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Parched Green Wheat Fetches A Premier Price
Anthony and Carol Boutard harvest wheat about a month early at Ayers Creek Farm in Gaston, Ore., and then invest propane, labor and time to process it into parched green wheat that sells for as much as $9/lb. to local restaurant owners.
    Called Freekeh, Anthony Boutard says parched green wheat has been a staple of Arabic culture for centuries. Like other ancient grains, it has seen a recent resurgence. Chefs interested in adding new flavors and textures to their menu appreciate the grain’s smoky, slightly sweet “with a hint of grassiness” flavor and tender texture that has a bit of a pop when chewed.
    Ayers Creek Farm, which is certified organic, processes between 1,000 and 1,500 lbs. of parched green wheat each year, in addition to growing hull-less barley, milling corn, chickpeas, dry beans, and soy as well as fruits and vegetables on 140 acres.
    “Wheat and barley provide a valuable rotation crop in our mix of vegetables and legumes. We grow an old race of soft red winter wheat. It’s a long-straw wheat, growing about 3 to 4 ft. tall. For us, the tall stalks are easy and efficient to harvest by hand, and the abundant straw adds organic matter to the soil,” Boutard says. He adds that though heritage varieties are good candidates for parching, most any wheat will work.
    The challenge is timing.
    “To get the perfect texture and underlying grassiness, the wheat is harvested at the green stage when the endosperm is moving from milk to the soft dough stage. We squeeze the kernel between the thumb and forefinger, and if just a drop of milky endosperm is released, it is the perfect time,” he explains. “There is a critical harvest window of 72 hrs. or so. Then the texture becomes doughy, and the flavor shifts to that of mature grain.”
    After the wheat heads are hand harvested, they are burned with a propane weed burner, which stops the sugar from turning to starch and adds a smoky flavor. After threshing, the wheat is placed on wire trays for about two weeks until the grain dries. It’s a challenge to dry the moist wheat without it molding, Boutard notes. Fans blow through the trays to keep the air moving.
    “The process we follow is based on a carefully researched and well-illustrated article in the academic journal Economic Botany. It details the process used by the traditional green wheat parchers in Lebanon and Jordan. Over time, we have made a few adaptations necessary for our climate, but we have always kept the integrity of the final product in mind. It is a craft and rewards the farmer who takes the time and has the patience to do it right,” he says.
    Even if people aren’t interested in marketing parched green wheat, Boutard encourages people to plant a small patch and parch the heads with a plumber’s torch. Before drying it he suggests eating some of it fresh.
    “It’s a treat to eat but we never sell it fresh because it’s prone to molding even when refrigerated,” Boutard says. “It is cooked like pasta or sweet corn, using plenty of water and boiled until the desired tenderness, about 20 to 30 min.”
    The dried parched green wheat from the farm ends up on plates in Middle Eastern, Italian, French and Japanese restaurants as well as in business class bento boxes for Delta airline flights from Portland to Tokyo.
    Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Anthony and Carol Boutard, Ayers Creek Farm, 15219 SW Spring Hill Rd., Gaston, Ore. 97119 (ph 503 985-0177; aboutard@easystreet.net; #ayerscreekfarm).

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2017 - Volume #41, Issue #4