Giving Thanks for Gluten Free Grains in the Garden

Do you know anyone else who has grown any gluten free grains in their backyard garden? No? Neither do we.

That didn’t stop us. We planted amaranth, sorghum, teff, and flax this year. Just as in the rest of the garden, there were some successes and some we will not repeat.

Even though we will not plant most of these next year, we enjoyed trying them. We know our grains are organic. We know they are not contaminated with wheat. We built up our internal supply of vitamin D. 😉 Our pantry is full. We have a small plot of fertile land. These are all good things. Things we are very thankful for.

We encourage you to grow a garden, or to grow something next year. Please share with us what you grow. It is such a rewarding experience, and you will have much to be thankful for too.

I cook with all of these grains and seeds, and have posted before with recipes. I’ll add a garden review here, and you can click on links for previous posts.

amaranth flower

amaranth flower photo by vsimon

Amaranth

Amaranth is the clear winner here. From just a small packet, it produced nearly 2 pounds of seeds, harvested over 2 months. We cook the seeds for hot breakfast cereal. And pop them for a tiny version of popcorn.

Early in the season, we also harvested the leaves and stems. Steamed tender young stems taste just like asparagus! Later in the year the leaves and stems get too tough to eat.

amarnath leaves-stems 003

young amaranth leaves and stems photo by lsimon

Amaranth is also worthy of planting in the flower garden. Ours got 8 feet tall, with striking flowers.

Flax

I don’t really consider flax a gluten free grain. It turned out to be the same as flax I had grown in the flower garden. It has airy leaves, with pretty little sky blue flowers. The thought of harvesting it hadn’t occurred to me before.

Vince ordered it this year from Bountiful Gardens, where it was listed with grains. And I often add ground flax seed in gluten free baking. So he thinks of it as a gluten free grain.

flax plant with seed heads

flax gone to seed photo by vsimon

We didn’t get much of a harvest, only 3 oz. A ground squirrel was well fed though, he ate more than we did. It is far easier to buy flax seed in the store. And so we do.

White Seeded Popping Sorghum

We love sorghum, flour and syrup. The plant looks just like corn stalks with an exploded ear of corn at the top.

sorghum-plant

sorghum plant photo by vsimon

In our cold wet spring, it germinated very poorly. But once it took hold, it was fun to watch. We harvested over 4 pounds of seeds.

I won’t be making flour out of it. I don’t have the equipment and this really is not enough. We aren’t boiling down the stems for syrup either. That is just too hard core for me.

sorghum (9)

sorghum seeds, raw and cooked photo by vsimon

We have cooked the seeds in a slow cooker. It tastes just like corn, and smells just like cooked corn. The seeds are smaller, and creamy white.

It will be pleasant to wake up to a steamy, fragrant bowl of sorghum seeds for breakfast on a wintery morning.

They could be used for a grain side dish too. Like rice, or quinoa.

We tried popping them, without success, and despite the name. We tried several times, and tried several methods.

They did get toasty tasty though. I thought this could be a crunchy addition to trail mix. And we have a lot of seeds to use.

Still, no need to repeat these. We will buy our sorghum flour and syrup in the store next year. And we can live without the seeds.

Teff

The teff was sad. The teff grew well enough. It is short, only 3 feet tall. The leaves are soft and arching.

But the seeds are so tiny I don’t know how they are harvested. They just disappear. There are seeds in this picture. Really, there are. They are hard to see even up close.

teff plant (2)

teff plant with seeds photo by vsimon

We threshed the teff and got a whopping 1.2 ounces (1/4 cup) seed. And it is nearly impossible to clean the chaff away. If you blow on it, it goes, and so does the seed.

We will be buying teff seeds and flour in the store too.

Possibilities for next year

Maybe buckwheat, millet, and quinoa. We will keep you posted.

Update: Read Linda’s guest post on Mother Earth News.

Harvesting Amaranth Seed

How did you spend your labor day? Picnicking? Watching a parade? Visiting family and friends?

harvesting-amaranth-seeds

harvesting amaranth seeds photo by lsimon

Next year you could harvest amaranth seeds. I have been posting how much I enjoy this plant. And how productive it is. We have harvested the leaves, and cooked them as greens. Early in the summer, the stems taste just like asparagus. And later in the summer we harvest the seeds.

