Promoting whole grains
ALGONA – When it comes to baked goods the trail from a planted seed to finished product often leaves much of a grain’s nutritional potential behind. Alison Hill, a third-generation farm cook turned entrepreneur, has already enjoyed success by bucking that trend. She has a larger goal in mind – promoting whole grains as one way to a healthier diet.
“I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do after school and it wasn’t this,” said Hill, owner of the Daily Bread Bakery and cafe in Algona. “I wanted to work with kids, but I think this gives me a great chance to do that, too.”
Hill’s daughter Elizabeth, who is training to become a chef herself, and three other school-aged helpers play an occasional role in helping during busy days and big events. From a steel shed in what Hill calls “a pleasantly quiet and out-of-the-way corner of town,” Hill and a crew of 10 workers turn out hundreds of loaves of organic, whole-grain bread each week along with similarly health-conscious snacks, desserts and other products.
The business is a natural progression from a lifetime of developing her baking craft, Hill said. As a child growing up in Rolfe, Hill watched her mother make bread weekly from a sourdough starter that had been in the family more than 100 years. That recipe was made with regular white flour, but when Hill’s own children came of age for solid foods she developed an interest in baking with whole grains.
“I’ve always been very health conscious, so when my children were done nursing I wanted to be able to give them the best things that I could,” Hill said. “Through some of the groups I keep up with and through my own research I found out that whole-grain foods have huge benefits, so I decided that was one of the things I wanted to do.”
Hill made her first attempts at whole-grain bread while her family was living on a farm near Manly in Worth County. The initial results were disappointing, but she determined to continue trying.
“It turned out like a brick. It was so heavy thick and grainy you could have thrown it through a window,” Hill said. “Someone told me home-ground grains work better. Eventually I found an electric mill, tried it and it really did make all the difference.”
Combining her knowledge from a minor in health from Iowa State University, along with persistence and a little good advice, Hill developed the recipe that became her Golden Ground signature bread.
With home-ground whole wheat and honey as prime ingredients the bread has a light sweetness and significantly more substance than most store-bought bread, she said.
Initially, Hill made just enough bread for her family and a few holiday treats for friends, but as she sharpened her craft, special requests started to become frequent. She decided to take her creation to the local farmers market where she was soon selling 60 loaves a session.
Sensing even more potential in the bread and in her cooking, Hill said she prayed on the issue and finally came to a decision to set up the Daily Bread Bakery in Algona, which opened in July 2008.
Hill found sources for locally grown certified organic ingredients from around Iowa and Minnesota and soon gained a devoted following throughout the community.
“It’s really a perfect setup for us here,” Hill said. “The location is great for what we need and the people have really taken us in.
“That is what allowed us to expand the bakery into a cafe and have a place for people to come right in to eat.”
Quickly growing from in-house sales to stocking bread in more than a dozen area grocery stores and businesses, Hill’s bakery has been under almost constant expansion. From the first mill and oven set that allowed her to bake about a dozen loaves, the bakery’s latest additions will add the capacity to bake 100 loaves at a time. The expansion is also necessary because Hill sees even bigger and more important goals for her product.
“I want to be able to make this bread available for schools,” Hill said. “We recently did with the public school here in town and 220 of the 221 kids who tried it said they liked it and they would like to get our bread in school.”
While the extra business is nice, Hill said her greatest goal with her bread is to improve health. Whole grains have been linked to preventing the occurrence of type II diabetes; a problem Hill said research has shown is becoming significantly more prevalent among young people.
“My biggest passion is to try to get children to eat more whole grains. It has been estimated that one third of young children today will develop type II and lots of research has shown that eating whole grains is one of the biggest things we can do to prevent that,” Hill said.
“Kids love this bread and I love that they love this bread because it’s something I can do to help.”
Her interests don’t end with children’s health, either. Hill is currently developing special “his” and “hers” versions of her whole grain bread, with ingredients tailored to men’s and women’s health issues. It’s one of several ongoing projects that are always under way in the Daily Bread kitchen, including developing a freezable dough mix for Golden Ground, as well as new soup, dessert and other recipes.
While she has spent years learning the tricks of whole grain baking, Hill said the challenge of creating something new and useful keeps her days interesting and rewarding.
“It’s still a lot of trial and error,” Hill said. “There is a basic formula for working with whole grains and you go from there. Making something people really enjoy takes time and a bit of experimentation.”
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 medium bananas mashed with fork.
Stir all ingredients, except for bananas, together.
Mix bananas in. More flour may need to be added depending on the size of the bananas. Blend into a thick batter – lumps are okay. Line muffin tins with muffin papers and fill with bread batter. Bake at 325 to 350 degrees until golden brown, around 18 to 22 minutes.
Contact Kevin Spillman by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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