I grew up on spelt bread. In Germany spelt is called Dinkel and the beautiful nutty flavor of freshly milled spelt flour still brings memories of childhood when I use it in my homestead kitchen. A slice of freshly baked sourdough spelt bread with some wonderfully rich cultured butter makes my heart dance in deep delight.
Spelt (Triticum spelta) is approximately 9000 years old and is one of the earliest domesticated grains. Spelt has been untouched by “cross-breeding,” “hybridization” and “genetic modification” and has earned its name as a truly ancient grain. Spelt has not changed since its mentioning in the Old Testament. The “fast and more” of modern farming has not agreed with this truly unique grain and by the 1970’s there was virtually no spelt growing in North America. Spelt is slowly experiencing a resurgence and more and more people value the health benefits of this truly beautiful ancient grain.
The grain berry of spelt, unlike common wheat, grows an exceptionally tough outer husk which requires removal in an additional process before the grain can be milled into flour. This additional step has made spelt the ugly step sister of common wheat which can be harvested and processed much cheaper and faster. The benefit of the outer husk is that spelt when being stored remains fresher over a much longer period of time than other grains. I store all of my grains as whole grain berries and have not had any problems with bugs or mold over the years (I will talk about how I store my grains, rice, and beans in a later post).
Why is spelt a healthier choice than common wheat?
Spelt is a wonderfully nutritious grain and has many health benefits for us humans and the environment. Spelt, being a low yielding crop that thrives even in relatively poor soil conditions, really is a great choice of crop when it comes to sustainability. Spelt is frost resistant and since spelt is not genetically modified it is unaffected by many of the pollutants and insects known to attack modern wheat.
Not only is spelt a great and sustainable choice to heal our planet, it also has numerous benefits for our bodies. Spelt is very gentle on the digestive tract (due to its high water solubility) and is higher in Vitamin B6, B1, B17, and Vitamin E than any hybridized wheat. In addition, spelt contains more protein, fats and fiber than the common wheat. Spelt also contains certain carbohydrates which play a decisive role in blood clotting and stimulate the body’s immune system so as to increase its resistance to infection.
In one of my favorite books “Healing with Whole Foods” Paul Pitchford writes about the healing properties of spelt: “Warming thermal nature; sweet flavor, strengthens the spleen-pancreas, moistens dryness. Nurtures the yin fluid and structural aspect of the body and benefits the frail and deficient person. It is often used for treating diarrhea, constipation (use whole berry), poor digestion, colitis, and various other intestinal disorders … At the Hildegard Practice in Konstanz, Germany, spelt has been used as an adjunct in the treatment of many disorders, especially chronic digestive problems of all kinds, chronic infections (herpes, AIDS), nerve and bone disorders (Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis), cancer, ad antibiotic side effects.”
Spelt truly is an amazing grain; an ancient grain, a “slow” grain very much needed during these modern “noisy and fast” times.
Does Spelt Contain Gluten?
This is an important question for many people with gluten sensitivity. Spelt does contain gluten, though much less than hybridized wheat. An important difference is that the gluten in spelt has a different molecular make-up than the gluten in modern wheat. The higher fiber content in spelt helps with the digestion of the gluten. Modern wheat has been bred to contain a (much too) high gluten content for the production of high-volume commercial baked goods. In contrary, the structure of the gluten in spelt has remained the same since ancient times. That said, myself and others with gluten and/or wheat sensitivities have been able tolerate the gluten contained in spelt.
Saint Hildegard von Bingen and Spelt
Growing up in Germany I listened to many stories about this outspoken visionary and mystic who devoted her life to holistic healing, music, and poetry. Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) wrote extensively about the health benefits of spelt and promoted using spelt in everybody’s daily diet. This inspirational woman, nun, poet, composer, and amazing healer of the Middle Ages who wrote volumes on science, medicine and theology still has a very strong influence on holistic medicine in Germany.
Hildegard was born near Mainz, the tenth child of a noble family. Promised to the church by her parents, she began instruction at age eight with Jutta of Spanheim, who later became abbess of the Benedictine convent at Disibodenberg. The Benedictines taught elementary reading and singing in Latin. At age eleven Hildegard took her vows and only five years later did she began publicizing her visions that she had experienced since childhood.
