Wheat berry and mushroom soup

Photo of wheat harvest at Eatwell Farm, CaliforniaWheat harvest at Eatwell Farm, June 2008

When nights are long and cold, I often crave mushroom-barley soup. Thick, richly flavored, nutritious and texturally interesting, yet relatively easy to make. Although barley is what I have used in the past, lately wheat berries have been my grain of choice. Wheat berries are the whole grain kernels that can be milled into flour. Unmilled, they can be used like many other grains.

For one reason or another, several farms in Northern California — Eatwell, Full Belly, and Massa — have been growing wheat for the past few years. Some sell only the berries, while others sell milled whole wheat flour. I’m not sure why Massa and Full Belly grow wheat, but Eatwell Farm’s decision to plant it was stimultated by their chickens. As I explained at Eat Local Challenge, the farmer realized the incongruity of claiming that his eggs were ‘local’ while buying imported organic chicken feed.

Using wheat berries instead of barley allows me to make this a fully local soup:
wheat berries from Full Belly Farm (Guinda, Yolo County); mushrooms from Solano Mushrooms (Vacaville, Solano County); onions and garlic from Riverdog Farm (Guinda, Yolo County); tomatoes from Woodleaf Farm (Oroville, Butte County); and herbs from the backyard.

You can probably adapt your favorite mushroom-barley soup recipe to use wheat berries — but because wheat berries are a lot heartier than most barleys (especially the pearled variety), you’ll most likely need to cook the soup longer than the recipe indicates. Or, if you don’t have a favorite, below is a rough recipe for the soup that I make.

Recipe – Wheat Berry and Mushroom Soup

3/4 cup wheat berries
1 medium onion, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3/4 pound white or brown mushrooms, chopped finely
1 cup diced tomatoes (fresh or from a can)
A few cups of water or vegetable stock
Herbs to taste – one or more of rosemary, thyme, marjoram, oregano
Salt and black pepper to taste

Rinse the wheat berries, place them in a heat proof bowl or a pan, then cover with boiling water. This will let them start cooking while you prepare the vegetables.

In a medium saucepan, cook the onion in a few tablespoons of oil (or butter) over medium heat until it is soft, stirring frequently about 5-7 minutes. Add the mushrooms. As they cook, they will release some of their liquid. Keep cooking, stirring often, until all of the liquid has been released, then cook for a few minutes more to lightly brown the mushrooms. (Sometimes I need to add extra oil during this process.) Add the garlic and cook for another minute.

Add the tomatoes, stock and wheat berries (and their soaking liquid) to the vegetables. Add the herbs, salt (about 1-2 teaspoons) and pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to medium-low and cook, partly covered, until the wheat berries are tender.

Photo of wheat stalks at Eatwell Farm, CaliforniaStalks of wheat at Eatwell Farm

Random link from the archive: Mycology Lessons at the SF Food Bank

Technorati tags: vegetarian : Food


  1. Do the wheat berries end up thickening the soup the next day like barley seems to do? I am guessing that it would because wheat has more gluten than barley does, but maybe it stays locked in?

  2. Erik — the wheat berries don’t break down very much, so they cause little thickening to the soup. I suppose that one could break open a portion of the kernels so that the insides can dissolve into the soup.

  3. Yum…Marc, this sounds great! I honestly had never even considered the wheat berry before moving out here, and now I’m eyeing for all kinds of uses…

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