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The use of Grünkern (dried unripe spelt) is an ancient country tradition in the arid land of Bauland, in Bavarian Franconia and northeastern Baden Württemberg, where the local Bauländer Spelz variety has always been grown. The first written record of Grünkern dates back to 1660, when it appears in documents of Amorbach Abbey in the Odenwald, but it can be assumed it was produced for a long time before that.    

The processing method is unusual and demanded considerable effort. Instead of allowing the grain to ripen naturally, it was harvested while still unripe and dried in a wood-fired oven. At first the village oven was used, but soon purpose-built ones took over (Darrofen or drying ovens). In its period of widest use in the early 1800s, it would be dried for ten days or a fortnight and the nutty aroma spread over the whole of Franconia. However other cereals requiring less effort gradually displaced it for use in bread, such as wheat or other varieties of spelt, and the production of Grünkern steadily decreased. While there were ninety villages in Bauland growing spelt for processing into Grünkern in 1870, now there are only fifteen.

The native Bauländer Spelz variety has small grains and a thin compact shape. It only grows on slightly sloping ground and the use of fertilizers must be kept to a minimum so the grains do not lose their special consistency. Product yields are fairly low, product cultivation and processing are very demanding (as dehusking and drying is involved).    

Drying is carried out using traditional beech-fired ovens. This is the only way of producing shiny green grains which remain firm when cooked, and have the characteristic delicate smoky flavor and aroma. Grünkern will keep for a long time (in chaff) and is only dehusked before consumption. It is commercialized in various forms-as grains (whole or split), refined and flour.

It was a traditional ingredient in soups or vegetarian rissoles (Bratling), but has recently been introduced into other traditional German recipes, such as Klösschen (dumplings of potato, bread and cereals), Eintöpfe (meat and vegetable casseroles), salads, stews, risotto, cakes and biscuits.    

The problems facing the native Bauländer Spelz spelt variety began as early as the mid 19th century. It was no longer a competitive cereal for making bread and its use tended to be restricted to families making Grünkern. In 1970 a regional small farmers' association founded in 1929 evolved into the Vereinigung Fränkischer Grünkernerzeuger (Association of Franconian Grünkern Producers), numbering about 50 growers cultivating 280 hectares of arable land.    

This association led to the creation of the Franconian Grünkern Presidium in 2010. Its goal was to recover and promote the native Bauländer Spelz variety, support traditional, sustainable cultivation and processing methods, and preserve the gastronomic heritage of Bauland. It will be essential for chefs to be involved so the wonderful flavor of Grünkern can be reintroduced to regional cuisine, both in top restaurants and for everyday meals.

What is a Slow Food Presidia?

The Slow Food Presidia are projects sustaining quality production at risk of extinction, protecting unique regions and ecosystems, recovering traditional processing methods, safeguarding native breeds and local plant varieties.

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