Introducing crops that benefit the land in the Upper Midwest

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Cookies made with kernza flour, a grain that is new to market and was in development for 40 years. Photo by Mette Wilson.

“To me, sustainability suggests that things stay the same, but these foods help us regain our land,” says cookbook author Beth Dooley. In explaining regenerative agriculture, she describes perennial crops that come back every year without having to be replanted. Familiar perennials include asparagus, orchard fruits, berries, rhubarb, and hazelnuts. Larger grains have the potential to replace monocrops. 

Based in Minnesota, Dooley explains that local farmers have introduced a perennial grain known as kernza, which performs like grass, benefitting the landscape by trapping water, retaining carbon, and harboring wildlife. In development for 40 years, kernza has the potential to root 20 feet down into the soil and is being planted around wellheads to prevent chemical runoff. The flour has a graham flavor and performs like a dryer wholewheat flour. Dooley’s new book is “The Perennial Kitchen.

European Currant Cookies
Makes about 2  dozen sandwich cookies

These pretty, delicate glazed cookies, sparked with anise and tart currants, were created by Katherine Freund, an agronomy researcher.

Ingredients 

  • 2 cups sifted Kernza flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ teaspoon anise extract, optional
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus a little more for rolling out the dough
  • ¾ cup ground almonds
  • All-purpose flour for rolling out the dough
  • 8 ounces currant jelly
  • 1 cup sifted powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons hot milk
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice

Instructions

-Sift together the Kernza flour and baking powder in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle; add the sugar, vanilla, and anise, if using. Add the butter and the ground almonds. Using your fingers, work the butter and almonds into the ingredients. Then, using your hands (you may need to butter them), knead the dough until it’s very smooth. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

-Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or lightly grease. Bring the dough to room temperature. Knead a little more softened butter into the dough to make it very smooth and pliable. Dust a work surface with all-purpose flour and with a flour-dusted rolling pin, roll out the dough until it is about ¼ inch thick.

-Using a glass or cookie cutter that is 13/4 to 2 inches in diameter, cut the dough into circles. On half of the circles, cut another circle from the middle that is about ¼ to ½ inch in diameter. Place the dough circles on the baking sheet and bake until firm, about 10 minutes. Remove and cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes; then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

-Spread a thin layer of jelly on the solid cookie and then place the cookie with a hole in the center on top of the jelly, so that the jelly peeks through.

-To make the optional glaze: sift the powdered sugar into a small bowl and stir in the milk and lemon juice. Drizzle  over the top of the cookies and allow to firm up before serving.

In her latest book “The Perennial Kitchen,” Beth Dooley advocates for crops that are nutritious and can regenerate the landscape. Photo courtesy of University of Minnesota Press.

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Evan Kleiman