Some stories, the good ones, have a way of taking on a life of their own in the best of ways. This one is as golden as the wild heads of the turkey red wheat that we’ve baked bread from, now for three years, thanks to three unlikely local collaborators who have made it all possible—Danny Jones, Dale Friesen, and Ed Hill.
You see, the story was as rich as honey before, as turkey red wheat is a hard winter wheat that’s predominately grown in the Plains States and naysayers didn’t think it was possible to grow it in Ohio, but thanks to Danny, Dale, and Ed, it flourishes in our corner of the world. We shared the story online and word of our wheat field in Xenia spread to a museum in the Netherlands that sought to spotlight the life of Menno Simons, whose ideals set the foundation of the Mennonite faith. The exhibit curators were drawn to the purity of the strain of turkey red wheat that we grow—it’s never been hybridized—and the family history of Dale, who shares a rich connection to the seeds through his heritage. As Mennonites fled Russia in the late 1800s to the United States, they took with them their prized turkey red wheat seeds to build a new future. Dale’s grandparents were among those Mennonites who settled in the Plains States. Menno de Vries, a curator of the exhibit, is also a farmer. He knew how important turkey red wheat was to the livelihood of the Mennonite people and sought to connect it to the exhibit. The exhibit “Menno Simons Groen” opened at the Groencentrum in Witmarsum, a small village in the Netherlands, in early June. Dale and Ed sent both flour and nearly two bushels of turkey red wheat seeds to De Vries. At the opening of the exhibit, some of the seeds were scattered in ceremonial fashion on bits of earth running down the floor of the museum. They would later sprout and become a part of the exhibit, which remained open through August. “When they sprinkled the seeds, it was a symbolic blessing of the soil by planting the seed that finally had a resting place,” Ed says.
With the remaining seeds, De Vries intends to return them to the soil of Witmarsum to bring these seeds full circle. “This is wheat that left Crimea and went to the Plains States and then later to Ohio. And because of Dale Friesen, it went back home. Home being the birthplace of the man who is responsible for establishing the Mennonite faith,” Ed says. Although these seeds have now been shared with our new friends afar, we’ve kept plenty to grow wheat from and bake bread with here in Dayton, Ohio. Look for Turkey Red Wheat Sourdough at the DLM Bakery now.
Hidden in an un-marked part of our Washington Square shopping center is a secret studio where our bread bakers create their art. Driving around the back of the store at 7 p.m., our bakers are busy getting to work. Perfectly proofing, scoring, and baking bread, rolls, and bagels all night long. This is a studio like none you have ever seen, with buckets of bubbling, gooey sourdough starters, giant mixers, and rotating stone-hearth deck ovens. The Bakehouse is alive and moving nearly 24 hours a day with the mission of providing our stores with the freshest bread possible, delivering product every morning. What we don’t sell from the previous day is donated to various organizations to feed the needy, so that every piece of bread that is placed in the case for sale is always just a few hours old.
Baking is a science that involves many aspects that can affect the final product with the slightest variation. Outside temperature, humidity, water temperature, and even the speed of the mixer can make or break an entire batch of bread. Mixing is where the process starts, and one of the most important steps to achieving great bread. Have you ever been distracted while trying to mix a batch of cookie dough, coming back to the bowl unable to remember what ingredient you put in last? Imagine being responsible for mixing thousands of pounds of dough in a day. It takes skill and concentration to get the dough just right. From the mixing bowl, the dough goes to our group of bench workers where the dough is allowed to gas up with air. It’s punched down and allowed to rise again. It’s then divided into individual sized loaf weights and “first round” begins. This consists of each loaf being given what we call a “rough shape” where the dough is gently rounded and allowed to rest. “Second round” begins with the final shaping of each loaf into the more polished look you see in our Bakery. Seeds or toppings are added to the loaf and it enters its final stage of relaxation prior to being baked. Thanks to our hands-on process, you’ll notice that no two loaves of artisan bread look alike.
If this all seems very time-consuming, it’s because it is! We are very serious about bread and care to do it right, without cutting corners. Sometimes bread doesn’t rise like it should, due to weather or other factors, but our bakers wait until the time is right to place it in the oven. Several of our skilled folks have been baking bread for more than 20 years, and it’s a passion for them. Stop by our Bakery counter and try a sample, take a look at the gorgeous, caramel-colored bread behind the glass, knowing that our associates worked day and night to provide you with the best. Lastly, grab some butter or cheese with an artisan loaf and enjoy!
Food, beer, wine and last, but not least, pastries from six different countries make up what we think is aptly named the Spring Fling Pastry & Food Show, coming up 7-9 p.m. Thursday April 19, at DLM Springboro. The event showcases foods from around the world with delectable goodies from not only the United States, but France, South Africa, Belgium, Canada, and England. When you come, you’ll want to make sure you are ready to eat not only pastry, but the food creations we’ll have representing each country.
