wheat event crowdThe March 8th event on wheat and home grain milling was very informative and well-attended! Over 35 people listened to man of the hour Lee Purdy, wheat farmer and miller, as he explained about the milling process, different types of mills, and about wheat itself. A few key points:

  • Wheat will keep indefinitely until the kernel is broken (ground or cracked). Wheat was found in Egyptian Pharohs’ tombs, planted, grown, and harvested.
  • Flour starts to lose its nutrients immediately. To keep the most nutrition in your bread, grind your wheat and use it within 72 hours.
  • A kernel of wheat can be likened to a chicken egg. Shell = bran; egg white = starch; egg yolk = wheat germ.
  • The whole wheat kernel is ground, then the germ and/or the bran may be sifted out to make:
    • Grocery store white flour = starch only. The starch has calories and a few nutrients.
    • Westwind Milling “unbleached” flour = starch + bran. Leaving the bran in gives a huge nutritional boost to the flour.  (Note that unbleached flour from the store does not have the bran.)
    • Graham flour = starch + bran + germ. The germ adds fiber, but not a lot of nutrition. This is likely the flour you’d end up with if you grind your own at home. If it’s too coarse, you can sift out some of the bran without sacrificing much nutrition.
  • Gluten is the main protein found in wheat. It’s what makes pizza dough stretchy and is found in “hard” wheats. “Soft” wheats, like pastry flour, have less gluten and are better suited to cakes, biscuits, and quick breads or muffins.
  • All-purpose flour is half hard and half soft wheat; it can be used for bread (kneading helps develop the gluten) or cakes (stir it gently to prevent toughness).

lee purdyAfter Lee’s talk, we got to experiment with a few home-scale mills. One was an older electric stone-burr mill, which let us see just how close those stone have to get! There was also an old-fashioned granite mortar and pestle. Though many folks took a turn at the mortar and pestle, we didn’t end up with anything remotely like flour, and we all agreed we’d eat cracked wheat porridge instead of a lot of bread if that were our only grinding option!

Of the home hand mills on display, we only set up and tried the German Family Grain Mill. Lee commented that it was the easiest-turning hand mill he’d ever seen, and indeed, the youngest participants had a great time turning the handle and cranking out flour of varying textures. (This mill also has attachments for making oatmeal, shredding/slicing vegetables, and grinding meat. You can turn it by hand, its own electric base, or attach it to your KitchenAid or Bosch stand mixer. You can buy it at Lehman’s or Everything Kitchens, among other places.)

P.S. – Love to take pictures? Want to be our event photographer? Contact Emily at preservetrad@gmail.com to volunteer to save the world from my inept point-and-shoot action shots!