MOUNT PLEASANT — Last Monday, Charlie Tennessen baked a loaf of bread that he says was unlike any other: the first loaf made from Marquis wheat in Wisconsin since 1950.
Just days earlier, the Mount Pleasant resident harvested his 2-acre field of Marquis wheat from a rented field along Spring Street. That was as much as he could grow from the now-rare wheat that once dominated Wisconsin wheat fields, until it was left behind in favor of more-productive dwarf varieties.
Tennessen has University of Wisconsin publications showing that Marquis comprised 59.2 percent of Wisconsin wheat in 1919 — and zero percent in 1950.
He is trying to do what he can to resurrect Marquis and other “heritage” wheat varieties such as Red Fife and Turkey Red. Besides the Marquis, he grew 3 acres of the latter this year.
Tennessen’s heritage seeds came from seed banks in very small quantities, but multiplies his next-year’s supply with every crop.
He sells his heritage wheats both wholesale and retail, milled or not, depending on the buyer’s wishes. Tennessen grinds his wheat into flour in his two self-built basement stone mills; he said stone mills produce a more flavorful flour than roller mills.
“There’s not a lot of money in flour,” Tennessen said about why he mills his wheat himself. By vertically integrating with his own mills, he can make some money, selling flour wholesale for about $1 and retail for about $2.
“My marketing is that this is a good-tasting, healthier product and has the romance of having been proved in the past,” he said.
Tennessen sells about 50 pounds of wheat berries a month to Milwaukee’s Outpost Foods co-ops. They can be boiled and eaten or made into tabouleh, an Arab salad.
Locally, his flour is available at Molbeck’s Health & Spice Shop, 3212 Washington Ave., and Piggly Wiggly, 5201 Washington Ave.
And Lizz Fabel, “The Bread Lady,” sells baked goods made from Tennessen’s wheats at area farmers markets and Milaeger’s Sunday marketplaces at 4838 Douglas Ave., Caledonia.