Much of the wheat crop in Washington waves under bright skies in the eastern half of the state. Where I went to college, people would bike for miles through wheat fields. We’d prefunc on the side of a road somewhere, watching the sun go dusty and red above a glowing field.
This state grows a lot of wheat: despite what you may assume about America’s Breadbasket, Washington State is fifth in wheat production in the U.S.
According to a report by the Washington State University Extension, wheat has a rich history on the rainy side of the state, too. It’s been grown here since the mid-1800s, but it wasn’t until disease-resistant varieties were introduced that yields began to expand.
It may have taken 50 years, but wheat is finally arriving at the pop culture ball. I’m no needle on the trendy scale, but it seems that articles highlighting local grains are popping up more in the last several years, and events such as the Cascadia Grains Conference point to a shift in the industry and the local foods movement that’s enticing for a fossil fuel-shirking, ag-loving or pantry-minded individual.
The report makes it sound like the best is yet to come, saying that “wheat breeders, pathologists, and local growers are working together to develop and select new varieties that are well suited to the cool wet maritime climate of western Washington.”
I acquired a bag of wheat berries myself, the first I’ve ever bought, from a local farmer two weeks ago. When I asked what to do with it, beyond attempting to grind it to flour in my Vitamix, she said she simply cooks the whole grains on their own, making them like you would rice or quinoa.
Yesterday afternoon I pictured myself bringing a pot to a boil and letting the grains simmer away, cooking them up in time for lunch. But wheat berries, I learned, need to be soaked overnight. So I’m doing that now. In the morning I’ll put them on the stove early and eat them as breakfast cereal (you can also toast the grains, grind them coarsely and simmer for an hour to make from-scratch cream of wheat).
Even if it doesn’t work out, I’ll have many more chances. Western Washington wheat isn’t going anywhere.