Red Hen’s All-Vermont “Cyrus Pringle”
Loaf Thrills Localvores
Written onMarch 01 , 2010
Those who have been following the various “Localvore Challenges” happening around the state will know that bread made from local flour has always been one of the biggest “challenges” for localvores. In 2006 and 2007, Randy George, owner of Red Hen Baking Company in Middlesex, produced special “Localvore Loaves” using whole wheat from Vermont, but each loaf came with a full-page disclaimer about why the bread didn’t meet normal Red Hen standards. In the disclaimer, Randy explained that he hoped someday he would be able to make an all-local wheat flour bread that he would be proud to sell alongside his other loaves. Most localvores thought the bread was pretty good, but Randy didn’t feel right putting the Red Hen name on it without his caution and explanation.
Then in 2008, the Mad River Valley Localvores were thrilled to learn that Red Hen had started sourcing some of its flour from a mill in southern Quebec (within the self-imposed 100-mile radius of the Mad River Valley that is considered “local” during our Localvore Challenge). While the Localvore Loaves that year were not totally local, they were getting closer to the all-local bread that Randy dreamed of baking some day.
Spurred on by localvores’ enthusiasm for an all-Vermont bread, in 2007 Randy teamed up with Charlotte farmer Tom Kenyon of Aurora Farm to begin experimentation on growing wheat that would produce flour suitable for local bread baking. The first two years yielded disappointing results; the crops for those years were turned into cattle feed. But over the course of the past three years much has been learned about growing and harvesting wheat in our fickle climate, and a major change in harvesting was tried this year for the first time. While one thinks of “amber waves of grain” growing for miles and miles in the western prairies, it turns out that allowing the Vermont wheat to dry in the fields was creating sprout damage that was a major contributor to its undesirable qualities. Vermont farmers learned from their colleagues just over the border in Quebec that the wheat should be harvested in early July, when it is still a little green, and before the wheat has had a chance to sprout in the fields.
Aurora Farm hard red winter wheat planted in the fall of 2008 was harvested in early July 2009. However, it needed to dry for about a month before it could be tested to determine if it was worth trying to mill. The initial tests in August were promising, and on September 1, 2009, 10 years to the day that Red Hen Baking Company sold their first loaf of bread, Champlain Valley Mills of Westport, NY, milled 3,000 pounds of flour from Aurora Farm for Red Hen. Randy was eager to try the new flour, hoping he might be able to use a percentage of it in some of his breads in the coming year. But the results of the newly milled flour surprised even Randy. “Imagine my surprise when I combined this flour with water, yeast, and salt in the mixing bowl and found that it made a familiar-feeling dough! The resulting bread, although not perfect, was surprisingly good. A week later we are making bread that is beyond my wildest dreams of what we could do with an indigenous Vermont [flour].”
The amount of flour Aurora Farm produced in 2009 was enough to produce a totally localvore loaf year-round. Red Hen calls it the “Cyrus Pringle,” in honor of the wheat-breeding work Dr. Cyrus Pringle did in Vermont over 100 years ago. (The loaf, however, does not contain any wheat descended from Pringle’s seeds.) To make the Pringle loaf, the Red Hen bakers combine the Aurora Farm flour with a small amount of whole wheat from another “rock star” Vermont grain farmer, Ben Gleason. According to Randy, “The addition of some whole wheat from our longtime supplier and friend Ben Gleason of Bridport adds to the Vermont pedigree and gives this bread a depth of flavor.” This past fall, Kenyon of Aurora Farm planted about 90 acres of the successful wheat and has more land available for future expansion.
The new loaf is now baked seven days a week, year-round, by Red Hen and is available wherever their bread is sold. Just look for the picture of Cyrus Pringle on the bag.
An earlier version of this article was published in the Valley Reporter on September 17, 2009.
Photo of Red Hen’s “Cyrus Pringle” loaf by Meg Lucas