Heirloom Grain Terroir Experiment #2: Turkey Red Wheat


Since I started milling whole grains at home this past September, certain heirloom red wheat varieties have stood out to me in terms of their dough performance and flavor. In turn, upon the success of my previous baking experiment which focused on grains grown in California, I asked myself the following question. What role will terroir play in terms of dough performance and flavor profile when testing a specific heirloom wheat varietal that has been grown in a variety of US states (four in this case)?

Next, while I could have conducted this experiment alone and shared my subjective results. I chose to once again call upon my friend and fellow bread writer Melissa Johnson . By running her own parallel experiment, we could produce more comprehensive results.

Wheat Varietal: Turkey Red

Photo Credit: Penner Farms

Turkey Red Wheat, once the dominant variety of hard red winter wheat planted throughout the central U.S., is back in production.

“Turkey” variety hard red winter wheat was introduced to Kansas in 1873, carried by Mennonite immigrants from Crimea in the Ukraine, fleeing Russian forced military service. In the mid-1880s, grainsman Bernard Warkentin imported some 10,000 bushels of Turkey seed from the Ukraine, the first commercially available to the general public. That 10,000 bushels (600,000 pounds) would plant some 150 square miles (10,000 acres). By the beginning of the twentieth century, hard red winter wheat, virtually all of it Turkey, was planted on some five million acres in Kansas alone. In the meantime, it had become the primary wheat variety throughout the plains from the Texas panhandle to South Dakota. Without “Turkey” wheat there would be no “Breadbasket.”

Like many traditional crop varieties, by modern times the old variety of Turkey Red had all but vanished. Fortunately, a few enterprising Midwest farmers have kept the old seed stock in production. (breadtopia.com).

Grain Sources:

A) Luhrs Certified Seed, Nebraska (Breadtopia): Organic Turkey Red berries (seed)

B) Sunflower Acres, Colorado (Grains from the Plains): Turkey Red berries

C) Pleasant Valley Ranch, Oklahoma (Barton Springs Mill – Texas): Whole grain flour

D) Penner Farms, Minnesota: Whole grain flour

Experiment Parameters:

Recipe: Once again, Melissa and I decided to make our ‘test loaves’ smaller than our average 500g/loaf loaves. However, we raised their weight from 330g to 360g of flour per loaf, with sixty-percent of the flour being one of the four samples of Turkey Red varietals (2 were freshly milled and 2 were commercially milled) and forty-percent being Central Milling Organic High Mountain (high-protein bread flour). Yet another change to our previous experiment’s recipe was each dough was fermented with the same 100% Organic High Mountain flour levain (1:2:2 ratio / 15% inoculation). Lastly, in terms of dough hydration Melissa and I agreed on 80% (salt content was 2% (fine sea salt).

Melissa’s Loaves

Process: While each of us followed our time tested sourdough loaf preparation processes, we kept the following parameters consistent: A) Milling the wheat berries the night before. B) A 45 (or longer) minute autolyse to get a feel for each flours absorption rate C) Coil folds D) Batard shape E) An overnight cold proof F) The same baking vessel (the Challenger Bread Pan). I should note that due to time constraints, I baked the 2 loaves with commercially milled Turkey Red flour in my Lodge combo cooker.

In terms of baking, Melissa preheated her oven to 500F (260C) for 30 minutes and then lowered it to 475F (230C) after loading the dough into her Challenger bread pan. She baked each loaf for 20 minutes with the lid on (covered) and 15-20 minutes with the lid under the base (uncovered) at 450F. I preheated my oven with the bread pan to 490F (254.4C) and baked covered for 20 minutes and then uncovered (lid under base) for 15 minutes at 450F (230C).


Crumb of Melissa’s loaves

Breadtopia (Nebraska):

Dough Feel: This dough was somewhat sticky, but was not too hard to mix. After its autolyse it was smooth and extensible.

Fermentation: Barry: Being that I had freshly milled the Turkey Red portion of this dough the night before, I found that this dough fermented a bit faster than the two doughs containing pre-milled flour i.e. closer to 5.5 than 5.75 hours. Melissa: While not originaly intended bulk fermentation took 7 hours (to double in size / see below).

Shaping: Barry: This was followed by a 20 minute bench rest, and about an 8 minute rest at room temperature following final shaping in batards / prior to being put into my refrigerator to proof overnight. I personally found that all of the doughs in this experiment were somewhat sticky following bulk fermentation. However, using a bench scraper and wet/floured hands made them fairly manageable. Melissa: Because of the extensive fermentation, the pre-shape and bench rest were skipped. “I shaped the doughs very aggressively and refrigerated them immediately until the next morning.” Refrigerated final proof: 15.5 hours

Appearance: Barry: Breatopia’s Turkey Red loaf achieved great ovenspring, a well caramelized crispy crust, and had an attactive deep red color around edge and lighter red closer to ear (where sprung) and moderately even crumb. Melissa: Had the third best oven spring with a moderately open crumb.

Flavor/Texture: Melissa and her husband Chris: “All the breads were delicious and chewy with a nice crust. We struggled to pick out (noticeable) differences in flavor between them.” Barry: Moderate to high pleasant sourness, lightly herbal/spicy whole grain aroma and taste, “would be great for toast and an every day loaf. Especially for those who like more tang”. Soft (somewhat fluffy) texture.

