Amber waves

A couple weeks ago I reordered from Anson Mills. Whenever I order from Anson, I always say I’m just going to get the grits, but they have so many other alluring products. This time I threw in a bag of Carolina Gold rice and a bag of farro.

Farro is the Italian word for emmer wheat, which is, well, a kind of wheat. You can cook it like a risotto (farrotto, this is called) or make a salad, or put it in a stew. I’d been reading Lorna Sass’s book Whole Grains: Every Day, Every Way, and there’s a recipe in it for farro, asparagus, and prosciutto salad that looked delicious.

The grains arrived, and I went to the Anson Mills web site for advice on cooking the farro. Here’s their recipe. I like that it called for “a fine, footed colander,” which is fun to say in a fake Irish accent.

The first step of the recipe is:

Turn the farro into a large bowl and cover it with 2 cups of boiling water. Skim off chaff and hulls with a tea strainer. Soak the farro overnight.

I did as suggested. A few hulls floated to the surface, but a lot of them seemed to be holding tight to the grains.

The next day, I drained the farro and simmered it in salted water for about half an hour. The result was both tasty and inedible. The edible groats were delicious, but the ones with hulls could not be chewed by humans. We ended up making the salad with pearl barley, and it was very good–chewy kernels with a nice lemony tang and plenty of asparagus. The prosciutto could have been lightly cooked first to give it a more compatible, snappy texture.

I sent an email to Anson Mills. Isn’t it great when a mill has tech support? I heard back almost immediately. They accused me of using the grits recipe to make farro. I categorically denied this accusation. We exchanged a couple more emails. Then I realized, hey, why am I trying to describe this problem when I could just take a picture? It was the mill tech support equivalent of VNC.


The grains in the lower right are the hully, livestock-oriented ones.

That solved the case. The tech support guy wrote:

Perfect, these are hulled parched french oats that we have been working on for a new product, not Farro, so now I understand and we do apologize again. Thanks for your patience and thank you for the image, we are studying it to determine how oats appeared in a Farro bag. We’ll send “real” Farro, tomorrow.

(Incidentally, if you’re wondering how to pronounce “farro,” it rhymes with “tomorrow.”) He also included instructions for hulling the parched French oats, but I had already thrown them out, and it sounded like a lot of work.

I’m sure Anson Mills is a little embarrassed about sending me the wrong grain, but not as embarrassed as I am for not being able to tell the difference between wheat and oats.

The real farro arrived last week. It does not have hulls. Other than that, it looks an awful lot like oats. I would not have been able to tell them apart in a grain lineup. I served some tonight with leftover beef stew.

In a word, it’s chewy, but not unpleasantly so. If you like wheat berries or French green lentils, you’ll like farro. I also recommend it for fans of hulled parched French oats.

10 thoughts on “Amber waves

  1. JR

    Farro & milk or cream is a wonderful — and I mean wonderful — way to eat farro. I hestitate to say that it is a little like oatmeal because I hate oatmeal with a profound and beautiful passion but it is, I guess, a little like oatmeal. You can make it savory or sweet for dinner or breakfast, respectively.

  2. Patricia Jane

    You can actually get emmer farro locally at Bluebird Grain Farms. They come every other week to the U-dist and Ballard farmers markets.

    I’ve been making risotto weekly (Crab and Samphire Risotto,another day, another risotto since we discovered it and it’s also amazing as a cold salad with summer veggies. link

    For savory, Bluebird Grain Farms sells a cracked emmer hot cereal which is very yummy with a little syrup, cinnamon, and some fresh raspberries.

    As a side note, my boyfriend is diabetic and he has no issues eating emmer. There’s no appreciable blood sugar rise at all and it allows us to eat “rice” again.

    Sorry to sound like a commercial, but I’m just so enamored with this grain now that it’s brought “rice” back into our lives after several years of going without. :-) Oh, and Bluebird also makes Emmer flour which makes pretty good bread too.

  3. mamster Post author

    That’s great to know, Patricia Jane. We’ll refill from them when we run out. Do you know anyone who makes good local grits?

  4. Jim Dixon


    Anthony and Carol Boutard at Ayers Creek farm (in Gaston, out past Hillsboro…and that’s Oregon for you Seattle folks) grow several of the old school corn varieties (flint? dent? something like that) that they dry and mill. It’s better than the Anson mills, stuff, and like it, must be kept in the freezer.

    Unfortunately, the only place to get it is from them at the Hillsdale Sunday farmers market (even more confusing…Hillsdale, a Portland neighborhood, is far from Hillsboro, a small town out past Beaverton). And you can only get it in the late fall, but that’s also when they have their incredible dried beans (borlotti, tarbais, zolfino, and other heirlooms).

    Plan a trip south for October.


  5. John

    Answering for Patricia Jane (who is currently DDR’ing) – No, we don’t know anyone local who does grits (well, at least in raw form, I can think of a couple restaurants) unfortunately. But, you might want to ping Tall Grass Bakery who makes a wonderful hominy bread and find out where they get their hominy.

  6. Andrew

    Which of the grits do you buy, I’d like to order some, but am unsure of which kind.

    I think I need to start cooking more things like grits to offset all the molecular gastronomy I’ve been attempting.

  7. molly

    Just caught this post, but wanted to pass on that I regularly buy spelt and prepare as farro. Some authors claim it is synonymous with farro, others that it’s another grain entirely. I haven’t shelled out the $8 for the imported itty bitty bag of Italian farro at Central Markets, but I have hauled it over to the bulk bins and examined it against the Spelt: to my eye, it’s a dead-ringer. And at $1 and some change/pound, it’s a steal — and delicious. Soaked overnight in the fridge, it boils up to nutty chewy chow in 20-30 minutes. Straight from the jar, I give it 30-40. I usually toss it with roasted veg, sharp cheese, some bright herb and a basic oil and vinegar — i.e. roast zucchini, feta, basil right now. There’s also an excellent roast mushroom-farro salad in Vegetarian Every Day by Jack Bishop. I’m no vegetarian, but I dig this grain. Oh, and it’s way better than wheat berries. Or horse feed.

  8. mamster Post author

    Andrew, sorry it took me so long. I but the coarse antebellum white grits.

    Molly, I just bought some whole emmer wheat kernels at the farmers market, which also seem to be just like farro. I don’t know if there’s really any difference between emmer and spelt.

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