Sunday, January 04, 2009

Mill 'Er Up!

One of the projects I had hoped to work on over the holiday break was to pull out my new grain mill and give it a whirl. As the break flew by more quickly than ever, I ended up putting off that experiment until today.

I should say here that I lay total inspiration for this at the feet of fellow blogger Emily at Eat Close to Home. Her goal last year of making a loaf of bread from scratch -- growing her own grain, milling it, then baking it -- made me think, well, why can't I do that, too? What a great idea! (Thanks, Emily!)

When I bought my grain mill at Lehman's, I also picked up a big bucket of winter wheat berries so that I had plenty of grain to practice with. So this morning I opened the bucket, scooped out a bowl full of wheat, and sealed it back up.

I set up the mill in the kitchen -- and isn't it a sweet little thing? -- and started cranking.

On the first pass, I had to give the crank all my strength in order to grind the wheat berries into a coarse meal. But I ran the meal back through the mill twice more to end up with a finer grain, though still a semi-coarse flour.

As you can see here, there was a fair bit of difference between what came out from the first milling (left) and what I ended up with after three tries (right)!

Then I decided to sift the flour, just to see what results I'd get. The bowl on the right contains the bigger pieces of bran (the outer coating of the wheat berries), though the flour on the left still contains pieces of the bran, too.

Since I had plenty of freshly milled flour, what else could I do but bake bread? I pulled out the recipe for my rosemary walnut cider bread and whipped it up fairly quickly, using the bran in place of wheat germ and adding a little local spelt flour to augment the wheat flour I had ground.

The wheat berries, having been in my cold storage room, and the flour from the refrigerator seemed to slow down the yeast's activity with their cooler temperatures, so after letting the dough rise on the board for a while, I ended up plopping it into a bowl and resting atop a pan of formerly mulling cider. That helped the dough proof a little more in my chilly kitchen.

Finally, I shaped the dough into a loaf, let it rise again, and baked it, resulting in this beauty. (Sorry the photo is a little dark: daylight was fading fast.)

Milling (and sifting) the grain directly before making the bread dough added nearly three-quarters of an hour to the process, but as I wasn't in a hurry, it didn't really matter. Besides, I expect I'll get a little more adept at grinding grains with practice. Since I'm planning to grow a couple of grains in the garden this coming season, I hope to have plenty of home-grown grains to use.

And I imagine I'll be practicing a lot this winter!

ADDENDUM (in case you haven't been following the comments): For anyone else who is interested in learning more about growing your own grains, Gene Logsdon has revised his classic Small-Scale Grain Raising, and it will be published by Chelsea Green at the end of March. I've read the original, and I cannot wait to get my hands on the new edition. If you'd like to learn more, Chelsea Green has posted the afterword to the new edition on their site. Classic Gene!

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At 1/05/2009 1:49 PM, Blogger Sara said...

Hi Jennifer,
I'm curious if you have done any cost comparisons on buying a bag of flour vs. the price of the berries and the flour you get from it? I've been wanting to get a grain mill for a few months now so I could try grinding my own grains, as well. But wasn't sure if there was any cost savings? Or just the satisfaction of doing it yourself and knowing where it came from.

Also, curious to hear what grains you're thinking of growing? I've been slowly reading up on growing my own grains, too. But haven't made it far yet... just have read about millet. So just curious what you're thinking of?


At 1/05/2009 2:14 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Sara, that's a good question. No, I haven't kept track of the cost comparison as of yet, but I will have to keep an eye on that. I'll try to remember to post about it when I get it figured out, but keep reminding me if I don't! :-)

I have seeds in hand for winter wheat and buckwheat, and I'm still waiting on my oats. I was tempted by millet, but I need to cook with that more first, I think.

At 1/05/2009 3:24 PM, Anonymous Janet said...

Interesting. In addition to Sara's questions, I'm curious as to whether you see a culinary, nutritional or similar advantage to milling it yourself.

At 1/05/2009 3:30 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Janet, nutritionally, it's hands-down in favor of keeping the grain whole until use. Grinding the grain exposes the oil within the germ to air, and that will speed the deterioration of nutritional value and taste as the grain's oil eventually becomes more rancid. That's why with whole grain flours it's recommended that (A) you keep them in the refrigerator or freezer and (B) use them within 6 months.

