Roxana Jullapat on the Transformative Power of Baking with Whole Grains

Hearing Roxana Jullapat talk about grains is hypnotic, and reading her recipes makes you want to go out, buy some sorghum, and start baking.

Jullapat, head baker and co-owner of Friends & Family bakery in Los Angeles, works with regional farmers and millers to source what she calls the eight “mother grains”—barley, buckwheat, corn, oats, rice, rye, sorghum, and wheat—and integrates them into everything she serves.

In her new book, Mother Grains: Recipes for the Grain Revolution, Jullapat takes readers by the hand and leads them into the sublime world of the grains she loves, combining history, lush description, and a whimsical list of recipes ranging from Blueberry Blue Cornmeal Scones to Figgy and Purple Barley Cake and Chocolate Dynamite Cookies (with rye).

Throughout the book, Jullapat’s commitment to locally produced, small grains is evident, as is her commitment to seasonal cooking, small farms, regenerative agriculture, sustainable communities, and regional mills.

Mother Grains celebrates the full spectrum of freshly milled, flavorful whole grains, which are critical to building healthy farm ecosystems and can now be found at small and regional mills all over the country,” says Amber Lambke, cofounder and CEO of Maine Grains, which mills heritage grains from the Northeast in an effort to relocalize grain production and support farmers and communities.

Civil Eats spoke to Jullapat about her view that ancient grains make for a better future, how the revolution begins at home, and why the time has come to wave goodbye to all-purpose flours.

You write about how our conventional, global flour supply reflects only a handful of wheat varieties, which you say is shocking considering the diversity of grains in nature. Why is diversity in grains important?

Whenever we talk about biodiversity in any context the answer’s the same. Why do we want to preserve biodiversity in Costa Rica, where I grew up? Because it’s relevant, it’s important, and it’s a question that translates to the whole food supply. Imagine if we said the same thing about apples, for example, that Red Delicious and Granny Smith are the only apples people need. We would be missing out on literally thousands of other options.

Not only is diversity flavorful and interesting, it makes agriculture more secure. Nature in a diverse environment is self-regulating. When there’s variety there’s less susceptibility to disease. Biodiversity is worth every fight, from the jungle to the smallest part of the food supply. And let’s not forget the fact that when we’re talking about grains, there are species that have been around forever. You could be eating or growing a rye seed that hails from Viking times.

At the end of the day a grain is a seed. Why lose it? If we do, we are losing history, and we are also losing potential.

You write about your realization that grains are a seasonal ingredient. Can you talk a little bit about that?

In California, we have all this wonderful fresh, local produce, and much of the way we see cooking revolves around seasonality. We cannot escape it; it informs everything we do. The majority of chefs and cooks in Los Angeles follow some sort of seasonal rhythm. I became really aware of the seasonality of grains thanks to my miller, who’s my middleman (or woman). She’s the one dealing directly with the farmers, and my relationship with her depends a lot on her relationship with the farms she’s purchasing from.

So, we’ll have conversations where she says, “Oh, my favorite farmer is planting spelt this summer, so I’ll have tons of spelt later this year.” It brings you into the seasonal rhythms. It also makes you wonder about that white flour you’ve been buying from other vendors—what are they doing to it so that it lasts for years? Fresh-milled flours have a shelf life, just like fruits and vegetables.

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