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Wheat varieties for Pasta?

 
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Hi all!  I'm looking for input about varieties of pasta wheat.  If I understand things correctly, pasta wants a low-gluten wheat. I know that Durum is commonly used. And I think I understand that Khorasan is a predecessor to Durum.

I'd read that Durum is a very, very hard wheat and because of that, it's difficult to mill. So, last year I planted a modern-day variety called Svevo Soft Durum.  It was created here in the inland NW. And it's claim to fame is that it's softer than traditional durum, so easier to mill.

I have not yet tried to mill what I grew, but I'll tell you this, I'll not grow that Svevo again. It's not meant for the homesteader/hand farming.  Like most modern-day wheats it grew very short and did not suppress weeds. Harvesting it meant bending over a LOT. It had a weak neck, so the entire spike of grains often broke off in the thresher -- I have a small foot-powered thresher.  And lastly, the awns are ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE to clean out of the thresher.

Two things I'm wondering about...
1) Is Durum or Khorasan wheat too hard to mill at home?  How did peasants do it 100-200 years ago?
2) Are there any tall, *awnless* varieties of wheat that make acceptable pasta?

Thanks for your time and help. I appreciate both.
Caroline
 
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Salt Spring Seeds has a lot of heritage grains which might be suitable.  I would go for wheats and grains grown in the Mediterranean area, although almost any old-world wheat should do the trick.  A lot of it is trying different varieties and finding out which works for your system of processing.  

Homegrown Whole Grains: Grow, Harvest, and Cook Wheat, Barley, Oats, Rice, Corn ...by Sara Pitzer   is one of my favourite books on the topic.
 
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Just to say don't feel bad; most farmers in centuries past did not mill their own grain either. But every village had a miller (maybe a wind mill or a water mill or with oxen) who would grind the farmer's grain.  And at harvest time they had threshing parties with neighboring farmers and hired hands. It took a village to make wheat into flour! We don't have the same small-producer infrastruture now.
 
Caroline LaVin
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Thank you for these excellent resources. I'll look into Sara's book a little more.  I visited the Salt Springs site and it stirred a memory.  I had once been to a site that offered lots of old-world wheats.  I was able to find it. https://greatlakesstapleseeds.com/collections/wheat  It looks like all their durums have awns, so I may be wishing for the impossible ( a pasta wheat without awns.) Maybe I'll wait to see if any of these come available later in the year.

Yes, Mk, you make a good point about one miller per community. I forgot that.  I came across that topic when I was researching buckwheat years ago. Russian peasants eat/ate buckwheat (kasha) without hulls for decades, maybe centuries.  Town mill.

Since I originally posted, I learned a few things in my travels online. I'm posting them here in case anyone finds this thread in the future:

Some wheats are described as having "awnlets". This means "very short awns".
Durum wheat varieties are often described as spring planted but some at the site above are listed as fall planted. That's good for my area.
The thing that makes a wheat good for pasta is "plasticity" (vs. elasticity). Elasticity is good for make bread rise. Plasticity is good for holding shape. I'm still unclear if this is related to the gluten or protein or something else.
There are some papers (scientific, research type papers...maybe someones PhD thesis) that describe the hardness of durum wheats. Turns out, hardness may make it more difficult to grind the grain at the start, but soft flours can cause their own problems.

Thanks for the input. I always find help here.
Best,
Caroline in Idaho
 
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Grew up and lived on small grain farm in Southern Saskatchewan where durum was the primary crop. Hardness is a quality characteristic and durum is milled into semolina (small particles) not flour. Anything that reduced the hardness of your grain (weather damage or poor fertility) lowered the price. Grain buyers measured HVK (hard vitreous kernels) and protein level to determine grade.

Yes the awns have a high PITA factor and durum varieties are still awned.  In fact it was our job as kids to climb into the combine harvesters at the start of each day to clean the awns that were clogging the grain separating systems of the harvesters. It was a dirty job delegated to the smallest, youngest, bottom of the pecking order member of the harvesting crew. Usually it was me!

The Ternier's at Prairie Garden Seeds sell seed of Wakooma. It was widely grown in southern Saskatchewan in the 70's and 80's. It is a good high quality variety, fairly tall, with long black awns (good for weaving). Modern varieties are very short compared to the old varieties. The old varieties lodged badly (fell over and didn't ripen properly). Durum in general requires a longer and hotter growing season than bread wheat and was only grown in the southern grain growing areas of Saskatchewan.
 
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Many pastas I understand are made from Soft White Spring, Summer or Winter Wheat, whereas most bread is made from Hard Red Winter Wheat. Both have undergone significant changes over the years.

