Growing wheat on the Central Coast

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Each week we meet up with Katie Hershfelt of Cultivate Events as she chats with farmers, chefs and shoppers at the Santa Barbara Certified Farmers’ Market.

This week, she spoke with Melissa Sorongon, a baker from Piedrasassi Wine & Bread in Lompoc, who’s trying to revive California’s wheat-growing past.

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Melissa Sorongon (left) at the Santa Barbara Saturday Farmers Market. Photo: Kathryn Barnes

The biggest difference between Piedrasassi and other local bakers is that all their bread is made from locally grown and milled wheat grain. They use an Austrian stone mill.

“The fresh milling flavor is so much more complex than the flavor of bread that has been commercially milled and aged,” she said. “It has an alive taste,” capturing nutrients and flavors.

Capture5They planted Sonora, Durum, Rye, and Red Fife this year.

“There were two things that drove us. One was a real interest in heirloom varieties of wheat. Another was just taste.”

It hasn’t all been easy though. The drought has had a huge effect on Sorongon’s fields.

“We’re still wrapping our brain around what it is to grow grain here in this part of California, and the past few years has been really tough,” she said.

Sorongon continues to experiment with her bread and wine. Sometimes she mixes the two. When developing a sourdough starter, she sometimes adds fermenting must, freshly pressed grapes from the wine harvest.

“That adds a different dimension,” she said. “Whether or not it has a huge effect on the bread, I don’t know. But, everybody loves the idea!”

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Sicilian Convent Cookies

by Melissa Sorongon

We have made these delicious sesame cookies since we first opened the bakery. We sell them at the Santa Barbara market and at our bakery in Lompoc. We have been too busy with the bread recently to put the cookies on the bake schedule – too bad, since folks go crazy for them. For this recipe, we use our Sonora wheat, an heirloom soft white variety, perfect for pastries and cookie-type recipes.

Yield: about 2 dozen cookies

  • 2 cups Sonora flour (can substitute pastry flour or all-purpose, if necessary)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/3 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • A large pinch of ground cardamom
  • About 3/4 cup sesame seeds, to cover the outside of the cookie

Combine the dry ingredients (except the sesame seeds) and set aside.

Mix the wet ingredients, then stir them into the dry. Avoid the temptation to over mix.

Gather the dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rest in the fridge 30 minutes.

Roll the dough into a log, then roll the log in the sesame seeds.

Slice the log into cookies (about 1/2″ thick) and bake at 350 degrees until lightly colored, maybe 12 minutes (check at 10 minutes).

To check out all our past farmers market segments, head to kcrw.com/meetatthemarket.