Cooking with Whole Grains

Cooking with Whole Grains by Mildred Ellen Orton, Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2010, $12.00 paperback, 72 pages

When a Greek relative explained to me how to make a particular bread, she said “flavor” when she meant flour, but she inadvertently hit on something—white bleached flour with the life milled out of it lacks flavor.

In this book, first published in 1951, reissued in 1971, and resurrected for another generation in this current version, Mildred and Vrest Orton, who founded the much loved Vermont Country Store, advocate a return to whole grain, stone ground flours—wheat, rye, buckwheat, corn, and even soy.

The book begins with Vrest’s chapter, the Mystery of the Mill, a review of milling from the stone and water-powered mills to industrialized machine milling. He points out that we moved away from whole grains because the germ—the living part of the flour that contains 90 percent of its vitamins and a good deal of its flavor—gummed up the roller mill mechanisms. Further, wheat without the germ will keep almost indefinitely on store shelves, a real incentive to turn a living product into a commodity.

Mildred’s recipes are arrayed in an antique paragraph style and font that suits her topic, with brief and direct instructions and no chatty headnotes. She assumes you know to grease the muffin tins and gets on with it. They are simple recipes and you can be confident that they will work in a modern kitchen.

With what Deborah Madison calls “fierce focus” in her introduction, the Ortons revive regional favorites, develop versatile rye-whole wheat-corn flour blends, and cover not only bread and roll baking but recipes for Supper and Luncheon Dishes, and desserts. Theirs is a gentle advocacy. They encourage cooks to develop expertise and use their wit and imagination in the kitchen. And they tempt you with recipes for Buttermilk Griddlecakes, Kernel Corncakes, Sour Cream Devil’s food Cake, and Early American Hot Bread.

Green Mountain Hermits are made with cornmeal and a pinch of baking soda, wrinkly little discs that are chewy and sweet with firm edges. They are a far cry from Oreos, but you can rest assured, as Mildred write, “Cookies like these can’t hurt the kids, even if they raid the cookies jar and eat their fill,” and on a chill fall night, there is nothing better with a glass of cider.

This reissue is well-timed given a renewed interest in whole grain cooking, and after a few recipes, you’ll never lust after a Twinkie again.


About Appetite for Books

read, cook, eat, repeat
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