What is Petit Epeautre/Einkorn Grain?? Why Should We Eat It?

The event that I attended in Boston yesterday at the Chef’s Collaborative was called “It All Comes Down to Grain.”  I’ve been thinking about grains so much lately, and trying to bake with Petit Epeautre/Einkorn grain, to make healthier, but equally delicious, pastries.  The challenges, the goals, the context — all have been fluttering around and I needed to verbalize this for the chefs and farmers at the event in just a few minutes.  Ugh!

The first part of the event was a presentation by Eli Rogosa, the woman whom we met in March, an anthropologist working on saving heritage grains from extinction.  One of her favorites, of the many seeds she has tested aquired from gene banks around the world, is Einkorn or Petit Epeautre in French.  Her original grain was collected in Europe, and multiple field trials sponsored by the USDA at UMass resulted in great production from the Einkorn plants in the Berkshire climate.  It has twice the protein and minerals as modern commercial wheat, and is considered “gluten safe” for many people who have been dealing with wheat and gluten sensitivities brought on largely by the hybridization and manipulation of modern mono-crop wheats.  Today’s blended “all-purpose” wheats have been bread to grow very low to the ground, in order to be less fragile, have a very short root system, and are grown as mono-crops, making them highly dependent on synthetic fertilizers to help them grow.  They have been bred for high gluten content, to make the lighter, puffier loaves of bread that we’ve all grown accustomed to.  In fact, it seems that they’ve been so manipulated that they are much less digestible and have been making more and more people sick!  The ancient wheats and grains have the advantage of a very deep root system, making them much more hardy, though they grow very tall (as we all imagine wheat does and should, but it doesn’t anymore!).  As Eli points out, in a  capricious climate change environment such as we are now living in, better to depend on grains that have survived 1000’s of years and have the ability to survive without synthetic fertilizers or possibly with very little water! Nevermind that they are easily digestible and organically grown.

But do these grains taste delicious?  Are they easy to work with?  As I said to the guests at yesterdays event, “Yes, you can make French pastries with ancient grains!”  Who knew?  It’s very satisfying to work with this beautiful flour:  It has a delicacy of flavor and a silkiness to it which is very appealing, and butter just seems to bring out these qualities even more.  I’m learning to bake all over again, and it was a great experience to attend the event in Boston yesterday, meet some like-minded chefs, and get to validate and contextualize a bit more our decision to limit our working with commercial wheat and maximize our use of the ancient grain Petit Epeautre!  It’s not “all-purpose” but why should it be?  It’s very liberating to be able to think and act holistically about what we’re doing as chefs.  It feels like a missing link has been supplied in our sourcing of healthier, pesticide-free, not genetically modified REAL FOOD to serve at our restaurant.  We have no interest in working with a product which is largely indigestible.  And when you can have excellent results, there’s really no question.  As Eli says “Eat it to Save it.”  We cannot lose these ancient grains!