Ancestral methods: Local foodie offers homemade tortillas – and more

September 2018 Posted in Community, Food & Drink
Elizabeth Voth displaying tacos made from her blue corn tortillas

Elizabeth Voth displaying tacos made from her blue corn tortillas. Melissa Wagoner

By Melissa Wagoner

When Elizabeth Voth cooks she focuses not just on taste but on making sure the nutrients in her food are both present and utilized – but that doesn’t mean her dishes aren’t fun.“I have adapted every one of my childhood favorite foods to feature traditionally prepared ingredients, including cornbread, pasta, marshmallows, sandwich loaves and dinner rolls, pancakes and crêpes, scones and dumplings,” she listed. “My signature recipe is Black Cacao Brownie, a powerhouse of sourdough and sprouted lentils (because they are so high in antioxidants).”

Voth – the owner of Hive and Hearth in Silverton – has been teaching food workshops for several years but has long fantasized about opening her own company that would supply consumers with locally grown organic food while also educating them on the best ways to attain the full nutritional content of that food.

This summer her dream company finally took shape when she began selling freshly made blue corn tortillas at the Silverton Farmer’s Market.

“[T]he Silverton Farmer’s Market has such a delightful atmosphere – and co-managers Alyssa Burge and Stacy Higby keep participation so simple and friendly for vendors, that I was inspired to scale up from family size batches of tortillas to making 200 or more each week,” Voth said. “Interacting with families and enthusiastic individuals over the summer has been the highlight of my year.”

Voth began making tortillas two years ago when a friend at the local farmers market in Los Angeles, where she was living at the time, suggested they make homemade tamales for their freezers.

“At that point I did not eat corn in any form, or know where to find organic options, and I had never even considered that there might be a difference between a traditional versus conventional approach,” she said. “Preparing seeds of all kinds for optimal digestion by soaking, sprouting, and fermenting are daily practices for me. So intellectually I was not surprised to learn that corn has a specific treatment method that developed hand-in-hand with its domestication.”

Voth began researching and teaching herself these traditional, Mesoamerican practices, which involve soaking high quality heirloom corn kernels in a culinary limestone solution, cooking, rinsing, hand grinding – twice – and finally forming the masa into tortillas for toasting.

“What comes out of the mill is tender, self-adhering dough that is pure corn – no lard or wheat gluten needed to avoid crumbly texture,” she said. “That is just proof of the quality heirloom corn protein content. I often invite children to drop a ball of dough on a flat surface and they giggle with surprise to see the dough bounce like a superball.”

Hive and Hearth’s booth at this summer’s farmer’s market was a great success – and one Voth plans to replicate. Selling upwards of 100 tortillas every week, they received rave reviews.

Some of her favorite customer quotes included, “This flavor is exactly what I remember from childhood,” and also, “Wow, your tortillas taste like pure corn!”

Along with the popular taste and the unique process used to make them, Voth’s tortillas also gained fame because they are blue – owing to the blue corn kernels used to produce them. This addition contributes to the overall nutritional value, while giving them a pleasingly colorful hue.

“[T]he blue color is an added bonus: it is the antioxidant called anthocyanin (which also makes pomegranates red and blue potatoes that rich, luminous blue color),” she explained. “Anthocyanin is one of the four components our body must have on hand to make elastic yet durable skin collagen protein.”

Although Voth will be stepping away from the sale of her tortillas and other baked goods this winter in pursuit of her primary career – as an upper elementary teacher at the Community Roots School – her products will still be available by special order at the Hive and Hearth website – www.hiveandhearth.org. Beginning in September she will also begin facilitating a series of monthly workshops at both GeerCrest Farm and Olde Moon Farm.

“I envision Hive and Hearth events facilitating people who have loved shopping at the Silverton Farmer’s Market to continue direct support of their favorite farms and farm families, with the added bonus of workshop formats in which people meet others who are enthusiastically pursuing similar interests and benefiting each other with shared values,” Voth said.

“As I coordinate bulk orders and offer my experience with food preservation, I hope the lasting contribution of Hive and Hearth will be increased friendship and professional networks, healthier friends and families, more quality time spent in intergenerational interaction, and more traditional food ways kept alive within our present culture.”

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