"Would you like a piece of bread?"
I had just stepped inside the door at Great Harvest Bread Co., 305 E. Magnolia St. Outside it was wet, windy and freezing cold, but inside was warm and the yeasty smell of fresh baked bread was glorious.
The offer of a piece of warm bread was not to be refused. I was guided to the end of the counter, where half a dozen types of bread and rolls were sitting with a knife and a big bowl of butter nearby.
A free slice of bread is a standard offering to customers at Great Harvest. The friendly clerk described the various kinds of bread available that day. I selected a slice of Ancient Multigrain, made with no wheat but with a blend of nine organic grains: Kamut, quinoa, barley, corn, oats, rye, rice, spelt and millet.
As it turned out, the corn is milled by Fairhaven Organic Flour Mills, in Burlington, and the rest of the grains are milled right in the shop at Great Harvest. Despite being a whole grain bread, the texture was soft and the flavor was heavenly.
Great Harvest sources their grains from as close to home as they can find. They work with local farms when possible, such as Nooksack 9. Grains not available in Whatcom County might come from Skagit County or Eastern Washington, with a few, such as rye and Kamut, coming from Oregon or Montana.
For sweetener, Great Harvest buys honey from Guilmette's Busy Bees. Specifically, they get honey made by bees placed in the Sumas Mountain area, because those bees are least likely to encounter nectar from GMO (genetically modified) crops.
There are only two ingredients they use that might include GMOs - soy lecithin and caramel, which contains corn syrup. Soy and corn in the U.S. are almost ubiquitously grown from GMO seeds, making it difficult to obtain those ingredients GMO-free.
Great Harvest owner Hans Wendt took a break to talk with me after removing some loaves from the ovens. The baking area is open and you can watch the process from the counter. He guided me back on a winding path through the tightly packed storage area to see the stone mill where they grind wheat daily.
"The millstones look like two Fred Flintstone car wheels," he said with a laugh.
Large bins of many kinds of flour and other ingredients surrounded us from floor to ceiling.
Hans and his family have been operating Great Harvest for 16 years, although the business has existed for almost 30 years. He clearly loves his work and enthusiastically described how they use whole grain flour in much of their baking.
Mass-production flour mills routinely separate different parts of the grain as it is ground by steel rollers. White flour, for example, is made by removing the wheat bran and germ and then bleaching what's left. Those elements might be recombined later in various proportions to make other types of flour, such as "whole grain."
That method has several detrimental impacts on the nutritional value of flour. For example, the "germ," or seed embryo, has a fat content of about 10 percent. Because the fat can go rancid and shorten the shelf life of the flour, it is commonly removed.
However the germ also contains important B vitamins and trace minerals. The nutritional deficit is so important that the FDA requires all white flour to be "enriched" by adding back certain nutrients usually lost in flour processing.
Great Harvest doesn't recombine their whole grain flours. Their stone mill produces flour with all of its parts combined in their natural proportions. That method protects the germ from spoilage in several ways. First, stone grinding is slower and cooler than mass-production methods. Heat can cause the germ fats to oxidize (go rancid) and will destroy some vitamins. Stone grinding avoids heat problems.
Also, because stone-ground flour is usually a little coarser, there is less surface area exposed to oxygen, which also reduces rancidity. Scientific studies have confirmed that stone-ground flour is more nutritious than roller-milled flour, with a big difference in thiamine content, for instance.
Finally, because Great Harvest grinds flour fresh each day, the time between grinding and baking is minimized, again enhancing the nutritional quality of their products.
Great Harvest's white flour is not bleached, which also preserves nutrition. They add malted barley flour to help it "rise" well, and it is "enriched" only because it is required by law.
Besides their strong emphasis on using local ingredients and producing breads with high nutritional value, Great Harvest is also well known for their generosity supporting the community. They often provide free bread for local charities.
Check their website at bellinghambread.com for more information about the company and their bread varieties.
The ingredients list of the multi-grain bread was corrected Feb. 7, 2013.
WARM BRUSSELS SPROUTS SALAD
1 tablespoon hazelnut oil (Holmquist Hazelnut Orchards, Lynden)
1/4 cup red onion, chopped (home garden, Lummi Island)
1 cup Brussels sprouts, cleaned and cut in half (home garden, Lummi Island)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon smoked cayenne pepper, minced (Rabbit Fields Farm, Everson)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (BelleWood Acres, Lynden)
1 hardboiled egg, coarsely chopped (Red Barn Lavender, Ferndale)
Optional: 1 tablespoon hazelnuts, chopped (Holmquist Hazelnut Orchards, Lynden)
Put hazelnut oil in wok or skillet over medium-high heat. Oil is ready when a small piece of onion added to the pan sizzles immediately.
Add chopped red onion to oil and sauté for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until onions are just starting to brown.
Add Brussels sprouts and salt, and sauté for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently until edges are slightly brown. Add 2 tablespoons of water and cover quickly. Steam for another couple of minutes, until Brussels sprouts are easily pierced with a fork.
Remove from pan into a small bowl. Stir in smoked cayenne pepper and vinegar. Add chopped hardboiled egg and stir again gently. Garnish with chopped hazelnuts, if desired.
Serves 2 as a side dish.
You'll find Whatcom County foods at these stores and farms. Many outlets have seasonal hours. We recommend you call or check websites for current hours.
Acme Farms + Kitchen
Appel Farms Cheese Shoppe, 6605 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4996; appel-farms.com
Artisan Wine Gallery, 2072 Granger Way, Lummi Island; 360-758-2959; artisanwineclub.com
Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad at Chestnut; 360-647-2060; bellinghamfarmers.org
Boxx Berry Farm Store and u-pick, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-380-2699; boxxberryfarm.com
Cloud Mountain Farm Nursery, 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson; 360-966-5859; cloudmountainfarm.com
Community Food Cooperative, 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham; 360-734-8158; communityfood.coop
Everybody's Store, 5465 Potter Road, Deming; 360-592-2297; everybodys.com
Ferndale Public Market, Centennial Riverwalk, Ferndale; 360-410-7747; ferndalepublicmarket.org
Grace Harbor Farms, 2347 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer; 360-366-4151; graceharborfarms.com
Green Barn, 8858 Guide Meridian, Lynden; 360-354-1008
Hopewell Farm, 3072 Massey Road, Everson; 360-927-8433
Lynden Farmers Market, 514 Liberty St., Lynden, fiveloavesfarm.blogspot.com
Pleasant Valley Dairy, 6804 Kickerville Road, Ferndale; 360-366-5398; facebook.com/pages/Pleasant-Valley-Dairy/161872142667
Red Barn Lavender Farm (egg CSA), 3106 Thornton Road, Ferndale; 360-393-7057
Small's Gardens, 6451 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4637
The Islander, 2106 S. Nugent Road, Lummi Island; 360-758-2190; islandergrocery.com
The Markets LLC, 3125 Old Fairhaven Parkway and 1030 Lakeway, Bellingham; 8135 Birch Bay Square St., Blaine; 360-714-9797; themarketsllc.com
Terra Organica, 1530 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham; 360-715-8020; terra-organica.com
Bellingham Country Gardens (u-pick vegetables), 2838 East Kelly Road, Bellingham; bellinghamcountrygardens.com
Reach Whatcom Locavore columnist Nancy Ging at 360-758-2529 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To follow her day- to-day locavore activities, go to Whatcom Locavore on Facebook or @whatcomlocavore on Twitter. For locavore menus, recipes and more resources, go to whatcomlocavore.com.