I rarely, if ever, reprint press releases on GoodStuffNW, but I felt this breaking bulletin from contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm warranted attention.
For Immediate Release
Gaston, Oregon, USA
6 July 2013
The Oregon Chapter of the Frikeh Producers' Council (FPC) announced today that mild, dry weather and improved efficiency assured a record frikeh harvest of the highest quality.
Harvesting the heads of wheat.
Most of us are familiar with grains in their mature, dry state, which allows them to be stored for many years. However, in many places in the world, grains are also enjoyed in their immature (green) state as a seasonal delicacy. Throughout the Middle East, from Egypt to Turkey, immature wheat is harvested, burned and threshed to produce frikeh (frik, firik, freekeh). Erroneously called an "ancient grain," frikeh is actually a way of processing wheat, not a different grain at all. Claims of its ancient status are dubious; what is certain is its delicious flavor.
The parched grains of frikeh.
The parching of emmer in caldrons was documented in Roman times by Cato the Censor around 200 BC, and in parts of southern Germany, unripe spelt is still treated this way to make grünkern. Frikeh is very different in that it is exposed to an open flame (top photo). There is scant documentation of this method of preparing wheat, most of it from the last 50 years. Some authors have speculated that it was originally produced using barley straw, but that makes no sense as the straw's flame is not hot enough. Anyway, the straw was very valuable as bedding and packing material, and would not be wasted burning wheat. Possibly small branches from orchard and olive groves were used. Like our fellow frikeh makers in the Middle East today, we use propane torches, which are easier and safer to use.
Feeding parched grain into the thresher.
The harvest of frikeh is done during the brief interval between the “milk stage” when the endosperm is still liquid and the “soft dough” stage when the endosperm is solidifying. Too early and the grains shrivel; too late and the grains are no longer dark green and develop a starch quality. Frikeh of the best character is produced during a three-day window in the ripening process. The wheat is cut, the sheaves are stacked on corrugated metal and the heads are lightly roasted. In addition to imparting a smoky flavor to the grain, the heating also stops the maturation of the endosperm. The sweet fragrance of the roasting wheat wafts through the valley. The charred heads are then fed into a thresher to separate out the grain. The grain is cleaned and then dried on shallow trays.
Drying the threshed grain.
The finished frikeh is rinsed a couple of times and cooked for approximately an hour. Any remaining chaff and stems should be skimmed off during the rinsing or cooking. Frikeh may be used in any recipe that uses rice or bulgar wheat. It is traditionally served with lamb or chicken. The smoky, nutty quality of the grain adds a unique dimension to vegetarian dishes. The simplest is as a tabbouleh style salad, perfumed with lemon and mint.
A frikeh salad with albacore.
FPC spokesperson Carol Boutard notes that frikeh has different nutritional qualities than mature wheat. It is higher in minerals, especially potassium, calcium, iron and zinc, higher in dietary fiber and low in phytic acid.
You can find frikeh at the Ayers Creek Farm stand at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market on Sundays from 10 am to 2 pm. Don't delay, though…it'll only be available for the next couple of weeks.