Working on Your Glutes with Flour Power
Rose hip pulp and seed bread
Sweet Chestnut bread
Bushcraft and Survival Skills Magazine
(Currently unavailable as pdf – text only)
Working on Your Glutes With Flour Power
Ten years ago I stayed in a Chan Buddhist temple in China for four months. Frequently we’d eat miàn lún and yóu miàn jīn, two very similar but differently cooked vegetarian meat substitutes. I found it curious that those on a vegetarian diet would even want to mimic the taste and flavour of meat. As it turned out, those foods were donated to the temple and, in any case, they were very high in protein so made a valuable contribution to the diet. Subsequently these foods slipped my mind for 8 years until 2 Septembers ago.
At that time whilst attempting to live entirely on wild foods for a prolonged period, I wondered how to make noodles and bread from foraged ingredients that I had processed into flour: reedmace rhizomes, arum tubers, acorns, alexanders root, sweet chestnuts, conkers, rosehip seeds, and various other roots and seeds; crumbly biscuits and pastry where relatively easy, but to increase the interest of and, hence, range of cooked foods that I could eat, a more stretchy and elastic dough was required. All genuinely wild roots, nuts and grains found growing in the UK lack gluten, the sticky and stretchy glue- like (hence the name) protein of wheat grain that makes the production of so many noodle and bread varieties possible. At first I used concentrated wild harvested Chondrus crispus seaweed extract (carrageenan). Acorn flour or cooked and mashed acorns (after tannin extraction), mixed with this to form a wet dough (then gently cooked in a pan if using raw acorn flour) and rolled out flat between 2 pieces of cling film can then, after a little drying and chilling, be cut into noodles. They also retain their structure and texture on reheating. However, this was labour intensive and carrageenan didn’t work well in leavened (raised) bread. To that end I foraged plenty of feral or, at least, escapee wheat grain, ground it up and rinsed out the starch to leave the chewing gum- like gluten extract: bread making results improved but the whole process was labour intensive and wasteful. Then I recalled my temple experience.
I researched miàn lún. It’s cooked gluten, also more commonly known in the West as seitan or wheat meat. You can buy it pre-prepared, often canned, as mock duck or pork. More to the point, the pure dried powder can be purchased relatively cheaply: approx £18 for 5kg; not bad for an 80% protein food of amazing versatility. Its value for camping or trekking can’t be over stated. When combined with wild foods endless magical possibilities lie in store for those willing to experiment and get creative. Here I just want to introduce you to a couple of breads and some seitan dishes.
Top tip before you proceed: Some of the foraged ingredients worked with below involve considerable time and effort to collect and process. If new to working with unusual bread ingredients and gluten flour it’s best to hone your skills on easier to come by ingredients first. Last autumn, when I discovered gluten flour, I spent a whole week using it in the experimental production of loaves using rice, oat, and potato flour – usually delicious in themselves. Initially, though, some loaves where too dry (I made a feature of that dryness by slicing them thinly and drying further to make crisp breads). Water content then is critical to produce a good moist loaf. After kneading well for a few minutes, it’s often worthwhile flattening out the dough, making lots of indents with your fingers, pouring over ¼ cup or so of warm water and working it in.
Sweet Chestnut Bread
400-425g chestnut flour – briefly warmed in a low oven
75-100g gluten flour
1 tspn sprinkle-in dried yeast
water – warm
Chestnuts collected in autumn can be air dried on a sheet for 2 weeks before drying solid in a low oven or over a radiator for longer storage. Shell and grind when flour is required.
In a bowl thoroughly mix together all dry ingredients, add sufficient water to form a firm dough. Better that it’s sticky rather than too dry. Knead well on a flat surface for 10 minutes. Place in a deep bowl, cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place (to prove) until increased in volume by at least half. Knead again for 5 minutes. Shape and place in baking tin covered with a damp cloth until doubled in sized if possible – usually it doesn’t rise that much. You can cover it with a lightly oiled piece of cling film whilst proving instead of a damp cloth. Bake at 200°C for 25-30 mins (fan oven). Cool on a wire rack. 100g gluten will produce a lighter loaf.
Reed mace bread, conker bread, and Lords and Ladies bread
The flour you get from these sources is mostly starch. There are several different possible methods of processing. For reedmace, wash rhizome, use fingers to remove outer spongy casing, and pound the stringy core in a bowl with water or chop finely and blitz in a food processor. Strain out fibres. Allow starch to settle in water. Strain off water and dry starch at low heat. Grind to fine powder before use. Conkers or Horse Chestnuts (Aesculus hippocastanum) are bloody hard to shell fresh or dried. I prefer to stamp on fresh ones, remove as much shell as possible, then dry and grind the rest before sieving out remaining shell and moving on to the next crucial stage. Lords and Ladies tubers (Arum maculatum) dug in February or (better) June/July (when the plant’s berries are red and fully ripe) just need to be scrubbed clean. The next stage is identical for Arum and Aesculus; for the former it’s required to remove the raphids or microscopic oxalate crystals, for the later to remove the saponin complex. Blend no more than 2 kg at a time of plant material with water in a liquidizer to form a watery milk-like liquid. Pour into a large 20 litre capacity plastic container. Top up with cold water, stir up contents and leave for a few hours for the starch to settle. Siphon off the water and mix in fresh water. Siphon and repeat process 10 times in total. Finally, use a silk cloth to squeeze out remaining water and dry on low heat before grinding to fine powder.
400-425g wild flour (one of above or a mixture)– briefly warmed in a low oven
75-100g gluten flour
4 dessert spns olive oil
1 tspn sprinkle-in dried yeast
water – warm
The method is the same as for the sweet chestnut bread above although the dough needs to be a little wetter or the finished loaf will be very dry, also the addition of oil prevents a dry finish and gives a lovely crumpet flavour. Because it’s mainly starch being used here there’s a bit of non-Newtonian fluid weirdness going on (think mixing custard powder) but don’t worry. The dough will feel wet even when firm and move about like it’s alive but the 200°C oven soon puts an end to that.