Crumb of Melissa’s loaves

Grains from the Plains (Colorado):

Dough Feel: This was the thirstiest and stickiest of the four doughs. However, I found that by the second set of stretch an folds it became easier to work with.

Fermentation: Barry: As with the previous dough, I tried my best to make sure that this dough’s bulk fermentation was just as long as its predecessor (5.5 hours). Melissa: Matured the fastest and was double in size in 6 hours. As mentioned above, doubling of the dough was not her original intention, but once this dough went that far, she made sure to let
the others doubled too.

Shaping: Barry: See above. Melissa: See above…Refridgerated final proof: 16.5 hours. Both of us baked our freshly milled flour loaves first.

Appearance: Barry: Almost as good oven spring as the Breadtopia loaf,  well caramelized crispy crust, similar deep red color around the edges of the loaf that transitioned to a lighter shade of red closer to the ear. Moderately even crumb. Melissa: Had the least oven spring and second most open crumb.

Flavor/Texture: Melissa and her husband Chris: See above. Barry: This loaf had low level of sourness and complex herbal/spicy whole grain aroma and taste (great for sandwiches). It’s texture was soft (somewhat fluffy) like the Breadtopia loaf, but it was a touch more moist.

Barry’s loaves: Top left: Breadtopia / Top Right: Grains from the Plans / Bottom Left: Barton Springs / Bottom Right: Penner Farms

Barton Springs (Oklahoma grown)

Dough Feel: Most fine textured flour of the four. Like its predecessors this dough was sticky at first, but smoother after its autolyse. 

Fermentation: As eluded to above 5.5 hours (plus or minus 15 minutes) was the average bulk fermentation time for all four of my doughs. Melissa: Bulk fermentation took 7 hours 20 minutes.

Shaping: Barry: Compared to the previous doughs which included freshly milled flour. To me this dough felt a bit more airy and light at shaping. Melissa: Seemed to have the most elastic dough feel for shaping. Refrigerated final proof: 16.7 hours

Appearance: Barry: For me this loave’s over was the best when compared to its fellow pre-milled Turkey Red flour loaf. It has a lighter red color than the freshly milled flour loaves and once again had moderately even crumb. Melissa: had the most oven spring and the most open crumb.

Flavor/Texture: Melissa and her husband Chris: See above. Barry: Low but noticeable sour aroma and taste, similar flavor to Grains from the Plains, but not as prominent. This flavor profile would be good for a versatile sourdough loaf and use in making grilled cheese.

Penner Farms (Minnesota):

Dough Feel: This dough was the easiest to mix and had good extensibility.

Fermentation: As eluded to above 5.5 hours (plus or minus 15 minutes) was the average bulk fermentation time for all four dough. This was followed by a 20 minute bench rest, and about an 8 minute rest at room temperature following final shaping in batards / prior to being put into my refrigerator to proof overnight. Melissa: Bulk fermentation took 7 hours 10 min.

Shaping: Barry: Compared to the previous doughs, this dough felt somewhere in between the Barton Springs and Breadtopia doughs in its level of lightness, texture, and structure. Melissa: Felt that this dough was on the slack side during shaping. Refrigerated final proof: 16.8 hours

Appearance: Barry: My loaf achieved good, but not great oven spring and had moderate red color. Melissa: Had the second best oven spring with a moderately open crumb similar to the Breadtopia/Nebraska loaf.

Flavor/Texture: Melissa and her husband Chris: See above. Barry: Lingering sourness and subtle yet very similar flavor to the other loaves. I found the crumb texture to be notably soft yet still toothsome.


This heirloom wheat experiment was a valuable learning experience for the following three reasons. Firstly, it served as an opportunity to get our first glimpse at the roll of terrior in heirloom wheat. Secondly, differences in open spring between our loaves highlighted differences in our sourdough starters, bulk fermentation management, and baking practices. Thirdly, as in the previous experiment, we waited to discuss tasting notes and baking outcomes until we had both cut into and tasted our loaves. Doing so helped us develop a fuller understanding of both Turkey Red’s baking properties and flavor profile and what makes our individual baking practices unique.

Future plans: Being that the effects of baking with two freshly milled and two pre-milled flours were apparent both during dough preparation and in the finished loaves. I personally feel like I have more work to do in terms of getting to know how terroir effects Turkey Red. In turn, when I decide to run this experiment again I’ll make sure to use only freshly home-milled flour, keep a closer eye on how each individual dough is bulk fermenting, and make sure that cold proofing temperature is not a factor that effects oven spring (I suspect it make have contributed to the differences in oven spring between Melissa and my loaves). On a more optimistic note, being that Turkey Red comprised 60% of the flour used in this experiment, I’m definitely looking forward to baking with it as higher and lower percentages in future sourdough loaves.

Thank you to Melissa Johnson for joining me in this experiment.

If you have not already done so, check out my interview of Melissa by clicking here.

Happy Baking!


About Barry W

Israel (formerly NJ) based sourdough baker and fermentation enthusiasts sharing his baking, fermenting, cooking, and brewing adventures on thebrewedpalate.com.
This entry was posted in Sourdough Bread and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s