The seeds ripen over several weeks. We have been collecting them for 4 or 5 weeks already. And they still keep coming, fewer now though.

When I first wrote about amaranth a reader asked how to harvest them. I had no idea, so we decided to plant some to see if we could find out.

It is really very easy. Look at the contraption V uses. From his stash of stuff in the garage, he has rigged an amaranth collection device. It requires a snow saucer and a bungy cord.

If you live in the south, you probably don’t have a snow saucer. Maybe you can ask for one for Christmas from your northern relatives. Or use a (clean) garbage can lid, turned upside down.

Any kind of cord works. And you can go cordless, harvesting with two people. One to hold the amaranth collection device, the other to massage the fluffy heads so the seeds fall out.

amaranth-harvest (2)

amaranth seeds and chaff photo by vsimon

You get seeds, chaff, and bugs. We let the mess dry for a day. Then blow gently across the amaranth collection device and the chaff floats away. Most of the bugs go too. You can pick out the ones that haven’t left the party yet.

From our small patch of amaranth we have harvested several pounds of seeds already.

We call amaranth a gluten free grain. It isn’t really a grain, we just use it like grains. It can be ground into flour for baked goods. I’ll probably just use the seeds for breakfast cereal and in soups. And not try to grind it.

Next year you can plant some amaranth of your own. We purchased seeds from Bountiful Gardens. We will plant a few seeds collected this year.

cleaned-amaranth

cleaned amaranth seeds photo by vsimon

Our plants this year had golden, red, or green flowers. The green flowers had black seeds. V separately collected seeds from each color of flower. He plans to plant a few of each next year, and see if they grow the same. And we will probably try some new varieties too.

Please tell us if you grow amaranth and how you like it. Or if you are inspired to try it.

A is for Amaranth

Amaranth is an ancient crop making a new debut in the last 20 years. It is a tiny seed, mostly tan with a few black seeds mixed in. It has a mild flavor, similar to rice but without the rice aroma. And it is a nutritional powerhouse.

standing in amaranth

yours truly out standing in amaranth photo by vsimon

Ancient Aztec runners and warriors ate amaranth because it provided energy and endurance. Nutrition Data shows that 1-cup serving of cooked amaranth is about 250 calories, 4 grams fat, 5 grams fiber, and 9 gm protein. That will keep you fueled on your busy day.

It is also like taking a tasty supplement in a bowl. Certain minerals and vitamins are lacking in many gluten free foods. Not here. That same 1-cup serving of amaranth naturally provides about 30% of our iron, 10% of our calcium, 15% of our folate and 15% of our B6 minimum daily needs.

photo by lsimon

Start the day with creamy crunchy hot amaranth.

It is all about the texture. It is creamy as you expect hot cereal to be, with a pleasant lingering little crunch.

1 cup amaranth seeds

4 cups water

Put seeds and water in a saucepan and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes. Stir occasionally. For even more iron, use a cast iron pan.

This recipe serves 4, and doubles well. Make enough for the week and you will easily have a quick satisfying breakfast. It thickens as it stands, so you may want to add more water before reheating. Top it with fruit, nuts and ground flax seeds for even more fiber, texture and flavor.

Use up leftover plain cooked amaranth in meatloaf or meatballs instead of gluten free breadcrumbs.

Or try popped amaranth seeds. You get light airy bits that look like tiny double snowballs stuck together. With wonderful toasty flavor and scent. Simply put a ¼-cup amaranth grains in a heavy saucepan covered with a lid. Bring heat to medium high and slide the pan side to side to shake up the grains. Once you hear a faint pop, you only need to cook for a minute or two to pop the seeds. They burn easily so remove from the heat quickly and pour into a cool bowl. They are yummy with milk as a cold cereal. Eat them quick for maximum crunch.

Updated 1-12-10 Interested in amaranth greens? Click here.

Interested in harvesting amaranth grains. Click here.