Sharpham Park's Story of Spelt
One of the farms leading the resurgence in British spelt growing is Sharpham Park near Glastonbury in Somerset. Owner of Sharpham Park, Roger Saul, cheerfully explains how organic spelt is “dead in the water in terms of commercial farming”. The crop yields at best two tonnes per acre, compared to the four tonnes or more you can get from wheat, albeit with a hefty input of fertilizer. You then need to factor in crop rotation – spelt can be grown on the same land for a year or two, but then the soil fertility needs to be rebuilt by growing clover for a couple of years. All of which leaves the farmer at “a huge disadvantage in terms of productivity” says Saul. Despite this, what began as an experimental crop in 2004, now stretches to 75 acres of organic spelt at Sharpham Park, with a further 400 acres being grown by local farmers under contract.[caption id="attachment_3355" align="alignnone" width="680"] Roger Saul[/caption]
The first few spelt harvests were milled at a small, local watermill. This worked well until demand for British grown, organic spelt began to outstrip the mill’s capacity. Saul solved the problem by building a mill back home at Sharpham Park. After visiting manufacturers across Europe, he settled on a design built by a Scandinavian company blending the best of modern technology with the historic methods of stone milling. This new mill has been in operation since 2007, and now processes about 20 tonnes of spelt each week. The first step in the process is to remove the husk. The grain is then cleaned before being ground between the two millstones to extract a flour with fine flavour.
The spelt from Sharpham Park is turned into a range of products – there are white and wholemeal flours for home bakers to use in bread, cakes and biscuits, muesli and other cereals, and grains to turn into speltotto (spelt risotto), soups and salads. There’s even a newly published book of Spelt recipes to encourage us all to make more use of this adaptable ingredient. As Roger Saul explains “Spelt tastes delicious, that shouldn’t really happen… something that’s good for you and tastes great!”
If you’re tempted to try adding the wonderful, nutty flavour of spelt flour to your bread there are a couple of things to be aware of. The gluten in spelt flour isn’t always as robust as that of wheat flour, so take care not to over mix your dough. It absorbs less water, so cut back slightly on the amount you would use in a loaf made from wheat flour. One popular way to introduce spelt flour into bread making is to substitute some of the wheat flour with spelt – a 50% mix of strong white bread flour and spelt makes a delicious loaf with a texture perfect for sandwiches. The popularity of spelt means that it is now widely available. We stock Sharpham Park, along with a full range of British organic spelt flours from John Letts, Redbournbury Watermill, Stoates and Foster's Mill.
Delicious, nutritious and easy to digest, it’s easy to see why spelt is fast becoming a favourite ingredient.