This event started 14 years ago from a desire to show our guests just how much passion our Pastry Chefs put into making the highest quality desserts possible. DLM is very fortunate to have not one, but two talented pastry chefs. Amy Brown, who attended The French Pastry School in Chicago, and Lindsey Lucas, who has a degree in baking and pastry arts from the Midwest Culinary Institute at Cincinnati State. Together these ladies lead a team of people who meticulously bake and assemble the beautiful pastry and bakery items glistening in our Bakery case at DLM. People peering into the case often exclaim that they are “too pretty to eat.” I always promise them that after the first bite, they will change their mind!
After the first go-round of the show, we kept having the same question asked during the event: “Where is the food? There is just pastry?” So the following year, we added savory food options. We are very fortunate to have DLM’s Culinary Director Chef Carrie Walters to head up the development of the amazing selection of foods you’ll also find at the show. Trust me—you will want to eat one of everything, and maybe even go back for seconds.
In addition to the food and pastry that’ll be filling your plate, look for beer and wine to sample along the way. Don’t be shy—it’s all part of your ticket price. Our spring party this year will be made complete with a Killer Brownie® chocolate fountain.
So join us for our Spring Fling Pastry & Food Show. We look forward to this show all year as a welcome to warmer weather in a cozy environment. In fact, we only sell 150 tickets to keep a more intimate feel (so grab yours today). We look forward to our time together celebrating good food and company. See you there!
Standing in our Turkey Red Wheat field, located near Waynesville, Ohio, you’re surrounded by glimpses of the past, present, and future no matter which direction you look. The wild, golden heads of this bearded wheat dance gently with the wind like a balloon batting in the sky. It’s a hard winter wheat that isn’t typically grown on Ohio soil, but here it is robust and beautiful. Just one taste of the Turkey Red Wheat Bread that we’ve baked from this wheat, and it’s clear that you’re biting into a slice of history and so much more. It’s food with a story, and this one is quite delicious, touching on history, perseverance, and a shared passion of local partners and friends.
Take a bite out of this rich story behind our Turkey Red Wheat Bread with the above video, documenting our 2017 journey with Turkey Red Wheat from grain to oven. Video by Brett Dennis & Dorothy Lane Market.
The germ of an idea for this wheat field was actually set into motion many years ago. It was at a farmers’ market in 1992 when Ed Hill, of Hill Family Farm, and Dale Friesen first crossed paths. Ed, who studied and grew ancient grains, had long been interested in Turkey Red Wheat. He grew test plots and was fascinated by its colorful history. When empress Catherine the Great died and the Tsars took power, many Mennonites living in Russia had their children pluck the best Turkey Red Wheat seeds from the farmlands prior to their families fleeing to the United States and Canada. In pursuit of religious freedom, they brought with them the seeds that would flourish across The Breadbasket, where many settled in the U.S. “They must have prized their wheat so much,” says Ed. “They brought their language, their skills, and they brought their wheat.”
Ed was shocked to find out that he was standing before a direct descendant of these immigrants. Dale’s grandfathers and grandmother were among the children of the Mennonites who set down roots in Nebraska. “That started our conversation and a lifelong friendship. When you start talking to someone whose relatives are kind of in the middle of this … you kind of step back and let them do the talking,” Ed says.
Their conversations continued over the years, but they knew to pull this off they needed a buyer—some way to bring the grains to market and into the hands of local people. Then, Ed ran into DLM’s Jennifer Clark while he was delivering Hill Family Farm Chicken to DLM. She approached Ed to see if he knew of anyone growing soft winter wheat, which is more commonly grown in Ohio and can be used for cakes and pastries. He had something better to offer up—Turkey Red Wheat, which could be baked into bread should the yield be just right. From there, a spark was ignited, but questions loomed. Would this crop thrive on Ohio soil and if so, how would it behave when it came to baking bread? And who would actually farm it with Ed in his late seventies and Dale in his eighties?
A Risky Venture
Turkey Red Wheat is a beautiful sight. “It’s a wild, wild run … you see it dancing in the wind,” Ed marvels. When most people see a stump in the road, Ed will find a way around it. “When someone tells me I can’t do something, that’s a pretty good motivator,” he says. You see, Ed is the synapse that connects it all together with our story here, from cultivating a vision rooted in historical significance to figuring out the nuts and bolts so it can happen. Many didn’t think that it could be done.
One of those initial skeptics, Scott Fox, DLM’s VP of Bakery Operations who’s built our artisan bread program from the ground up, wears a big smile on his face as the wheat radiates a golden aura. “I’ve been a baker for 35 years and I’ve always been taught that good hard winter wheat had to come from out in The Plains States and that nothing would really work east of the Mississippi,” he says. “Much to my surprise, I love when I’m proved wrong.”