The original Hard Red was 4 feet tall, golden, with a nice nutty flavor. My great-grandfather was one of 10 Mennonite farmers who brought over the first of this wheat (Hard Red Turkey Winter Wheat) to the U.S. (Kansas) in 1874. Unfortunately, the seed companies have bastardized the wheat seed. They crossed it with a Japanese grass to make it half the height and in the process inject a ton of gluten and gliadin, which has caused so many people so many digestive problems. Find a baker who uses the old wheat and 99.99% of the digestive problems are gone.  

The Hard Red is mostly grown in the Mid-West, and the Soft White is grown a lot in the Pacific Northwest, especially NE Washington state. Like with so many other foodstuffs, your effort to find, use and eat the old heirloom varieties will be well rewarded!
 
Denis Huel
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Forgot something about awns. During growing seasons when the crop ripened without drought (rare in southern Saskatchewan), a few varieties, (Wascana is the only one I can think of at the moment) would shed their awns at maturity easing the harvest difficulties associated with the awns.
 
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Hello Caroline

I have grown around 350 different wheat varieties, land races, and species here on the "wet maritime side" of the PNW including in about 5 different local environments. Success has not been predicted by historical varieties as those were planted years before diseases appeared at all or before new variants of numerous diseases showed up.

It turns out that if one digs deep enough one finds out that there are about 2 million extant varieties of wheat. There are about 200 thousand unique varieties or accessions held at various world seed banks. The same can be said for rice. Almost any vegetable species will only have a few thousand varieties or accessions in seed banks around the world. I take this to indicate that wheat is less flexible about where it will grow well and what one can do with the result in different environments.  

So varieties of wheat can be specific to environment and disease pressure. For example, the varieties of the disease Stripe Rust are different here in the maritime PNW of Washington than in say Pullman, Washington, and that really matters.

You do not say what part of Idaho you are in, that might matter as much where you are as where I am for the above reasons.

I have only used a threshing machine once at another person's farm demonstration. That was a failure. It turned out that without perfect adjustments for each batch or variety or moisture content or degree of ripeness,  heads were torn off, grain was not separated at all, machine plugged up, well you get the picture. Meanwhile we took a large piece of plywood and placed a large durable sifting screen on that and had a shuffle/stomping party. That was WAY faster than even when the machine was dialed in. Sides on the plywood, or a box of some sort would have been even better. Then the chaffy mix was run through the winnower with great results. In our trials we just use a box fan as we do not have a winnower. I do find out a lot by threshing each variety over a large bowl or tray by hand without gloves. That is awful most of the time so I switch to rubberized gloves often. There are a few that do not shatter in the "field" but are a joy to thresh with bare hands.

That said, out of the many varieties I have trialed, only about 100 produce very well at all here. The many initial types were chosen world wide to match environmental, or disease, or usage issues as best as I could and still only a third or so worked here in my garden type conditions. Some of the best for here are from the most similar environment in England. If you are actually going to search beyond your area for other varieties to try you might search for those originally from similar latitude and higher elevations. I do not recommend trying to source seed from abroad. Some seed borne diseases have not made it here and would be devastating.

I too am fascinated by awnless varieties, but you might find that they are more attractive to birds and other opportunists. I have given many "grain introduction days" at the local grade school. With the shuffle/stomp wearing their normal shoes in an 18? gallon tote method even first graders had no problem threshing awned wheats and barleys.

We have found that it is useful to grow several varieties in blocks to hedge against seasonal variation in performance. There is no one perfect variety for all years in any one environment.

I have made noodles from ordinary wheat flour so ordinary wheat "does work" for noodles depending on expectations. There is another "new" variety you might be able to obtain in your area call Ryan that is supposedly great for Udon noodles. I would also love to trial it here if I can find a source.

I would love to trade some variety(s) from our collection for Soft Svevo and possibly others from your collection.

Cheers

 
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Denis Huel wrote:Grew up and lived on small grain farm in Southern Saskatchewan where durum was the primary crop. Hardness is a quality characteristic and durum is milled into semolina (small particles) not flour. Anything that reduced the hardness of your grain (weather damage or poor fertility) lowered the price. Grain buyers measured HVK (hard vitreous kernels) and protein level to determine grade.

Yes the awns have a high PITA factor and durum varieties are still awned.  In fact it was our job as kids to climb into the combine harvesters at the start of each day to clean the awns that were clogging the grain separating systems of the harvesters. It was a dirty job delegated to the smallest, youngest, bottom of the pecking order member of the harvesting crew. Usually it was me!

The Ternier's at Prairie Garden Seeds sell seed of Wakooma. It was widely grown in southern Saskatchewan in the 70's and 80's. It is a good high quality variety, fairly tall, with long black awns (good for weaving). Modern varieties are very short compared to the old varieties. The old varieties lodged badly (fell over and didn't ripen properly). Durum in general requires a longer and hotter growing season than bread wheat and was only grown in the southern grain growing areas of Saskatchewan.



