At the end of June last year I successfully defended my PhD dissertation and afterwards wanted to celebrate with a turkey, bacon, and avocado sandwich from Julia’s in Wallingford (Seattle). I felt I deserved it: the sandwich of triumph! So at lunch time off we went to Julia’s and there, right next door, at 4405 Wallingford Ave N, was a new bakeshop: Damsel & Hopper.

I don’t eat much grain1 but the bakery smelt heavenly and, hey, I was celebrating! We went in. It was their stealth/test opening day and the owner, Rob, was eager to chat. I saw the labels of some of their loaves—einkorn, emmer, rye—and was fascinated.


Image description: Background, shelves of various loaves advertising 100% organic grains; foreground, a basket of long baguettes. 

I’d just been talking about all things medieval and, lo, here were ancient grains for sale. Nothing would have pleased me more than to get down in the weeds and find out about Damsel & Hopper’s grain source, methods, and yields, discuss nutrition and more, but in the end I just agreed that baking with ancient grains more challenging than with other grains, bought a likely-looking loaf of emmer and rye, and promised to come back when they were officially open.

We have. Many times. And every time, we buy their emmer and rye—if we get there in time (they tend to sell out). I love this stuff. More to the point, even if I eat it three days in row, it doesn’t set off that cascading inflammatory response that so many breads seem to.

I suspect there are two reasons for this. One, due to the consistency of emmer bread, I’m able to slice the loaf super thin, so I don’t eat a vast amount in one sitting. And because that sliceability, I use it for sandwiches rather than to eat on its own.2 Most of my sandwich fillings are high-protein: home-roasted beef or chicken, home-made egg salad or very occasionally tuna mayonnaise (and so much better blood sugar wise). Two, emmer and rye seem to sit better with my system than other wheats. In other words, emmer bread isn’t like the kind of bread most people eat.

The first time I cut a slice I was struck by the texture: very stretchy and elastic. It reminded me of something. It took a while to figure it out, but one day I had a vivid sense memory of eating Ethiopian bread: that was it! This loaf wasn’t as spongy but it definitely had some of the same qualities.

Spiked ears of emmer. Public domain via Wikipedia.

Image description: three ears of golden-coloured wheat, each showing the awns, or spike-like bristles, that grow from individual seeds.
It turns out that Ethiopian bread is traditionally made from emmer, which gives good yield from poor soil and warmer conditions (whereas rye, while also productive in more marginal soil, prefers cooler weather). Emmer is far higher in fibre than most varieties of wheat, and very high in protein, with above average amounts of niacin, magnesium, zinc, and iron. Its antioxidant qualities are fabulous. So: tasty, interesting, convenient for sandwiches and, relatively speaking, extremely healthy!

Image description: a batch of emmer and rye loaves (at least 15) just before they go in the oven. They are pale but nicely shaped in loaf tins, with a few whole grains apparent on the surface.

That’s what the loaves look like as they’re about to go in the oven. And here’s what one looks like on our counter but before I start stuffing it in my mouth.

Image description: An uncut beautifully-baked loaf, the colour of dark honey with a slightly darker split down the centre.

So every couple of weeks Kelley and I buy a single loaf and make it last. Because I love this fucking stuff. I suspect that if you ate it, you would too. But if you want the emmer and rye, you should call ahead and reserve some. They will put it in a bag with your initial on artistically created from masking tape and set it aside for you to collect.

While you’re there, you might want to pick up other stuff, because Damsel & Hopper also make delicious café bread, baguettes, and a few other varieties. Not to mention their pastries.

Image description: Top, several round café loaves, with a unique, banded pattern baked into the crust and dusted with flour, cooling on a wire rack; bottom, two different kinds of shaped flaky pastries.

My favourite are the scones but alas I don’t have any pictures of those. Also, if you happen to be there around lunch time, they make delicious home made soup. They’re generally open Tuesday through Saturday, but every now and again open for a short week, Tuesday through Thursday.

If you try it, let me know what you think.

1 Years ago, I stopped eating grains completely: no bread, no pasta, no rice. It’s an MS thing. In my experience, excess carbs provoke an inflammatory response which exacerbate my MS. Wheat, particularly, seemed pretty bad. (My mother was celiac but I’ve been thoroughly I’m tested, and I’m not. So don’t take this as me saying emmer is okay for celiacs; it’s not.) I also stopped eating potatoes, and high-glycemic fruit like bananas. I lost a shit ton of weight. For a while I was wearing size 0. Gradually, cautiously, I began to add little treats here and there: a croissant with coffee every couple of months. Blini with caviar once or twice a year. Tiny bits of roti with enormous portions of Indian food. The trick is not eat bread, even a tiny bit, for more than two days in a row and at least a week in between treats. Tasty, fresh-baked white breads are like crack to me: once I slice into it, I can’t stop until it’s gone. So when we do buy bread it’s whole grain, and we cut the loaf in half to freeze.
2 Except for the heel (or, as we would say in Yorkshire, the crust), which I always claim that—for some peculiar reason Kelley is just as happy with a regular slice—and slather with butter. My favourite butter is either Danish or French: very lightly cultured.