Miller's Choice - A New Wheat from Old Wheat

Miller's Choice - A New Wheat from Old Wheat

by Josiah Meldrum

Taste the harvest! As well as flour and grain, the Wakelyns Bakery are making us a special Miller's Choice Sourdough Loaf (order by midnight on June 12th for delivery on the 16th - STOP PRESS! We've added a second week order now fopr delivery on the 22nd)
Miller's Choice, a wheat population, was created over twelve years by Andrew Forbes of Brockwell Bake, using 19th century (and older) tall wheat varieties as a starting point. Its heritage means it's particularly well suited to low input farming systems and our Miller's Choice was grown organically by John and Alice Pawsey in Suffolk

If ever you’ve delved into the world of cereals, particularly older wheat varieties that are rarely grown these days (and are sometimes called heritage), it’s likely you’ll have come across Andrew (Andy) Forbes. Back in 2008 Andy founded a community baking event in Lambeth’s Brockwell Park, by 2010 Brockwell Bake was running year-round, sharing knowledge and promoting choice in baking. This included growing a wide range of wheats on allotments and in school and community gardens.

Over the years Andy has developed an encyclopaedic knowledge of wheats; the history of their cultivation, their genetics and the way they perform in the hands of a good baker (which Andy also happens to be). The Brockwell Bake website hosts an extraordinary database, the Wheat Gateway, which brings together publicly available data for an almost unimaginable 530,599 wheat lines held in seed banks all over the world. Seed banks (or germplasm units) are an essential tool in the preservation of agricultural diversity, diversity that almost certainly contains genetics that will be critical in coming years. But seeds need to be grown, not just stored in refrigerated rooms; this keeps the germplasm collections fresh, it also allows researchers to see how different varieties and species perform in different circumstances.

An incredibly important set of treaties, which began in with the 1993 Convention on Biological Diversity, ensures that researchers can readily exchange and access seeds from almost any collection on the world. You don’t have to be a researcher at an academic institution to access these seeds either, anyone can make a request, including farmers and community groups like Brockwell Bake. Andy used this right to access to bring an incredible diversity of wheats to South London allotments. He saw how they performed, made selections and mixtures, shared and exchanged with others, multiplied the results and used them to make bread.

That work lead to the creation of Miller’s Choice, a long straw (tall) wheat population that began as a narrow selection, 2 to 3 percent, from a genetically diverse winter wheat population developed by John Letts (another great grain visionary). The purpose of Andy’s selection was to reduce the proportion of Squarehead type high yield low milling quality wheats that dominated British Isles wheat cultivation between the beginning of the 19th century till the early 20th century in favour of the preceding good milling landrace ‘Lammas’ wheats relied on for British wheat bread baking up until the mid-19th century.

Having multiplied the selection from John Letts winter wheat population Andy added a 20% of Spanish long straw wheats to provide additional drought tolerance, something that recent dry April’s suggest may well become increasingly important. Subsequently the seed stock was run through a colour sorter (amazing machines) to emphasise red as opposed to white wheats in the population to further selecting for flavour, functionality and disease resistance.

Twelve years on from Andy’s first allotment selections and Miller's Choice red population is now in full scale cultivation and professional bakery use, it performs well in the field and compares very favourably with similar older wheats both for flavour and functionality.

Our Miller’s Choice was grown organically by John and Alice Pawsey at Shimpling Park Farm in Suffolk.

 

Miller's Choice, right, being grown alongside a modern wheat at Green Acres Farm in Shropshire. Photo: Mark Lea



Josiah Meldrum
Josiah Meldrum

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