Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Nature Bulletin No. 746   march 7, 1964
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
Roberts Mann, Conservation Editor

"Give us this day our daily bread. " That simple plea is included in the Lord' s Prayer because bread, made from wheat, was the "staff of life" in Palestine -- as it is for us today. Wheat bread is a source of energy that contains the food elements essential for the growth, health and upkeep of a human body. It is a staple food that is not only inexpensive but, uniquely, one which we never become tired of.

The three most important grains used by mankind for food are wheat, rice, and Indian corn or maize. Next in importance are barley, rye, oats, and millet. The white races of people prize wheat far above any of the others. All seven -- known as cereal grains -- are the seeds of grasses descended from wild plants.

We know that rice originated in the rainy tropical East Indies; and corn in the tropics of Central or adjacent South America; but no one knows for sure where the various kinds of wheat -- used to make bread -- originated; nor when; nor from what wild plants. They were produced and cultivated in prehistoric times.

Our bulletin about BREAD (No. 175) related that in the sunken homes of Swiss lake dwellers, who lived perhaps 10,000 years ago, have been found hard-baked little cakes of coarsely-ground grains: barley and a kind of wheat -- probably a spelt. Archaeologists tell us that wheat was being cultivated for food when the earliest civilizations existed, more than 6000 years ago, on richly fertile deltas at the mouths of three great rivers: the Nile in Egypt, the Euphrates in Mesopotamia (now Iraq), and the Indus in India. The oldest known graves in those deltas contained seeds of wheat and barley.

Wheat flour contains an optimum amount of gluten, a protein which is valuable not only as a food but for another property. It makes bread dough so sticky and elastic that bubbles of carbon dioxide gas, from fermentation of the yeast mixed with it, are trapped and held, causing the dough to expand and rise. When baked, the bread is porous and fluffy. Flours made from rye, barley and rice do not have that property and some wheat flour is usually added.

Wheat is the best of all grains for handling and storage. The rounded oblong seeds flow like quicksilver and mingle so closely that a bushel of wheat will make more than a barrel of flour. Verily, they pack a wallop! And wheat keeps so well that it can be stored for years or shipped around the world.

Being a plant of the grass family, wheat will grow where rainfall is scanty, or where it is abundant, if the spring is cool and moist and the summer is hot and dry. It does best on deep well-drained loam and clay soils. There are many races, varieties and hybrids grown from northern Canada and Russia to Argentina, Chile and New Zealand.

A grain of wheat is covered with several thin layers of epidermis -- the bran. Inside, at one end, is the germ. The rest of it is starch and gluten. The germ contains oil and vitamins. The bran contains minerals and vitamins. In milling, to make white flour, the germ and the bran are removed. Consequently, nowadays, most white bread is "enriched" by the addition of synthetic vitamins and minerals. That is not necessary in whole wheat, rye, and corn breads.

In the United States we raise "hard" wheat, "soft" wheat, bearded wheat, smooth wheat, and, in North Dakota and Minnesota, durum wheat used to make macaroni, spaghetti and noodles. In our northern States, including northern Illinois, we raise spring wheat. Elsewhere -- about 60% of our total acreage -- we raise winter wheat. It is sowed in mid-autumn, sprouts, "stools out", lies dormant during winter and resumes growing in spring.

We use white wheat flour to make biscuits, dumplings and gravy at our house but eat little light bread. We prefer pumpernickel mit ripe limburger.

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