DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Wheaties cereal was a staple of my childhood. A handful of raisins and a dose of granulated sugar turned it into a pseudo-Raisin Bran, but that brand wasn't "ag" enough for our family purchasing preferences.
Mother tended toward the literal when doling out hard-earned farm dollars at the IGA. Corn Pops or generic puffed wheat would occasionally make it into the cart, but be prepared to duck when begging for Sugar Smacks. We weren't paying for what we could value-add ourselves (insert the proverbial smiley face here).
However, the real breakfast of my youth -- the one I've stored away so carefully in my nostalgic pantry -- wasn't purchased at the store. It came straight from the combine.
Dad would bring a large coffee can sample of the soft red winter wheat in to test moisture at the start of harvest. After the testing and blowing out hulls and picking through to remove the occasional grasshopper, it went straight to the kitchen for the morning meal. Mother would combine it with water and boil it until the kernels cracked and softened.
Add a pat of butter, some sugar and milk and we were ready to chew our way to happiness. Go ahead and say it: We were glutens for punishment because goodness knows there is some chewing involved in eating wheat berries for breakfast. But, trust me, with that chewy bite comes a very subtle nutty, earthy flavor you won't forget.
Dad would often claim that this annual breakfast was his favorite day of the year. Feeding five children can be a noisy affair, and apparently, chewing cuds was preferable to childhood chatter.
BACK IN FLAVOR
So imagine my surprise when I recently stumbled upon an Illinois farm selling hard red winter wheat whole berries. AND on the back of the 2 lb. bag was a recipe for cooking the wheat just like I remembered.
It seems a trio of young farmers have decided to put down grain roots in Funks Grove, Illinois. Siblings Katie and Jonathan Funk, along with Katie's fiance, Jeff Hake, are the founders and partners of Funks Grove Heritage Fruits and Grains (https://www.facebook.com/…).
The Funk name has a long history in Illinois agriculture. Those of us above a certain age recognize it from the seed business. And many of us grew up sweeter for dipping into Funks Grove Maple Sirup. Yes, I spelled that right. (funksmaplesirup.com) The family has kept the spelling Webster's originally preferred for the sweet stuff.
Jonathan is a partner in the sirup enterprise and Katie is a sugar maker. In July 2016, the brother-and-sister team, along with Hake, started a venture that included the planting of an acre of buckwheat and 4 acres of Warthog winter wheat. Warthog, beyond being awnless and coveted by artisanal bread bakers, has a name even my mother would surely love.
Future plans include more ambitious plantings as well as other ventures to capitalize on their location along historic Route 66. For now, they offer whole wheat berries, rustic stoneground whole wheat flour and pancake mix. The products are sold from the family sirup shop in rural Shirley, Illinois, and several grocery outlets in central Illinois.
It's satisfying to realize my family weren't fruit loops for eating wheat berries as a porridge. The act is actually a real thing and wheat berries are currently chef-worthy additions to salads and other dishes. In a few weeks, the three Illinois entrepreneurs are teaching a class on how to use them in a cooking class (https://www.signupgenius.com/…).
I already have admiration for these young people because they are selling their wheat by the pound rather than the bushel. With the current market price of wheat, some commodity wheat growers have been heard to grumble that they might as well eat it -- to which, I always say: "Well ... funny you should mention that. In fact, you can..."
How to Cook Wheat Berries:
1/2 cup wheat berries (rinsed and cleaned)
1 3/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
Combine all ingredients in saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for one hour or until tender. Drain, serve and chew.
Pamela Smith can be reached at Pamela.email@example.com
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