Red Fife

I brought 5 pounds of Red Fife flour from Maine and the Kneading Conference. The Red Fife I got in Canada, where the revival of this heritage grain is well established, made some memorable loaves, flatbreads, crepes and pancakes. The taste was a very robust whole wheat; I wish I could describe it better, but even people who are good at describing tastes are entering new territory with grains, and deciding how to name the flavors. Trust me when I tell you I was ready to marvel over the flavor of Red Fife some more.

Peter Reinhart and two work study students making Red Fife pancakes at the Kneading Conference. Photo credit Jesse Cottingham.
Peter Reinhart making Red Fife pancakes at the Kneading Conference with Brenna MacNeil and Sophrinia Smith. Photo credit Jesse Cottingham.

However, I was a little skeptical of how this particular flour would work. This crop had sprouted in the field, which means the seeds started to grow, and the enzyme activity bakers rely on to cooperate with leavening in building dough had already begun. Normally, such grains don’t get milled, because the flour is unpredictable.

Yet Red Fife is in high demand in the Northeast, because it has a name and a story, in addition to its beguiling taste. So the mill decided to take a chance. This is the way things would’ve happened before grain production was centralized. Preharvest germination wasn’t a dealbreaker for farmers, because there weren’t alternatives. Grains that came from far away by water and land cost a pretty penny, and people ate what they had.

People around me have been pretty happily eating Red Fife pancakes. I made them using my standard formula, and I knew from the way the batter puffed in the bowl, and then the cakes shaped up on the griddle, that we were in for a treat. Jack wanted blueberries in them and I refused. This breakfast was purely about the flour.

Red Fife pancakes at home.
Red Fife pancakes at home.

I made a whole lot of them today to salute a cousin’s new baby. I did put some blueberries in some cakes, because I knew that the flour could speak for itself, and tell people that this was a lovely food they were eating.


Here is the way I make pancakes. I didn’t make any special arrangements because of the sprouting in the flour.


Basic Pancake Ratio

1 cup flour

1 tsp baking powder (the best choice is Rumford)

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp baking soda


Combine thoroughly and use for one batch of pancakes, or multiply ingredients to make mix, and store in a tightly closed container.


To Make Pancakes

1 cup mix

1 tablespoon yogurt

½ cup milk

2 eggs


Combine all ingredients. Let the batter sit for 5-10 minutes to allow the flour, and especially the bran, to absorb the liquids. Cook on a hot buttered griddle, and flip when bubbles begin to break on the surface of the pancakes.