Heirloom Dixie Rye (United States)

DixSlice

Rye %: 82%
Stages: Sponge, Scald, Final dough
Leaven: Instant yeast
Start to Finish: 10-12 hours
Hands-on Time: 25-30 minutes
Yield: One 2¼ lb./1.0 kg loaf

Not so long ago, the food reporter from a South Carolina newspaper asked if I’d ever worked with Seashore rye. Actually, until that moment, I’d never even heard of it, but immediately went online and did some research. It turns out that this heirloom grain, which had been introduced into South Carolina, Georgia and northern Florida during the 1830s, was believed to be extinct. However, a food detective at Clemson University discovered a single stand of the grain on a family farm on Edisto Island, South Carolina, where it had been used for generations as windbreak between the tomato fields.

A newspaper article identified the farmer as Greg Johnsman, who also mills the rye and local varieties of heirloom corn, which he sells under the Geechie Boy Mill label. I immediately contacted Greg, who was kind enough to send me not only a load of his Seashore rye, but also several of his heirloom cornmeals.

Two Ryes
Old World rye grown in Oregon (left) and Seashore Rye from Edisto Island, SC.

This was and is an incredibly special grain. Its kernels are smaller and leaner than standard rye and have a golden brown color that’s very different from the gray-green I’m used to. But what was most striking was its incredible aroma: when I first opened the bag, I was overwhelmed with the sweet fragrance nf freshly cut hay – a perfume that lingered even after I milled the grain on my Kitchen Aid.

I thought it only appropriate to use this antique grain in a bread that reflected its history and provenance, and so I baked it into a recipe I adapted from The Dixie Cookbook, which was published in 1883.

Like many American rye breads, this one traces its culinary origins to the Rye and Indian breads of the earliest New England settlers, who brought rye with them to the New World and combined it with native corn. Unlike most New England versions, however, Dixie Rye doesn’t contain molasses and consists of 82% rye, versus the more usual 50%. I found the idea of reliving a moment in American culinary history – using traditional heirloom grains – truly exciting.

It was a trial-and-error exercise, since I’d had to translate the cups and spoons of the original recipes into weight measurements and verbal descriptions into times and temperatures. The first loaves I baked were way too dense, although the flavor was good, so I increased the water and made another pass. This time, it worked, and during the process, I discovered some meaningful differences between the Seashore rye and regular commercial rye. For one thing, the dough wasn’t as sticky, making it much easier to handle. At the same time, it wasn’t nearly as thirsty, so that even at 56% hydration (excluding the cornmeal scald), the dough was workable and the crumb tender.

The crumb was close and moist; the flavor was not what I was expecting: Seashore rye is very mild, without either the intense sweetness or spicy-bitter notes of commercial rye. However, its extraordinary perfume lingered and complemented the sweetness of the cornmeal, which, even at a mere 18% of total flour, came through, making this a highly distinctive bread that’s at its best with soups, stews, salads and smoked meats.

Note: Because the heirloom grains I used aren’t easy to come by, I’ve adjusted the water in the recipe below up from the 13.25 oz./375 ml I used for the heirloom grains to 15.85 oz./450 ml to compensate for commercial rye’s greater absorbency.

Sponge (Day 1, Evening):

Ingredient Grams Ounces Baker’s
Percentage
Fine rye meal 170 6.00 100%
Warm (105°F/41°C) water 450 15.85 221%
Instant yeast 4 0.15 2.35%

DixSponge

 

Combine the sponge ingredients in the mixer bowl, cover and ferment at room temperature (70°F/21°C) until the sponge has expanded and become very bubbly, 8-10 hours or overnight.

 

Scald (Day 2, Morning):

Ingredient Grams Ounces Baker’s
Percentage
Cornmeal 120 4.25 100%
Boiling water 120 4.25 100%

DixMush

 

In a separate bowl, combine the cornmeal and boiling water and mix until the cornmeal is evenly moistened. Cover and let stand at room temperature until cool, 30-40 minutes

 

Final Dough (Day 2, Morning):

Ingredient Grams Ounces
Sponge 549 19.40
Scald 240 8.50
Whole rye flour 375 13.25
Salt 12 0.40

DixMix

 

Add the scald, whole rye flour and salt to the sponge and use the paddle at low (KA2) speed to mix until evenly blended into a firm dough that gathers around the paddle.