All the flours mentioned above mixed with 10-20% gluten are also excellent for making bannock breads – savoury or sweet, with milk powder, sugar, honey or dried fruits in the latter, and flat breads as well: phulkas (small and thin) and chapattis (larger and thicker). For these just add a little salt and water. Knead for 10 mins, cover with damp cloth and rest for 30 mins before kneading for another 5 mins. Divide dough into balls, roll out into thin circles and cook on both sides for a few minutes on a lightly oiled hot griddle or frying pan. Less gluten and more water can give fairly decent pancakes without needing egg. I tried that with acorn flour. Of course, too, whether making raised or flat breads you can use – in whole or in part- nut flour or more conventional flours such as rice, rye, gram, and potato flour. Don’t think though that you can mix gluten with cold mashed potato or baked reedmace rhizomes to make a loaf. Great if you could, but it doesn’t work, I know from bitter experience. Initially they rise very well but then collapse in a saggy and soggy heap!
One or two important words of caution to you: I don’t know anybody other than myself who has eaten substantial amounts of Conker or Arum extract as described here. Go easy at first to check for personal sensitivity. Indeed, it should go without saying that those with a known gluten intolerance should avoid all the recipes mentioned here.
Rosehip and Rice bread
250g rice flour
150g rosehip pulp powder
100g gluten flower
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tspn sprinkle in baking yeast
Water – sufficient to make a good elastic dough
Prepare the rosehip powder. I think too much rosehip flavour may make this bread too odd. The powder used here is fairly mellow in flavour as it’s produced from what would normally be a waste product in the production of rosehip syrup. So after making syrup, take the damp pulp and seeds from which you’ve extracted as much liquid as possible. Vigorously force as much of this pulp through a sieve leaving behind all the seeds. Spread out seedless pulp thinly on trays for drying and dry over a radiator, in a low oven or food dehydrator. Once dried break into small pieces and grind to a fine powder in a food mixer. Next combine all ingredients in a bowl and knead vigorously on a hard surface for 10 minutes. Cover with lightly oiled cling film and leave in a warm place to double in size. Knock back by kneading again for another 10 minutes. Place on a baking tray or, if prefered in a loaf tin, leave again covered in greased cling film to double in size. Cook at 200 ºC for 30 minutes (fan oven) before cooling on a rack.
Basic Seitan or Wheat Meat
If new to the wonders of seitan try this or a similar basic recipe first to get a feel for it. There are many variables affecting the final product, in particular, the quantity and quality of dry ingredients (powdered seaweeds, lentils, onion, nuts etc) that are initially combined with the gluten powder, as well as method of cooking: shallow or deep frying, boiling, steaming, braising, stewing, roasting, barbequing, and even microwaving.
In the following recipe I use a number of wild ingredients that I had to hand at the time of writing all of which could easily be substituted for more readily available bought ingredients if you don’t have them (some alternatives given in brackets).
2 cups gluten flour
2 tspn wild garlic root powder (garlic powder)
1 tspn ground ginger
1-1/4 cups concentrated wild mushroom* and seaweed stock – to include Laminaria spp (a sachet of miso soup)
3 tbps liquid aminos or light soy sauce
Because I dig (in every sense) a lot of wild garlic between August and January, I’ve found the dried roots are a superb ingredient, making use of a plant part that others often discard. In a bowl mix this together with the ginger and gluten. When thoroughly mixed in vigorously blend in the liquid with a spoon or fork to form a stiff dough. Knead for 5 mins, rest for five mins then knead again as before. Set aside for 15 mins then cut gluten into 6 to 8 pieces and stretch into thin cutlets. Simmer in flavoured broth for 45 minutes.
*Last year I made the most delicious mushroom essence I’ve ever made by concentrating the liquid after boiling up 1lb parasol mushrooms, 1lb of blushing wood mushrooms, a large Boletus edulis and a handful of horn of plenty.
Broth (after cooking can be frozen for reuse later)
4 cups water
1/4 cup tamari or soy sauce
1 long kelp frond
3-4 slices ginger
Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring broth to a boil. Add cutlets one at a time. Reduce heat to barely simmer and cook covered for 45 mins. Cooked this way it can be served as meat or, as I prefer, chopped smaller and shallow fried before adding to a stir-fry.
When the seitan is mixed to form a dough, forming it into a sausage shape and wrapping it tightly in clingfilm before simmering or microwaving (with caution in the later case as even slight overcooking can dry it out leaving it too rubbery) will produce a very firm texture if that is required. Made without additional flavouring it can then be smoked or marinated to incorporate new flavours. I like to shape it this way when combining it with various powdered seaweeds. Once cooked, it looks a bit like blood pudding. I slice into discs, and then match stick-sized pieces that I add to seaweed consommé to up its nutritional profile.
Speaking of blood pudding, which is perhaps the epitome of a non-vegy food, for meat eaters, wheat meat has the distinct advantage of making meat dishes go further. For instance, this month I poached (cooked not stolen!) a whole large pike, and also pot roasted a couple of venison joints. I found that if the juices left over from cooking these things was reduced down to double concentrate it, and used as the liquid content when making up the wheat meat, then I could enjoy the pike and venison for a second time in a high protein form without them actually being there!
If this article interests you, and you do decide to get creative, I’d be delighted if you’d get in touch to share recipes. Covered here are the very basics. I’ve also made some great cakes and other sweet pastry items. Cooking with wild foods and unusual items like gluten is great fun. Enjoy the adventure.