Now, since the whole wheat flour I've been using otherwise is fairly recently milled, I don't taste a huge difference, but the texture of the bread was very satisfying -- maybe a slight bit lighter because the flour was a little fluffier? I'll have to experiment more. ;-)

At 1/05/2009 5:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, Jennifer! It's beautiful! I'm so happy you've had such fun and delicious results!

On cost, Sara, my wheat berries were 48-68 cents per pound and the last flour I bought was 72 cents a pound (these were all local, organic, and bought in 50 lb bags). So the cost savings is not huge, but wheat berries last forever and flour doesn't.

I can't mill powder-fine wheat at home, but I've found that soft white whole wheat makes great pizza crust, even at the coarse grind, if you add a tablespoon of gluten to each cup.

At 1/06/2009 7:03 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Wow, thanks for the info, Emily! Even at the highest price for wheat berries, that 4 cent difference can add up. I bought a 35-lb bucket of wheat berries, so at those prices, that would be a couple dollars difference -- but as you noted in your posts about grinding, a cup of berries equals almost two cups of flour, so you're really getting more flour out of comparative weights.

AND the keeping potential is a big savings -- PLUS I'll end up with a big food-grade plastic bucket for future storage. ;-)

Thanks for the added tip about adding gluten for the soft wheat. I know I can get additional wheat berries at the natural foods store, so I may have to experiment with soft and hard wheats later on.

At 1/06/2009 10:09 AM, Blogger Sara said...

Thanks for all the info, Jennifer and Emily! This is all great to read. I hadn't realized the keeping potential of the berries vs. the flour. I guess I'd just thought the berries didn't keep for that much longer than the flour - so I'm very happy to hear that they do! I think this is definitely something I'm going to have to do.

What sources have you found to be the best on offering how-to/tips/advice on growing your own grains? I just ordered a couple of homesteading books that I'd heard had some info in them on growing your own grains, but I haven't received them yet to know how useful it is.

Also, did you order your grain seeds from Fedco? Or another source? I haven't used Fedco before and haven't looked into their website much, but I don't think the companies I've used for my veggie seeds don't offer grain seeds, so I'd have to find another source. I know I can just google this info and find it quickly, but figured I'd like to hear what you're doing. Its always better to hear first-hand, than to read randomly some place else. :)


At 1/06/2009 10:32 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Sara, the best book I've read about grain raising -- HANDS DOWN -- is Gene Logsdon's Small-Scale Grain Raising. Unfortunately, it's out of print, and used copies are both scarce and wicked expensive. BUT, you can check at your local library (will probably have to go through interlibrary loan). AND, Gene tells me that he's working on a revised edition to come out sometime this spring. I am definitely looking forward to that.

However, two of Gene's other books -- Homesteading and Gene Logsdon's Practical Skills -- both have some information on growing grains. Emily, do you have other suggestions?

I did get my grain seeds from Fedco. I'm sure I have way more than I can plant in the garden, but maybe I'll find another place to scatter some seed. I got vegetable seeds from them last year and am really pleased with them. I don't know how the price would compare with other places, but they do have quality seed, much of it organic and open-pollinated.

At 1/06/2009 10:43 AM, Blogger Sara said...

Thanks for the suggestions, Jennifer. I just checked out a few sources, including some of the local libraries, for the Small-Scale Grain Raising book. No luck yet. I did this new version is available for pre-order on Amazon for less than $20, though! I think I'll sign up for the pre-order and will just have to wait till May to receive it.

If you have any other suggestions, I'd love to hear them!

At 1/09/2009 8:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My wheat crop was a bust last year. I got impatient with the winter wheat and pulled it out to plant carrots. Only a dozen stalks made it through. They produced well, however I didn't figure out how to thresh them well.

I've had better luck with rye, which was sold and planted as a cover crop. It was easy to thresh and it made good rye flour and bread.

All my seed came right out of the jars in the pantry! I figure organic grain is viable, so why not?

And remember folks - a pound of flour and a pound of wheat weigh the same thing, no matter what the volume is, and you get charged by the pound. ;)



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