Ark of Taste
Turkey Hard Red Winter Wheat
As the name suggests, Turkey’ Hard Red Winter Wheat is a tall, winter hardy cultivar, grown in the Great Plains. This wheat variety has a unique, rich, and complex flavor and excellent baking qualities. Production methods used are nearly identical to those used for other hard winter wheat, with the exception of accommodating the significantly taller growth habit and later date of harvest.
This particular variety can be traced to Crimea between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov in the early 19th century and earlier to Turkey to the south of the Black Sea. Mennonite immigrants brought it to the United States in the early 1870s, introducing it to the areas surrounding Marian, Reno and Harvey Counties in Kansas. It became the dominant hard red winter wheat in Kansas and much of the Great Plains bread basket and was the major hard winter variety in the 1920s. Significant acreage was planted in Kansas until the mid-1940s when it was replaced with modern higher-yielding cultivars.
Currently, Turkey’ wheat is grown in a few small plots by hobby growers but the variety has virtually disappeared from the agricultural and gastronomical landscape. Today, few people under thirty have heard the story of Mennonite families fleeing Tsarist persecution and coming to Kansas with trunks of hand-selected Turkey’ wheat seed. Bryce Stephens of Jennings, Kansas has planted 100 acres, which is likely the largest planting of Turkey’ wheat in many decades and this planting was harvested during the summer of 2009. With the hope of making more wheat available, increased planting acreage is planned for the coming years. Increased planting and active usage of this variety will help maintain its genetic diversity and viability.
A small group of farmers in Kansas have started a wheat revival project to bring back this delicious wheat to the marketplace. They plan to develop and enforce an “identify preserved” program and a seed program modeled after existing state certified seed protocol. Foundation stock will be available to all growers wishing to increase the seedstock of Turkey’ hard red winter wheat. Not only does this variety have a great root structure and is great for the soil, in a recent drought it outperformed other modern varieties.
The wheat has excellent flavor, good protein quantity and quality, and has proven longevity and resilience. The wheat, once harvested, is available year-round. Currently, flour (roller milled, stoneground whole wheat and stoneground bolted) and wheat berries are available to home bakers, bakeries and restaurants.
First photo courtesy of Jeffrey Hamelman
Second and third photos courtesy of Thom Leonard