From Seed to Table: How The Amagansett Wheat Project Turns Local Wheat Into Fresh Bread

From Seed to Table: How The Amagansett Wheat Project Turns Local Wheat Into Fresh Bread

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Mallory Samson
Oct 11, 2014
Baker-in-residence at the farm for CSA pick up on Saturdays.
(Image credit: Mallory Samson)

This year we've been following the rhythms and daily life at a New York farm, Amber Waves, run by two young women, Katie Baldwin and Amanda Merrow.

This week we want to introduce one more collaborative partner on the farm: Carissa Waechter, who bakes the beautiful bread that comes in the CSA shares. And she not only bakes it with wheat from the farm, but with a very local yeast starter.

(Image credit: Mallory Samson)

The collaborative experience of a Community Supported Agriculture farm is breathtaking. At Amber Waves Farm, members experience beyond what simply springs from the soil in their weekly box of fruit and vegetables. Through partnerships Katie and Amanda have developed with other local food artisans who transform fruits, vegetables, and grains into savory treats, an entirely new sensory experience is created at the farm.

Chief among these partners is Carissa Waechter of Carissa’s Breads, who flawlessly turns the wheat that is the heart of Amber Waves into a menagerie of baked treats that are as beautiful as they are delicious.

Wheat berries just threshed out of the grain heads.
(Image credit: Mallory Samson)

The 44 Year-Old Sourdough Starter

Katie and Amanda have worked with Carissa since the beginning – their wheat was inspiration for Carissa’s signature Artisanal Local Wheat loaf, which is made with local wheat milled just before baking. Making the artisanal loaf even more special is its natural rising agent, or wild yeast starter.

The starter, first cultured in Amagansett in 1968, was given to Carissa by a local home baker and friend of the farm, and has started many thousands of loaves of bread over more than four decades (anyone who has tried to keep a sourdough starter alive and fed for even a week will appreciate the extraordinary accomplishment of a 44-year old live cultured dough).

(Image credit: Mallory Samson)

A Shared Love of Local and Homemade

When they first met, Carissa was drawn to the wide open space of the farm, from the bread oven in the rear of the Amgansett Farmers Market adjacent to the farm, while Amanda and Katie were lured into Carissa’s kitchen by the smell of delectable baked goods wafting out into the farm fields. Carissa’s love of fresh seasonal food remains an inspiration for her breads, pastries, and focaccias. She works closely with farmers to celebrate seasonality of both grains and produce in her products, which this season included zucchini, fennel seed, grapes, lavender, sea salt, potatoes, and sweet potatoes, to name a few.

Amber Waves Farm members enjoy bread baked with Amber Waves flour while Peconic Land Trust’s Quail Hill Farm members around the corner enjoy that farm’s harvest in the weekly offerings at their CSA pick up. Carissa also regularly partners with Pantigo Farm in Bridgehampton, Garden of Eve in Southold, Balsam Farms in Amagansett in addition to keeping a stand at the weekly Montauk Farmers Market.

Wheat berries in the drying bin that Amanda’s dad built.
(Image credit: Mallory Samson)

Bringing Back Wheat Production

When starting Amber Waves in 2009, reintroducing wheat production to Long Island’s South Fork was one of Katie and Amanda's three "pillars" of the farm, along with establishing a CSA and food education programs. The Amagansett Wheat Project has had five successful growing seasons, producing a total of over 20,000 pounds of organic grains in the farm’s fields.

"Amanda and I thought, wow, wouldn’t it be great if we could bake a local loaf of bread," said Katie. "At the time, nobody on Long Island was growing organic wheat for food consumption. Wheat was grown here, not more than fifty years ago; and there were hundreds of acres in East Hampton."

"Grains are an especially important component of any regional food system’s sustainability," added Amanda.

Frederick soft white winter wheat ripening in July in Amagansett.
(Image credit: Mallory Samson)

Types of Wheat

The grains at Amber Waves are planted in the fall and harvested in the following summer and include several organic varieties. Wheat is described as either "red" or "white" (which refers to the color of the seed along with protein levels), "soft" or "hard" (the firmness of the seed), and "winter" or "spring" (denoting season of sowing).

At Amber Waves, hard red winter wheats "Expedition" and "Arapahoe" are used for bread flour and also sold as a whole grain (wheat berries).

The farmer and baker favorite, a soft white variety called "Frederick" along with another variety of soft red wheat, are reserved exclusively for whole-wheat flour.

