December is a sad time for the farmer's market aficionado. At minimum, it will be three months before the first spring greens are available. We're down to two monthly markets, the indoor Tower Grove setup at St. John's Episcopal Church on Arsenal Street and Maplewood's "Indoor Pantry" at Schlafly Bottleworks, as well as the venerable Soulard Farmers' Market. And, damn, it is cold and dreary outside.
Don't despair: There are still plenty of local goods to be had. Over the next few months, I'll highlight some of the offerings that will remain available despite the lack of sun and warmth.
If you want to go the DIY route and you're looking to do it locally, whatever will you do? Missouri Grain Project to the rescue. This is a cooperative venture by a number of local farmers to grow chemical-free, non-GMO (genetically modified) wheat to sell for consumption rather than the commodities market.
If you follow Slow Food tenets and/or read Michael Pollan, you may be aware that the grain commodities market is one of the primary drivers for the industrialized food system. Grain subsidies help to force production up and prices down, which provides a cheap source of animal feed for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). By selling grain directly to consumers, the MO Grain Project hopes to encourage farmers to produce grain for people here in Missouri, rather than shipping it out of state for processing and CAFO consumption.
This happens to dovetail beautifully with how I started out baking bread. At some point a couple of years ago, I realized that supermarket bread had a list of ingredients that read like a chemistry experiment, but all of the nice artisan loaves had a hefty price tag that belied their short lists of ingredients. So between that and my summer of abandoning all commercially marketed personal care products -- Dr. Bronner's and crystal deodorant 4-eva! -- I started baking my own bread.
My go-to recipe is usually a quick and dirty loaf that you can literally whip up in a food processor; it uses only limited amounts of whole wheat flour, lest it turn into a bitter mess.
This recipe, on the other hand, was only a tiny bit more involved and rewarded me with a loaf that was less dense than anything I've ever gotten from Black Bear and far healthier than any supermarket purchase. And you can use almost entirely local ingredients. Ultimate score!
100% Whole Wheat BreadAdapted from the
King Arthur Flour All-Purpose Baking Cookbook
1 1/2 cups water
3 tbsp olive oil
5 tbsp honey, molasses or maple syrup (I used sorghum, which is somewhere between molasses and maple syrup)
3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup each of 2 different kinds of nuts, chopped (I used Missouri pecans and black walnuts, but sunflower would work well too)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
1. In a large mixing bowl -- this can also be in an electric mixer, so make use of that counter-crowding stand mixer -- combine all of the ingredients and mix to form a shaggy dough. Let the dough rest for 20 minutes.
2. Knead for 10 minutes -- if you're using the stand mixer, this is a great use of the dough hook -- until the dough is smooth and supple. It will be sticky, so don't hesitate to flour your work surface if you're kneading by hand. Let the dough rise in an oiled, covered bowl for 1 hour.
3. Shape the dough into a log, and place it in a greased 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch bread pan (standard-sized). Cover the pan with a clean dishcloth -- or underwear, if you're the Novice Foodie -- or an oiled piece of plastic wrap, and let rise for about an hour, until it is about 2 inches over the edge of the pan.
4. Preheat the oven to 350. Bake the bread for 25 minutes uncovered then lightly tent some aluminum foil over the top for another 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, turn the bread out of the pan, and let it cool on a rack.Alissa Nelson is a graduate student and compulsive buyer of cookbooks. She
enjoys scouring seed catalogs and thrift stores alike. Every Wednesday she seeks the bounty of local farmers' markets -- and then cooks it.