Many thanks goes to Danny Jones, the local farmer who was crazy enough to say “yes” to this venture. He reaches down and plucks off a wheat berry. It’s slightly gummy with a distinguishable sweetness that sets it apart from more conventional wheat. He can tell from the wheat berries when harvest is nearing, but the true test is to run a combine through and measure the moisture level. Danny chose to plant this crop directly next to his house so that others in the area could easily see it when they drove by. “Why don’t they do it … because it takes [more time] getting everything ready … but it’s all worth it,” Danny says.
Forming a Local Circle
So why did Danny say “yes,” a question that many area farmers have asked him? “It’s local. Somebody producing something local. Somebody using the local product.” He also just wanted to do something that’s not usually done. The unknowns of growing Turkey Red Wheat on his soil were like a puzzle waiting to be solved.
“Danny, he’s one of a kind. He makes it all happen,” Dale says. “I grew up where there was dryland farming. Water was a problem and rain was a problem. Here, moisture is not. Danny is so up on things, it really amazes me.” Dale’s recollection of farming Turkey Red Wheat in his youth comes together with Danny’s knowledge of the farmland here, and the results speak volumes. “Dale is probably the mastermind of how to grow it … and where to grow it, and when to grow it … and I just do the work that I think I know how to do,” Danny says. Ed fits in with his persistence and the historical context he brings to the table, having studied this grain, including records of it being farmed a century ago in Ohio. “That made me push on. Let’s do something here,” Ed says.
It’s the climate in Ohio that presents the greatest challenge, as Turkey Red Wheat is tall and events like rain, wind, and hail can bend it over. But, for some reason, it stands back up afterward. “We’re still learning what this wheat does and how it adapts to Ohio weather,” says Danny.
Although Ed, Danny, and Dale will sometimes have differing opinions on how to go about farming it, they all agree that this is just the start of something bigger. “I think we’re just hitting the tip of it with growing something local that can be made into bread locally and enjoyed by local people,” Danny says.
A Crop Unlike Any Other
From the baking side, Jennifer and Scott have been amazed with the quality of bread that results from this wheat, which is locally milled into flour. The protein levels of bread play heavily into the science of baking, and this year’s run is off the chart, coming in at 13.7% , which is considerably higher than most hard winter wheats. “After the process of milling, what we find as far as bread-making is it likes a shorter fermentation time and the end product [has] got a little natural sweetness to it and also a really nice nutty flavor to it and we feel that Turkey Red Wheat … being that it’s never been hybridized … that your body tends to be able to digest it much easier,” Scott says. Jennifer adds that “it’s an heirloom grain that has not been messed with. You can trace it back to Biblical times. It’s not hybridized in any way. It’s wheat as your body knows wheat to really be.”
When we debuted a limited run of Turkey Red Wheat Bread last year, the community gobbled it up quickly. That’s why DLM increased its investment from 2.5 acres in 2016 to 10 acres of this year’s 20-acre harvest. “From farm to fork, we’re actually growing an un-hybridized, ancient grain … and we’re going to be selling it at Dorothy Lane Market’s three Bakeries,” Scott says. “This is where the future of artisan bread is going.”
We searched high and low for just the right local partners to mill this year’s crop. That search led us to Ohio-based Bear’s Mill, one of the few operating water-powered mills in Ohio. Established in 1849, it has a well-deserved place on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Using a stone mill, master miller Terry Clark worked a portion of this year’s harvest into flour to bake bread from, just the way it would have been done by Dale’s ancestors. Due to the limits of how much this historic mill could handle, we also enlisted the expertise of local Amishman Joseph Nisley to also help prepare this year’s yield into the perfect flour to bake into bread.
More Than Just Bread
The cutting edge nature of a grocery store to be growing its own wheat to be milled into flour and baked into bread is something unique that we never dreamed would be possible, but thanks to three men—Dale, Ed, and Danny—it is. At the heart of it all though is Dale and his connection to this heirloom grain.
In his eighties, he’s doing something that he didn’t think was possible as he honors the legacy of his ancestors and shares that with his local community. He sits at a picnic table next to the wheat field and his eyes glisten. “Never in my wildest dreams … To see that big of a field reminds me of what I grew up with.” Dale was born in Nebraska where his Mennonite ancestors settled when they came to America. He lived in a sod house and his family grew a Turkey Red Wheat crop every other year so that the land could have a year to rest and recoup its moisture. He recalls harvest time and the celebration that would occur afterward. “When that was growing and getting golden, it was the most beautiful thing you ever saw. This is just a good reminder of what I grew up with,” he says.
Twice a week, his mother would bake Turkey Red Wheat bread. Now, he can share that same taste with his children and grandchildren. Seeing Dale come to life with memories makes it all worth it for the circle of local partners gathered at the wheat field on this beautiful morning. “The most meaningful thing to me about this is absolutely Dale … because this has meant so much to him,” Jennifer says. “I want [people] to know that Dale Friesen and his family were stewards of this heirloom grain and how important it is in history. And that we are proud to partner with [Dale, Danny, and Ed] to bring this to your tables.”