Last year’s lovely, long and hot summer (or prolonged, severe drought if described by a farmer) caused many modern cereals to fail or to grow very poorly. Some crops that seemed to be doing fairly well then failed as the weather turned wet and made harvesting difficult thereby reducing the quality of the harvest. Dramatic swings in the weather during the growing season causes stress in plants unable to cope with it. John Letts of Heritage Harvest says that his harvest thrived because of the deep root systems his cereals grow and went on to produce top quality grain. It is predicted that climate change will bring more droughts and unpredictable weather in the future, but John's crops will adapt because they are genetically diverse, more from John himself on this below – and a special offer as he managed to grow too much!

While on the subject of rye, I have been baking with it much more recently, particularly since I was sent a book called The Rye Baker. I have used it quite extensively and have found the recipes to be very clear and reliable which of course makes anyone more enthusiastic. Especially good are the various pumpernickel recipes and I like the Old Milwaukee Rye. The book is one to keep going back to. We’ve got it for a nice price too and we have the seeds and rye starter, rye flour, cracked rye and molasses common to many of the recipes.

Heritage Rye

Britain’s bakers are once again falling in love with rye (Secale cereale), one of the most delicious and nutritious grains available for sourdough style baking. Rye is an ancient grain first domesticated in the Middle East and was carried to Britain by Saxon settlers in the 5th century. It’s very hardy and thrives in cold climates and on poor soils. Rye was a staple grain in Medieval England and was used to make bread, gruel and beer. It fell out of use at the end of the 18th century as white, wheaten bread gradually replaced home baked ‘maslin’ (mixed wheat and rye) sourdough as the worker’s staple. Rye is still the mostly widely used bread grain in many parts of Northern and Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and the Baltic countries.

John Letts of Heritage Harvest Ltd. has spent almost 20 years developing unique, ‘land race’ populations of winter rye that are well adapted to local growing conditions. These crops are probably the most genetically-diverse in Europe, for unlike wheat, rye cross pollinates and produces more and more diversity every growing season. This allows the crop to adapt to local conditions and to climate change. Lammas Fayre rye flour is grown organically using a unique ‘low input’ approach: the seed is broadcast into white clover which feeds the crop instead of manure, and the straw is left on the field after harvest to replenish the soil and to act as a protective mulch for the next crop.

If you want to add flavour to your sourdough bread and want it to keep longer in the bread bag, add a little light or wholemeal rye flour to your dough and your starter. Many experienced bakers use only rye in their starters and believe it speeds up fermentation. Rye contains gluten, but the lactic acid bacteria in a balanced sourdough will break down much of the gluten that is present so that it is can be eaten by people with gluten intolerance.

There are many regional rye bread traditions, such as the famous Russian Borodinsky loaf made with molasses, coriander and caraway seeds, German wholegrain Schwarzbrot, and Danish Rugbrød which is fermented for two days with grains and seeds. After two centuries of neglect, English bakers are also rediscovering British rye baking traditions and creating rustic, rye-rich ‘maslin’ loaves and 100% rye breads with added treacle, walnuts, flaked grains or scalded flour (i.e. mixed with boiling water that keeps the loaf deliciously moist). There is nothing quite so satisfying as a lightly-toasted slice of freshly baked rye bread smothered with butter and home-made black currant jam for breakfast!