Friday, July 22, 2011

Some uses for buckwheat.

Yesterday we looked briefly at millet; today, the ‘other’ grain I want to talk about is buckwheat. I can offer no better start to my little discussion than to give you the definition of buckwheat from the Oxford English Dictionary: it is botanical description, micro-history, and culinary comment in two short paragraphs:

Etymology:  perhaps immediately [from] Dutch boekweit (bockweydt in Lyte) or German buchweize ‘beech-wheat’ from the shape of the triquetrous seeds, whence also the botanical name Fagopyrum; but it was referred to as a familiar name by Turner, [1548] 30 years before Lyte professed to take it from Dutch, so that the name may have been of English origin, after buck-mast n. or buck n.2 Barnaby Googe [1577] apparently independently called it beech-wheat.

Definition: A species of Polygonum ( P. Fagopyrum), a native of central Asia, whence it was introduced into Europe by the Turks about the 13th c. The seed is in Europe used as food for horses, cattle, and poultry; in N. America its meal is made into ‘buckwheat cakes’, regarded as a dainty for the breakfast-table. Formerly also called brank.

There were a number of enlightening sight-bites for me in the OED information. The first surprise was just how long buckwheat has been known in Britain. The second was the alternative name of ‘brank’. The dictionary refers to Googe’s Foure Books of Husbandry [1577] as its source for this word, but interestingly also mentions in its definition its old name of frumentum Turcicum – which presumably indicates the fact or belief that it was used by ‘the Turks’ (which meant any ‘Asian’) in the same way that other grains were used in Britain to make frumenty in medieval times. 

Buckwheat is lacking in gluten, so bread made from it does not have the texture of that made from wheat. The Journal of Health (Philadelphia, 1832) has this to say on buckwheat bread:

Buckwheat Bread:- The farina of this grain requires as much labour to be converted into bread as that of barley. The leaven employed must be fresh, and in considerable quantity, and the paste very thoroughly kneaded. The baking must also be continued for a longer time than in barley bread; the paste is more clammy, and acquires with more difficulty a proper consistence. After all precautions are taken, however, this kind of bread is of bad quality; the day after baking, it dries and crumbles so as to be unfit for use. It affords comparatively speaking, but little nourishment.

Most recipes for ‘Buckwheat Bread’ contain a significant proportion of wheat flour. I give you a recipe for bread made exclusively from buckwheat, and baked in an iron pot over the fire:

To Make Buckwheat Bread.
From the Reports of the Board of Agriculture.
Take a gallon of water, set it over the fire, and when it boils, let a peck of the flour of buckwheat be mixed with it little by little, and constantly stirred, so as to prevent any lumps from being formed till a thick batter is made like that of Scotch or Yorkshire pottage. Some salt is now to be added, then set it over the fire, and allow it to boil an hour and a half. The proper proportion for a cake is then to be poured into an iron kettle that hangs .over the fire, and baked, taking care to turn it frequently, lest it should burn.
A treatise on the art of bread-making; Abraham Edlin, 1805.

The most-widely known use of buckwheat is probably in the breakfast ‘cakes’ (pancakes, fritters, Johnny-cakes) mentioned in the OED definition. I give you a recipe for a yeast-raised version, from the prolific Mrs Rundell.

Buckwheat Fritters, called Bockings.—Mix three ounces of buckwheat flour with a teacupful of warm milk, and a spoonful of yeast; let it rise before the fire about an hour; then mix four eggs, well beaten, and as much milk as will make the batter the usual thickness for pancakes, and fry them the same.
A new system of domestic cookery: formed upon principles of economy; Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell, 1808

Quotation for the Day.
Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, an dinner like a pauper.
Adele Davis.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The worlds largest Buckwheat mill is in Cohocton, about 18 miles from here. (upstate NY) Buckwheat pancakes are very popular in this area and, at the local Amish produce market, they sell Buckwheat ice cream which is not half bad.
Linda Ferros