Hewn Bakery of Evanston giving a new rise to use of ancient and whole grains, all stone milled
Evanstonian Ellen King had the name ‘hewn’ in her head long before she even thought of owning a business. Her inherent love of tradition spurred her on to a Masters in history and later provided a prism through which she honed her craft at the Seattle Culinary Academy.
“When you find a beam that’s been hand-hewn, that means that an artisan crafted it,” said King. If the diminutive single mom wasn’t so humble, she would aptly be describing the business she and business partner, Julie Matthei also of Evanston, have wrought.
Hewn Bakery in Evanston offers organic and naturally-leavened breads using local flour that is stone milled from ancient grains. The description may be a mouthful but it is literally a delicious and nutritious one.
“A lot of people don’t know that the wheat they’re eating – conventional wheat that’s in almost everything – it’s literally grown on soil that is totally depleted of nutrients and, more often than not, sprayed with herbicides,” said King. Speaking to the now-common gluten sensitivities so prevalent in modern cuisine she raised the question: Are people having a problem with gluten or are their bodies reacting to what they should be reacting to, namely the toxic chemical sprayed onto the crops to make them grow?
“I have seen some people who have gluten sensitivities – not celiac, that’s different – but sensitivities who come in and eat our bread, and they have not experienced the same problems,” said King. One reason for that is the way the wheat is grown.
Hewn is working with local farmers who are not spraying their wheat with fertilizers, pesticides or insecticides when the wheat is harvested, so consumers are spared that layer of exposure.
“Our bakery is really committed to working with a lot of local grain and produce farmers,” explained King. Farmers like Harold Wilken of Janie’s Farm in Ashkum, Il, winner of Illinois Sustainable Farm Award; Meadowlark Organics in Ridgeway, Wi, where King gets her spelt, a species of wheat cultivated since approximately 5000 BC and red fife, another heritage variety of flour out of Canada ca. 1840. And then there is Hazzard Free Farm in Pecatonica, Il, created in 2007 by founder Andrea (Andy) Hazzard to “counter her frustration towards the role she was playing in the demise of the environment” and now grows and processes heirloom and ancient non-GMO grains.
To get the best out of these wholesome grains, all the flour sold at Hewn is stone-milled. The benefit over conventional flour sifted through a roller mill is that stone milling does not separate the three essential components of flour, namely the bran, the germ and the endosperm.
“When you order a whole wheat bread, it actually isn’t made from just one field and one berry; it is reconstituted from three different sources,” said King. “Like ground beef. You’re most often not just getting meat from one cow; it’s a mash of everything. That’s how conventional whole wheat is made.”
With a stone mill, it is one field and one tote poured into the top of a hopper which insures that the bran and the germ containing essential oils and B vitamins stay intact. “If people were eating organically or sustainably-grown flour of heritage varieties that were stone milled it would be so much more nutritious, and they probably wouldn’t have gluten sensitivity,” said King.
Additionally, all bread at Hewn is made with a sourdough starter and mixed by hand allowing it to ferment naturally. This enables the yeast to work on the gluten over several hours, essentially pre-digesting it. “It’s doing what it’s done for the last several hundred years: it is helping you to eat your bread,” said King.
There are over 10,000 varieties of wheat but conventional growers user ‘probably only two handfuls’ today. King works with farmers who grow ancient grains like Einkorn, Spelt and Turkey Red which date back millennia.
“Turkey Red was brought over by Mennonite farmers fleeing Czarist Russia in the 1870s who sewed the seeds into the hems of their clothing,” explained King. They found Kansas to be the most hospitable environment for growing their crops. Until 1940, Turkey Red comprised nearly 90 percent of Kansas’s bread production. Today, it is nearly impossible to find as conventional mass producers have opted for other hybrid high-yield varieties.
Hewn sells not only loaves of Turkey Red but its flour to for the home baker, and another 15-18 different varieties of breads and pastries stone milled from ancient and heritage grains.
“The only way we’re ever going to change how grains are grown is by having consumers be aware of it and demand it,” said King. Her first book, Heritage Baking, details her process, the organic farm movement, offers recipes and more, and is now in stores.