How to Process and Cook with Homegrown Buckwheat

Reader Contribution by Mari Stuart and Carbon Harvest
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 Homegrown buckwheat groats
Photo by Mari Stuart

Homegrown buckwheat is a fantastic grain to grow on a small scale. Many gardeners grow buckwheat as a cover crop, but don’t end up harvesting and using the groats. But since you’ve gone through the trouble of growing it, you might as well eat it, too! The sweet, nutty kernels have a favorable nutrient profile, forming a complete protein. Buckwheat is also gluten-free, making it a great alternative grain to use in breads, muffins, and pancakes – or on its own as a cooked grain.

(Technically, buckwheat is not a grain but a seed, or a pseudo-grain, like amaranth or quinoa. But for the sake of brevity, I’ll refer to it as grain.)

Growing Buckwheat

Buckwheat is a remarkably resilient plant. It grows well even in soils that are low in fertility, and requires minimal irrigation. It has few disease or bug problems, attracts beneficial pollinators – and of course, it’s an excellent green manure crop in addition to being edible.

However, you want to time the planting right. Buckwheat prefers cool temperatures, but is frost-tender. That makes it somewhat tricky to figure out an optimal time window for planting buckwheat, which has a sow-to-harvest time of 10-15 weeks. In Northeastern United States, a good time to sow might be in mid-summer. I garden in Zone 7a, in Southern Appalachia, and here the best time to plant buckwheat is around mid-August. The buckwheat gets to grow during the cooler fall weeks, but can still be harvested before the first frost, which here comes in late October.

You can plant the regular buckwheat that’s sold as a cover crop at garden stores. Having said that, breeders are working on developing buckwheats that have a more uniform seed size and improved flavor.

Plant buckwheat by broadcasting the seed over a worked seedbed.

Buckwheat kernels ready for harvest
Photo by Mari Stuart

Harvesting Buckwheat

When harvesting buckwheat, keep in mind that the plant is indeterminate, meaning that the kernels ripen at different times. Some may still be green when others are ready. In some ways, that makes the crop particularly well suited for small-scale growing.

If you have the patience, you could simply walk through the field and strip the dark brown grains off the stalk with your fingers.

Rich, dark brown buckwheat
Photo by Mari Stuart

The more effective methods is to cut the buckwheat down with a scythe or sickle mower, tie the plants into bundles, and let them dry protected from rain. When the stalks are completely dry, thresh them inside sacks or old pillowcases, or on old sheets beating them with brooms.

Processing Buckwheat

What you have at this point is homegrown buckwheat groats, but likely with some amount of plant matter and leaves in the mix. There are a few different methods for separating the groats from the chaff.

If you have a winnowing basket, you can winnow the groats. Otherwise, you can set up a fan next to a shallow tray and place a couple of cups of buckwheat on the tray. Then grab a handful of buckwheat and let them fall. All the dry leaves and other chaff fly off because they are very light. Keep repeating this grab-and-let-go. What ends up on the tray eventually is just the buckwheat groats.

Separating groats from chaff with fan
Photo by Mari Stuart

You could grind the groats into flour as they are. The ground-up hull is a good source of fiber. But most people prefer the taste if you remove the dark brown hulls.

First, lightly toast the groats in a toaster oven, a hot cast-iron pan, or a hot oven. That makes the hulls separate more easily.

Next, grind the toasted groats to remove the hull. You can use a blender or a food processor, but I had the most success with a good old-fashioned food mill. The resulting coarsely ground buckwheat will still have some bits of hulls in it, but they can easily be sifted out with a flour sifter at the end.

 Removing buckwheat hulls
Photo by Mari Stuart

Cooking with Homegrown Buckwheat

Now comes the best part: eating your homegrown buckwheat! You can cook the groats as they are and enjoy them like rice or barley in a meal, as morning porridge with berries and milk, or you can roast them to make Ukrainian-style kasha varnishkes.

Alternatively, you can grind them into flour. Buckwheat flour is highly versatile and can be used to make pancakes or blinis, or baking quick breads and muffins. If you don’t have a grain mill, a food processor or blender works too.

Here is an easy recipe for buckwheat pancakes for a hearty, satisfying homegrown breakfast.

 

Homemade buckwheat pancakes
Photo by Mari Stuart

Buckwheat Pancakes Recipe

Often you’ll see recipes calling for 50% buckwheat flour and 50% all-purpose wheat flour. But it’s not necessary to cut the buckwheat with wheat — buckwheat’s nutty, sweet flavor is not overwhelming at all.

  • 1.5 cups buckwheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 Tablespoon salted butter, melted
  • 2 Tablespoon maple syrup
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 3/4 cups buttermilk
  • butter (for the pan)

Set a well-seasoned cast iron pan on medium heat. Mix the dry ingredients together well. Mix the melted butter together with the syrup, eggs, and buttermilk separately, and add to the dry ingredients. Mix until the batter is well blended and there are no more dry lumps.

Melt a dollop of butter on the heated pan and ladle the batter onto the pan in desired sizes. Enjoy with berries, syrup, or your favorite pancake toppings.


Mari Stuartlives in Asheville, N.C., where she stewards an urban homestead with her husband and daughter. She is a Certified Permaculture Designer and Teacher and a Certified Ecological Landscaper, who cofounded Project Grounded, an initiative that connects urban consumers to the regenerative agriculture movement through their daily choices. She is currently working to develop a pioneering community-supported carbon farming program in Western North Carolina. Connect with Mari atMake Gather Grow and its Facebook and Instagram, and at Carbon Harvest and its Facebook and Instagram. Read all of Mari’s MOTHER EARTH NEWSposts here.


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