 

DixPan

 

Turn the dough into a well-greased 9″x5″x3″/23x13x8 cm standard loaf pan and use wet hands and a plastic scraper to smooth the top.

 

DixProof

 

Cover the loaf and proof at room temperature until it has expanded to within 1 inch/2.5cm of the rim of the pan, 60-70 minutes.

 

Preheat the oven to 450°F/230°C, brush the loaf with water and bake 10 minutes, then reduce to 350°F/175°C and continue baking until the loaf thumps when tapped with a finger and the internal temperature is at least 198°F/92°C, 40-45 minutes. Transfer to a rack and cool thoroughly before slicing.

DixLoaf

Baker’s Percentages:

Ingredient

g

%

TOTAL FLOUR

665

100.00%

Fine rye meal

170

25.56%

Whole rye flour

375

56.39%

Cornmeal

120

18.05%

Water

570

85.71%

Salt

12

1.80%

Instant yeast

4

0.60%

TOTAL FORMULA

1,081

162.56%

Flour prefermented

170

25.56%

 


8 Comments

  • clazar123

    August 24, 2016

    Lovely, light-colored loaf. The crumb looks moist and dense but I’m curious if it became particularly crumbly after a day or two?

    What a find for the food investigator! And how amazing that there were seeds growing continuously over all that time.

    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Stanley Ginsberg

      August 24, 2016

      The loaf held itself together very nicely over the course of 4 or 5 days during which it was consumed. And yes, the discovery was quite serendipitous: because this particular variety of rye can grow up to 6 feet tall, it was ideally suited for windbreaks, and its survival was as much a matter of benign neglect on the farmers’ part as it was of the plant’s inherent hardiness.

      Reply
  • Dabrownman

    August 24, 2016

    It sounds and looks like a natural cross of rye and wheat if that were even possible. Another interesting grain for sure. Mixing it with corn mush takes us back to great, great, great granny. Nice bake and experiment Stan.

    Dabrownmwn

    Reply
    • Stanley Ginsberg

      August 24, 2016

      William Rubel, founder of the FB group Bread History and Practice, added this footnote to my link:

      “Seashore Rye” referenced in Stanley Ginsberg’s post is now included in the Slow Food Ark of Taste. It is a “black rye” first brought to the Carolinas in the 1830s. Its Ark of Taste name is Seashore Black Rye.

      Besides the current references in relation to the Ark of Taste there are no internet, google book, or google scholar references to “seashore rye.” There are, however, many references to “black rye.” Period texts speak of “black” and “white” rye. In New York, at least, by the 1850s, black rye as a human food crop had been long replaced by other varieties. The period literature on black rye focuses on its use for forage, wind breaks, and other non-human consumption purposes.

      The University of Florida has a breeding program for “black rye.” 50 pound (20kg) sacks of grain can be purchased for $50 from commercial seed sellers! It would certainly be interesting to compare “seashore rye” (which is not commercially available) with the University of Florida cultivars. Anyone up to testing out some black rye? http://hancockseed.com/fl-401-grain-rye-seed-50-lb-bag

      Reply
      • Bob Currier

        September 2, 2016

        Dade City Fl, home of Hancock Seed is only 1 hour from where I live. I’ll be making the trip this weekend. Looking forward to experimenting milling in my Nutrimill and seeing how the flour performs.

        Reply
    • Stanley Ginsberg

      August 25, 2016

      One more thought: Rye and wheat have been successfully hybridized into Triticale, so no reason that this couldn’t have happened spontaneously — except that the Deep South isn’t so much wheat country as it is rice and corn.

      Reply
  • Bob Currier

    September 10, 2016

    Temporarily held up by Hurricane Hermine passing close by the coast. Heading out to Hancock Seed today. 50lb of black rye seed here we come!

    Reply

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