Hard red winter wheat in the field.
(Image credit: Mallory Samson)

Lifecycle of Wheat

For most of the wheat’s lifecycle it is beautifully green, first appearing as a field of any old grass, almost like a lawn, and later growing to knee height or taller seemingly overnight (red wheat varieties are shorter, staying just above the knees, whereas a good stand of white wheat can be well over waist height) . As the heat of summer arrives, the wheat fields of Amber Waves Farm tell you they’re ready– a long view of swaying grasses with "amber" tones blow against one another making a light sweeping, crackling sound in the wind.

Harvesting wheat.
(Image credit: Mallory Samson)

Wheat Harvesting

The wheat was harvested over several days in the third week in July, six acres yielding about five tons of wheat. Amanda and Katie use a 1965 International combine, which cuts and threshes the wheat before it is emptied into one-ton bulk storage tote bags. After the harvest, the wheat is transferred into a homemade mobile grain dryer built by Amanda’s carpenter father: a large wooden box that can hold 3,000 lbs at a time and is equipped with a high powered fan to dry the wheat.

(Special thank you to farmer Pete Ludlow who has provided Katie & Amanda with great support for the Amagansett Wheat Project, including mentorship and storage space. Look for more about the partnership between Amber Waves and Pete in a future post.)

Amanda cleaning newly harvested grain--separating the wheat from the chaff.
(Image credit: Mallory Samson)

Cleaning and Milling Wheat into Flour

After a few days in the dryer, the wheat is cleaned using an antique cleaner modified with an electric motor. The cleaner utilizes a series of screens and a fan to separate the wheat from the chaff, a process called winnowing. After the combine, dryer, and cleaner (over a period of weeks), the wheat is finally ready to be milled into whole wheat flour using a small electric tabletop stone mill (both the farmers and the baker own German "Komo Fidibus" mills which can be adjusted to mill coarse to very fine flour).

(Image credit: Mallory Samson)

The Delicious Results

Back at CSA pick up, the smell of the freshly baked bread greets you at the farm stand — the temptation to take an early bite can be overwhelming, and many of my fellow CSA members admit that sometimes the loaves of freshly baked bread they pick up at the farm don’t even make it home!

Bread has a communal feel to it. In the late summer, good bread with local cheese, fruits and vegetables made a wonderful sunset party for my friends and me. The late summer breezes off the Atlantic remind us why we choose this place to be our home.

Carissa at South Fork Kitchens.
(Image credit: Mallory Samson)

More on Carissa

Today, Carissa is baking her bread at South Fork Kitchens, a full-service kitchen organized and managed by the Amagansett Food Institute (AFI), which Carissa co-founded AFI in 2010 to "support, promote and advocate for local food and local producers." With Carissa’s help AFI opened the kitchen this past spring on the Southampton, NY campus of Stony Brook University. More than a dozen local food producers are turning the East End’s produce into a wide range of market-ready products – from bread to jams, jellies and preserves to empanadas and root beer.

Prior to starting Carissa’s Breads in 2011, Carissa graduated from the Art Institute of New York City and began her culinary career under world pastry champion Michel Willaume at Mondrian Pastry. Carissa worked as head pastry chef for David Burke for several years before joining the pastry team under esteemed 4-star chef Daniel Boulud. Next, Carissa worked as a baker for Eli Zabar on New York’s Upper East Side, and followed the food trail to Amagansett when Zabar took the reins at the Amagansett Farmers Market. There she developed close relationships with many local producers, including Amanda and Katie, the farmers next door.

For more information on Carissa’s products, email csbreads@gmail.com.

A New Generation on the Farm is a season-long exploration of the work at Amber Waves Farm, and it is a partnership between The Kitchn, photographer Mallory Samson, and the Peconic Land Trust. Founded in 1983, the Peconic Land Trust conserves Long Island’s working farms, natural lands, and heritage. This is the first in a series about first generation farmers the Trust is working with to ensure that protected farmland is used for farming on Long Island’s East End.

Photographer: Mallory Samson

Mallory Samson is a storyteller who uses photographs. Mallory was a former Fashion Editor at J. Crew and Photography Editor at Nike. Mallory’s photographs have appeared in numerous magazines and she has authored two books featuring her photographs. Mallory has been a professional photographer for 17 years and lives in Southampton, New York.

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