Hildegard never formally practiced medicine, but she is credited with writing about nearly 2000 remedies and possessing a deep understanding of holistic healing. Hildegard wrote many books, two of which are treatises on medicine and natural history, known in English as Book of Simple Medicine (Physica) and Book of Composed Medicine (Causae et Curae). These two books hold a wealth of information and I have not yet been able to complete my reading. The longest and most comprehensive section of Physica contains information concerning the medicinal uses and harvesting of more than 200 herbs and other plants. Causae et Curae catalogs forty-seven diseases according to causes, symptoms, and treatments. Hildegard lists more than 300 plants here, emphasizing medical and physiological theory as well as herbal treatments.
Hildegard spoke highly of spelt: “When someone is so weakened by illness that he cannot eat, then simply take whole spelt kernels and boil them vigorously in water, add butter and egg (and a pinch of salt). This will make the food tastier and the patient will want to eat it. Give this to the patient and it will heal him from within like a good healing salve… Spelt is the best of grains. It is rich and nourishing and milder than other grain. It produces a strong body and healthy blood to those who eat it and it makes the spirit of man light and cheerful.”
Hildegard, a woman ahead of her time, often argued with secular and clerical leaders alike. She defied many of her superiors with her actions, and stood up for her beliefs in a way mostly unheard of during the dark times of the Middle Ages. If you feel inclined to read more about her, I can only encourage you.
Using Spelt in Baking and Cooking
I substitute spelt flour for wheat flour to make everything from breads, to cookies and crackers, to spelt pancakes and pies. The difference in water solubility changes the amount of liquid required for spelt baked goods, depending on the altitude you live at, you might want to experiment. I usually use less water than the recipe calls for. Here is my latest exploration using spelt flour as a substitute in a Blueberry and lime sour cream pie. There are two steps to this recipe: the pie crust and the filling… have fun.
Pâte Brisée is what the French call this version of an unsweetened shortcrust (modified recipe from Maxine Clark’s book “Tarts, sweet and savory”)
1 ½ cups of freshly milled organic spelt flour
One large pinch of salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, diced, at room temperature
1 large farm fresh egg
2 ½ to 3 tablespoons of ice water
If the dough is crumbling I add a little sunflower oil.
Mill the grain just before you want to bake the short crust.
- Sift the flour and salt into a mound on a clean work surface
- Make a well in the middle with your fist
- Put the butter and egg yolk into the well and, using the fingers of one hand, “peck” the eggs and butter together until they look like scrambled eggs
- Using a spatula or pastry scraper, flick the flour over the egg mixture and chop through until almost incorporated
- Sprinkle with the water, and chop again
- Bring together quickly with your hands. Knead lightly into a ball, then flatten slightly
- Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes. Let it return to room temperature before rolling out (I have been using a glass rolling out the dough in the tart pan, makes it a lot easier)
- Prick the base, chill for 15 minutes and bake blind for about 15 minutes at 400°F.
This is her recipe (slightly changed by me):
1 ¼ cups organic sour cream
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed organic lime juice
2 table spoons Drambuie
½ cup of coconut sugar
¼ teaspoon organic ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon organic ground all spice
A pinch of salt
2 extra-large organic farm fresh eggs
1 lb. fresh organic blueberries
½ cup lime marmalade
After taking out the dough, turn the oven down to 350°F. Put the sour cream, lime juice, Drambuie, sugar, spices, salt, and eggs into a bowl and mix well.
- Arrange a single layer of blueberries in the pie crust and pour in the sour cream mixture
- Put the baking sheet into the oven to heat. Bake the tart on the pre-heated sheet for 45 minutes until the filling is set and the crust is cooked. Remove from the oven and let cool
- Melt the marmalade and, when runny, mix in the rest of the blueberries. Chill for at least one hour before serving.
This was my second attempt to bake this pie by Maxine Clark at high altitude and even though the crust tasted better, there is room for improvement. Enjoy your exploration and if you have a favorite spelt recipe you would like to share, please post it below in the comment box. I am looking forward to hearing from you.
You can find this and many other helpful posts at the Homestead Barn Hop at “The Prairi Homestead”
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