Denis is spot on with that first paragraph.
Years ago I worked in the corporate lab for a grain milling company.
Durum was what we used to make what we sold to pasta companies.  It was also ground noticeably coarser.  Semolina is the technical term for that particle size.
Companies that made other noodle types got a finer grind made from softer varieties of wheat.  They were still hard red winter wheat or hard spring wheat.  Soft wheat only went to people making cakes and pastries.
At home, I've made pasta from other things besides durum semolina.  But, it doesn't turn out quite the same.
 
Caroline LaVin
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Oh, man, Denis. I feel your pain. I should probably stop complaining about cleaning out my little thresher after reading your story. LOL. You were a good kid. I will grab some of that Wakooma. I see another one they carry called Palissier... drought tolerant. That might be good in the coming years if this mega drought is here for awhile....unless you steer me away from that one for any reason. You mention "Wascana" dropping it's awns... that's different than the Wakooma, yes? Nice of it to do that.

Michael, I understand what you're saying about the changed wheat. Interesting about the Japanese grass. That's amazing. I had read the part about gluten and gliadin...I think I once read that it may be the new *ratio* of gluten to gliadin that bothers so many people.

Dan! Yes, you can have some soft Svevo if you want. Tell me how to go about that.  I'm 45 minutes east of Pullman, WA. Higher, colder, overall drier than the Willamette Valley. I'm at 2700 ft elevation. Wheat is grown from Pullman to my place and even a little further east of me, but then it turns into forest land.  I'm piecing together what you've said and what Michael wrote... that the Pacific NW is home to soft white wheat, because it grows best there?

Phil, thank for your input. Semolina!  Boy it took me awhile to understand how that word was used. Now I understand. It's a grind size. And so you're suggesting that *hard* white wheat can make an acceptable pasta.  I'd read about soft wheat for pastries in the past. I must be a pretty remedial baker, because I bake with all purpose flour.  I have seen "cake" flour before. Maybe that's the soft.

I had a friend who spent some time in Italy. If she wasn't exaggerating, and if she understood what she was being told, she described a typical pasta shop where each pasta shape (rigatoni, elbows, paparadelli, etc.) each had it's own bin of flour. She seemed to think each was a different variety of wheat, but after reading the comments here, I'm wondering it it was a different ratio of durum to ____ fill in the blank.

I have noticed that pasta made in Italy (Costco has a great organic Italian pasta) is much "bouncier" ...chewy...than USA Ronzoni or Barilla for example.  And so I guess if durum wheat is just too hard to mill, or too difficult to thresh, maybe I can make an edible pasta from hard white wheat. Tell me if that's wrong.

Well, I really can't thank you all enough. I didn't grow up on a farm.  And I'm finding it's a big learning curve ...learning how to feed yourself.
LOL. Thank you for all your help.
Best,
Caroline



 
Phil Swindler
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Caroline
All purpose is a middle of the road flour.  
It's mostly based on protein levels.  But, it's been enough years I don't remember the numbers very well.
Yes, cake flour is made from soft wheat and does have lower protein levels.  As I recall cake flour is ground a little finer and has more of the bran extracted.
You can use all purpose for cakes and pastries.  But, you will find your results to be different with different flours.
And, yes, the harder varieties of wheat make better pastas and noodles.  The higher protein gives more of the "al dente" texture and is less mushy.
 
Dan Borman
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Yes, you can have some soft Svevo if you want. Tell me how to go about that.  I'm 45 minutes east of Pullman, WA. Higher, colder, overall drier than the Willamette Valley. I'm at 2700 ft elevation. Wheat is grown from Pullman to my place and even a little further east of me, but then it turns into forest land.  I'm piecing together what you've said and what Michael wrote... that the Pacific NW is home to soft white wheat, because it grows best there?



RE: Soft Svevo, I am sending you a Purple moosage.

The Willamette Valley is basically part of the Maritime PNW. It is warmer at all points of the year than my maritime location near the Canadian border-- very noticeable in terms of heat accumulation and nighttime temperatures in the growing season. Neither environment is much like the inland NW east of the Cascade mountains.

I am reluctant to say "grows best there". Perhaps "grows well enough most years". Soft White Wheat--SWW-- is grown many places in the inland NW as a consequence physical environment, disease pressure, economics, access to distribution, and historical issues.

True, there are many kinds of pasta.  Each pasta type is best accepted if made with flour of specific qualities. One way to accomplish that is to blend flour from different wheats. There will not be a static proportion as a variety of wheat will have different qualities when grown in different years or different environments.
 
Denis Huel
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Call me a plant geek,  I don't care!  I find wheat fascinating! The diversity of types, uses and culture surrounding it growth and use  never gets boring. There was lots about farming I didn't like but the wheat harvest was special.
 
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