the cleared field. It was part of a ground cover mix to keep the gorse from regaining a foothold in the soil. And now we have bona fide Rye in the neighbourhood … and bread! And we hope there will be much more of it soon!
I’ve often said the best bread you can eat is the one you make yourself. The bread was great, but we learned that the variety of Rye in the ground cover mix is not great for human consumption. It’s often used for animal feed. Despite this, we went ahead with the bread-making project to see how it would work. Thus, the current Gorsefield crop won’t be used for Happy Monk bread. Vince and Katie, thankfully, are willing to plant different Rye this fall, so there may be more Gorsefield Rye next summer!
A regional grain economy
If you’ve heard the expression “regional grain economy,” this is it. This Gorsefield Rye bread is as regional as it gets!
Most bread is made with flour that comes in bags from the grocery store. Many of us rarely give the flour a second thought; how this anonymous white flour started off in parts unknown; with seeds in soil hundreds or thousands of miles away; how they spent the winter in the ground, germinated and sprouted green shoots, and matured into waves of golden grain. Under the azure blue prairie sky.
Nor do we think that the cleaned grain went next to a mill. There, it was roller-milled, with the fibre- and nutrient-rich bran and germ sifted off. The remaining white flour was packaged as all-purpose flour, along with nutritional additives and preservatives.
Better, fresher, connected
If you ask me, that bleached white flour is tasteless compared to stone-milled flour that retains the bran and germ even if it is sifted. Industrial flour has better lasting properties; the stone-milled tastes better and fresher.
We’ve dissociated ourselves from much of the food we eat. So much of it is commodified. Chicken comes from styrofoam, plastic-wrapped packages in the grocery store cooler. Milk comes from boxes or plastic jugs, and chickpeas from tin cans.
We understand this dissociation conceptually, but rarely do we appreciate where our food actually comes from.
As I write this at the tail end of August, we’re enjoying the bounty from our gardens. We understand why our locally grown tomatoes look and taste so good. We’ve watered and watched them grow in our gardens, picked off the suckers, nurtured the vines, and watched the tiny green tomatoes swell into succulent globes of red. They taste like heaven compared to the pale imports that come from Mexico!
Apply that idea to the flour and chopped rye kernels in this loaf. I can assure you that it tastes heavenly. You can understand why this loaf feels like a triumph to those who participated. The rewards are different for each of us.
I’ll speak for myself first.
The loaf pictured above is a Danish-style Rye bread: dense, earthy, and textured. A thin slice with a bit of butter allows the flavours to come out.
It definitely tasted like Rye, but there was something different that I found hard to identify. I kept wanting to say there was something familiar about the flavour.
Eventually, I decided that “something” was the terroir of South Pender Island, the Gorsefield, Southlands Drive. Terroir is most often applied to wine, which refers to the total sum of all the factors and conditions in which the wine was produced. The soil, the topography, the climate. Everything plays a part.
Not a cop-out! I’ve experienced this before. When you stand on the edge of a wheat field and touch the soil, run your hands over the wheat, or breathe the air, any subtleties of taste can only be described as something unique to that piece of land. I’m glad I made the loaf a little chunky with the rye chops because it accentuates the flavour. You get the chops in your teeth, giving you a little extra flavour in the after-taste.
Maybe a different rye variety will taste slightly different, but I expect the Gorsefield presence will still come out!
A little woo-woo, maybe, but there you have it.
Victory over the Gorse!
For our Gorsefield neighbours, on the other hand, this crop of Rye is partially a victory over the gorse. The ground cover mix worked! As we moved through the tall stalks of Rye, we saw very little of the pernicious weed coming out of the ground.
Gorse! It’s an invasive prickly bush, the South Pender equivalent of broom, which North Penderites know well! It’s everywhere on this part of South Pender.
Local legend has it that an old settler brought the plant over from England because he missed some of his native flora and fauna. Once introduced on South Pender, it quickly established itself and spread like wildfire!
It blooms yellow a couple times a year and smells sweet on a still summer evening. A neighbour used to make wine from the flower, and another made a delicious cordial. It has some uses, yes, but it’s definitely cursed more than it’s praised.
Since Jennifer and I moved to South Pender, the Gorsefield has been cleared at least twice. Vince and Katie are the latest to tackle the gorse, and they mean business! They’re prodigious workers.
A gift of the land
I’m not sure about their plans for the land, but I can attest to their enthusiasm for it. They seem to be giddy with the possibilities for themselves and the kids. This summer, they planted a large vegetable garden, built birdhouses and forts, and picked blackberries. They bird-watched, laid out on the deck and star-gazed. They even put together a produce stand at the top of their drive. As I sat talking with the family one day, ideas flowed about what they could do.
The last time I saw them was the day before they left Pender to go back home. They wouldn’t be back again until Thanksgiving. Vince and Katie were a little wistful about leaving. It was a great summer, they said.
When I handed Vince and Katie the loaf of Gorsefield Rye, it seemed the perfect way to say goodbye. It was something real, an expression of their first full summer on the Gorsefield. The sunshine, the gardening, the activity and projects, the excitement and joy.
I felt proud to have taken their Rye and turned it into a golden loaf of bread. A beautiful piece of baking that rose from the soil and held within it four seasons of sun, rain and salt air. This was the Gorsefield, South Pender.
Bread contains all these things, the staff of life. It nourishes us; it connects us. And in this case, it includes the new promise of their lives on South Pender.
A Combine is an agricultural machine that cuts, threshes and cleans a grain crop in one operation↩