Aug. 21-23: Grain Gathering offers fresh flavors, ideas

By Cathy McKenzie, WSU Mount Vernon

grain-gathering-logoMOUNT VERNON, Wash. – Three top cookbook authors will participate in the Grain Gathering Aug. 21-23 at the Washington State University Mount Vernon Research Center, 16650 State Route 536.

Barber and Hedlin
Keynote speaker and chef Barber, left, talks with Skagit Valley organic farmer Dave Hedlin. (Photo courtesy of WSU Mount Vernon)

Included in the $425 registration fee are meals containing locally sourced ingredients and prepared by Northwest chefs and bakers. Although registration has closed for this year’s event, more information is available online at http://www.thegrain

Keynoting the event, formerly known as Kneading Conference West, are:

• Dan Barber, chef and co-owner of New York’s Blue Hill Restaurant and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, whose latest book is “The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food;”

• Jeffrey Hamelman – certified master baker, director of the King Arthur Flour bakery in Norwich, Vt., and author of “Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes;”

• and Naomi Duguid, food and travel writer from Toronto, Ont., who leads international food/cultural immersion tours and is the author of “Burma: Rivers of Flavor.”

Begun in 2007, the gathering covers topics from rebuilding local grain networks to incorporating locally harvested and milled whole grains to hand-crafting breads and other baked goods.

It includes more than 40 workshops, panel discussions and demonstrations, culminating with a field trip to a local farm, a mill, a bakery and the Wood Stone Corporation, which builds professional specialty and tandoor ovens.

“Four to six workshops and presentations will run simultaneously to accommodate the wide diversity of grain-related interests,” said program director Wendy Hebb. “Peers will have opportunities to share experiences, skills and new ideas.”

Rebuilding local networks

“The Grain Gathering continues our efforts to bring together the diverse stakeholders who are collectively re-visioning and rebuilding regional grain economies,” said Steve Jones, WSU Mount Vernon research center director, whose facility has hosted the event since 2011.

“The annual conference brings together professional and home bakers, chefs, maltsters, brewers, millers, farmers, wheat breeders, food writers, wood-oven builders and people who come to enjoy ‘summer camp for bread lovers,’” said Hebb.

Topics to be addressed include whole-grain desserts, breakfast pastries and pan loaves; creative production baking; wood-fired oven bread and bagels; tandoor oven baking; earth oven construction; bakery startups; a millers’ roundtable; and flavor comparisons of a variety of wheats and other grains.

Breeding and baking for nutrition

Econopouly and Curwen-McAdams in the bread lab. (Photo by Kim Binczewski, WSU Mount Vernon)

Among the scheduled presenters are WSU Mount Vernon graduate students Bethany Econopouly and Colin Curwin-McAdams, whose work in the research center’s bread lab is part of their ongoing Ph.D. projects within the plant breeding program.

Econopouly’s presentation will focus on linking plant breeding to nutrition and health. She will discuss the relevance of nutrition in plant breeding and the role of chefs and bakers in expressing and delivering nutrition to consumers via high-quality products.

“Chefs, bakers and other food producers are in a unique position of transforming an inedible kernel of grain, improved by breeders for nutrition and flavor, into a sought-after product that maximizes nutrient bio-availability and health outcomes for the general public,” she said.

Bread lab explores flavor

The bread lab is an integral part of both the Grain Gathering and the plant breeding program, which studies the diversity of locally grown grains to determine those most suitable for craft baking. Visiting professional bakers utilize the bread lab year-round to analyze and test their bread and pastry doughs under the technical guidance of resident baker Jonathan McDowell and Jones.

The 500-square-foot lab houses steam-injected ovens and commercial-quality equipment to test such dough qualities as rise, strength, mixing tolerance and protein content. McDowell and his team assist visiting bakers in finding the optimal hydration, temperature and times that bring out the desired characters of their featured grains, such as wheat, rye or barley.

One desired character many whole-grain baking enthusiasts look for is flavor.

“The bread lab offers a unique opportunity for bakers from around the world to experiment with our local wheat varieties, which provide a range of natural flavors that are not commonly found in our more traditional baked goods,” Jones said. “In our collaborations with amazing bakers like (keynote speakers) Dan, Jeffrey and Naomi, we are discovering ways to pull the flavors out of grains and wheat blends, particularly in 100 percent whole-grain uses. This is a phenomenon we will be exploring at the Grain Gathering.”

Major sponsors of the gathering include King Arthur Flour and the Port of Skagit County.


Wendy Hebb, Grain Gathering program director, 207-620-0697,

Steve Jones, WSU Mount Vernon Research Center director, 360-416-5210,

Jeanne Burritt, WSU Mount Vernon administrative manager, 360-848-6123,