This, as the title alludes to, is the third part of the bread making story I am on – any advice on structure, content or narrative are more than welcome.

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The history of wheat

 

Worldwide, wheat is one of the most important food crops to mankind and is now grown on more land than any other cereal crop. Wheat is a product of a complicated history whose origins can be traced back to pre-history. There is clear sequence of hybridization events between different wild grasses these events occurred naturally and led to the combining of the AA, BB and DD genomes, culminated in the 42 chromosomes present in hexaploid bread wheat Shewry, P, (2014) Letts, J (2014). There is a range of distinct cultivated forms of wheat that have been developed through selection, from the start of agrarian farming to the examples of heritage wheats grown in the UK from the mid 1800s and the earliest introduction of the semi-dwarf habit into a UK bread wheat.

 

Wheat is counted among the ‘big three’ cereal crops, with over 600 million tonnes being harvested annually. For example, in 2007, the total world harvest was about 607 m tonnes compared with 652 m tonnes of rice and 785 m tonnes of maize (http://faostat.fao.org/). However, wheat is unrivalled in its range of cultivation, from 67º N in Scandinavia and Russia to 45º S in Argentina, including elevated regions in the tropics and sub-tropics (Feldman, 1995referenced in Shewry, P). It is also unrivalled in its range of diversity and its world trade is greater than all other crops combined. It has also been used to control foreign policies (Borlaug, N, viewed April 26th 2014).

 

In all the stats I look at, Defra, the ONS or from the website the vision of Britain through the ages, showed that wheat has always been the 2nd biggest UK crop behind Barley, see figure 1. Regionally wheat has dominated in the east of England and in the last ten years the volume and areas of growing have changed very little – see figures 2 and 3 – I tried to get data of regional growing through the last 100 years, but couldn’t find any. Anecdotally I have been told many times that the wheat growing has predominated in the east, as it is drier. Devon, where the majority of this project is is certainly not dry. Despite the lack of online information on growing patterns of wheat in the Devon over the last 100 years I still had access to some. Holy from Transition Town Tones Totnes surveyed and interviewed local farmers and asked whether they had grown cereal or could remember cereal being grown at any point in their lifetime. The answer was a resounding No, unless it was grown for animal feed. This is still the case, there is not as single farmer growing cereal of any kind, for human consumption, in south Devon and this has been the case for 100 years or more. It is believed by most of farmers interviewed that wheat growing is unsuitable for Devon’s wet climate. So I am attempting something that hasn’t been done for at least 100 years. I wouldn’t be attempting to grow if it seamed impossible, but I know that historically there has been wheat grown in Devon, although I couldn’t find any maps to back this up. What is clear, from researching on devon.gov website and from observing the style of buildings in Devon, is that there is a very strong tradition of thatching in, it’s the county in England with the most thatched roves and accounts for 17% of the total thatched buildings in the UK, devon.gov.  Historically the ‘devon reed’ was local straw from local wheat and barley, but now days it is water reed from Turkey, Hungry, and China that provides the material to renew thatch, devon.gov. Checking the archives on the website Wheat pedigree gives further proof of wheat being an important crop in Devon. They highlight ten old Devon wheat’s, I suppose you could call them landraces. Further research shows Orange Devon blue rough chaff is considered iconic bread wheat by the John Innes center, accessed online 31/5/2014. All three points allude to Devon being a region where wheat, and good wheat at that, good for thatching and good for bread making, was grown. I cannot find any evidence of the scale or of any county comparisons, but it feels right to me, especially as Britain has been warming up over the last 100 years, that Devon will be able to grow wheat of yield and quality to make the experiment economical.