Lorna sass Interview 2010: Part II

Nationally-known cookbook author and food writer Lorna Sass interviewed me on Feb. 21, 2010. See Part I, Part II, and Part III.

I’m wearing one of my handwoven tunics. In this second video I talk about how I became a vegetarian in college. I later interned for Farm Sanctuary taking undercover videos in Pennsylvania stockyards. Watching the horrific abuse made me a vegan. I also talk about my early effort to write a cookbook based on foods that grow well at high elevation. Finding a word-processor in a dumpster was a big help to creating the first edition of my book, Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains (now in its fourth edition). I also discuss how I became interested in baking sourdough bread. I explain the feeding schedule for my sourdough starter and show off my Lehman’s grain grinder

A rainy baking day in Santa Fe


What I’ve been doing today: I baked whole wheat loaf bread, flatbread and peppermint chocolate chip okara cookies with flour I ground by hand this morning.

Milk & cookies!


Organic, homemade soy milk and peppermint chocolate chip soy okara cookies made with freshly ground whole wheat flour, that is.

A winter day in the life of an urban homesteader

I started my day by feeding my sourdough starter. I did some knitting. At 9:00 a.m. the outdoor temperature was around 22°F. I opened the solar oven to preheat it. After breakfast I put the beans in the solar cooker; the cooker reached 300°F at its hottest point an hour or so later; the daily high temperature was around 40°F. The snow on the ground reflected extra sunlight into the cooker. The air temperature had very little effect on the cooker temperature; the low angle January sunlight had a bigger effect on lowering the temperature.

After breakfast, I ground whole wheat flour by hand for 15 minutes (amount pictured) and fed the starter for the third time. I kneaded my bread dough, stopping to grind more flour as needed (a full loaf contains 16 oz of flour, including the flour in the starter). I left the loaf to rise for a couple of hours. When the bread was risen, I baked it at 375°F. I removed the cooked beans from the solar oven around 2 p.m. I let the bread and beans cool down on my kitchen counter.

In the afternoon, I spent some time weaving cloth and doing miscellaneous chores. I added the cooked beans to a stew with winter vegetables for dinner. I used my pressure cooker to make the stew. A pressure cooker is an enormous time saver at 7,000 feet; pressure cookers also save a lot of stovetop time, and therefore fossil fuels, too.

An experiment in growing my own bread wheat

Upper photo: One month old heirloom wheat seedlings (wheatgrass) I grew in a community garden plot a few years ago. I planted the seeds May 1. The photo was taken May 31.

Lower photo: My ready-to-harvest wheat in late August.

I saved the seeds for several years. I ground the hard spring wheat variety into excellent sourdough bread flour.

Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains:  A guide to high-altitude, semi-arid home permaculture gardens.

Wild Bread: Handbaked sourdough artisan breads in your own kitchen.


A day in the life of an urban homesteader

I began my day by feeding the sourdough to make a loaf of my 100% whole wheat bread for myself and soaking soybeans from our natural foods buying club for making soymilk that evening. Then I went out on the back balcony to do some weaving. Mornings are peaceful. I love the morning sky. Since the monsoon rains have begun it has rained almost every night but in the morning it is usually sunny. The pea vines are now as tall as I am.

After breakfast I ground some whole wheat flour to bake bread, made the bread, and then set it one the porch to rise. I spun yarn while keeping an eye on the bread dough.

In the afternoon, I bicycled to East Flagstaff along the Route 66 bicycle/pedestrian trail to shop at Goodwill, my favorite thrift store, and the 4th Street Flagstaff Farmer’s Market, a locally owned produce store that has been increasing its organic and local produce options. Mount Elden looms in the background.

I made the soymilk and cooked dinner in the early evening. We watched a documentary while eating dinner.


How gluten quality affects bread

These photos show hard red wheat being ground into flour in my grain mill for making my sourdough breads.

Wheat flour has a number of characteristics that affect the quality of bread. These characteristics produce breads with different textures, flavors and degree of rise. Gluten quality is one of these characteristics.

Hard high-protein flour is bread flour, while soft low-protein flour is pastry flour. Bread flour contains up to 14–18% protein. Spelt is also relatively hard. Softer wheats range from 6.5–11 percent protein and are used for pastries and quick breads. All-purpose flour is a blend of hard and soft wheat.

The protein content and quality of wheat is directly related to the development of gluten—the long, flexible, rubbery strands of protein that form the structure of bread dough, creating millions of tiny air pockets that fill with the carbon dioxide gas produced by yeast. While gluten is a type of protein, not all of the proteins found in wheat link together to form gluten. Protein molecules are composed of linked chains of amino acids. Gluten is composed of two amino acids, glutenin and gliadin. When water is mixed into wheat flour, the water molecules link together with the glutenin and gliadin to create gluten.

The ratio of glutenin to gliadin varies among different wheat species and varieties. Glutenin gives gluten its elastic strength. Gluten with a high proportion of glutenin is very difficult to stretch, like a tight new bungee cord. On the other hand, gliadin adds extensibility — it stretches easily. Gluten containing a higher percentage of gliadin can stretch farther without breaking, which allows it to capture bigger air bubbles, creating a lighter, fluffier texture in the finished bread. However, a very high ratio of gliadin to glutenin creates slack dough that cannot hold its shape without a pan.

Gluten high in glutenin is “strong.” Gluten high in gliadin is “weak.”

  • Hard common wheat and spelt have strong gluten. To make free form loaves of whole wheat artisan bread, you must use at least 75 percent hard wheat or spelt flour. However, many artisan bakers use softer or all-purpose flour if they use refined flour to make artisan breads, as too much gluten in white flour creates a dense crumb structure while softer wheats create the more open holes characteristic of artisan breads.
  • Durum (called semolina in it’s coarser form) is very high in glutenin and low in gliadin. This makes durum dough very “tight” and time-consuming to knead.
  • The ancient wheats (einkorn, emmer, kamut) tend to be high in gliadin, which makes them slack and less able to hold their shape without a loaf pan.

Adapted from Wild Bread: Handbaked sourdough artisan breads in your own kitchen.