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13Jan 2016
Milling day prep

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop given by William Rubel in Topeka, Kansas. I was there as a vendor at the Mother Earth News Fair. I knew beforehand that Mr. Rubel was going to be giving a presentation and he was going to use our GrainMaker mill as part of his talk. While I was setting up my booth the day before the event Mr. Rubel stopped by. This was the first time I had met him and naturally he wanted to see our mill in action and had several questions regarding the mill and about the wheat I had brought along.

As we visited he started talking about having higher moisture in the wheat – up to 19% he said. He told me he soaked his wheat for up to 24 hours before using it! I was instantly suspicious and concerned that he was going to place wet wheat into our mill. This went against everything I had learned – high moisture? Surly he was mistaken, but I continued to listen. He then asked me about sifting. This was interesting to me, as it seemed that just lately I have had more and more folks inquire about this. In my naiveté I imagined my grandmother’s hand held flour sifter with the little red handled crank on the side. To me this just seemed like an extra step in the bread making process, and after all, my GrainMaker mill ground the flour nice and fine on the first pass, so there was no need for me to sift. That led into Mr. Rubel asking me to grind some wheat using our mill so he could see the consistency of the flour.

I explained to him that our mill was adjustable, and thus allows the user to determine their preferred consistency. Knowing what I use for bread making, as well as what virtually everyone that has ever inquired or purchased a mill from us has told me, we all want the same thing – ultra fine flour, just like what you find on the store shelf, but with the benefit of all the good stuff still in the fresh ground flour, I set the knob to the finest position. Much to my surprise, he said, “Oh no, this needs to be much coarser.” What? I was shocked. I do not believe I have ever had anyone tell me the flour was too fine as if that was a bad thing! We take great pleasure when folks tell us how pleased and surprised they are in the fact that our mill produces such fine flour – some even saying the finest they have ever felt coming from fresh milled flour!

That is when he spoke on sifting and gave some history of how things worked in the “food chain” a long time ago. He explained that in upper class societies, one could see how wealthy a family was based on how they milled and sifted their flour, and took care of their servants and their animals. When milled flour is sifted, there are different sizes of screens used. He spoke of “tailings” or “overs” and “throughs”. He explained that as it passed through these screens, the various parts of the wheat were in essence revealed. For example, you could actually see the bran and the middlings.

After it went through all the siftings, you had very nice, fine “white” flour.

What? White flour? I was more than a little concerned and definitely shocked. We were at the Mother Earth News Fair, and folks are grinding their own grains to get as much nutrition out of the grains they are grinding right? Otherwise, why go to all this effort? We put much effort and focus into eating as close to the source as possible and he has just used this dreaded five letter word to describe flour: white.

Admittedly after that first meeting I had more questions and concerns than I had answers for and I was not sure about this presentation. He stopped back the next day and just said hello and we visited briefly. Finally the day of the presentation came and I was looking forward to just being able to attend the talk. When we attend these events, it is normal for me to stay in my booth the entire time. I am generally ok with this as that is my comfort zone. This day though, I was asked by Mr. Rubel to attend and he was going to have me stand when he introduced our mill during his talk. Little did I know what I was about to find out – or be asked to do!

When Mr. Rubel was introduced, I found out that he is a food historian, and that he was knighted by the French for his work on food history. He is the author of *Bread: A Global History and *The Magic of Fire: Hearth Cooking: One Hundred Recipes for the Fireplace or Campfire, and he is also a frequent contributor to Mother Earth News magazine.

As he started to speak and to demonstrate the wheat that he had ground before this talk began, he pulled out several rectangular shaped shallow “boxes” that had different sized screens in the bottom. He spoke of microns on the sizes of the screens. I will admit I didn’t get to take notes during this session as I was called upon by Mr. Ruble to help with the presentation on a couple of occasions while samples of different siftings were passed around the audience. He also asked me to please come up and ready the mill to grind some of the sifted, coarser grain. I am not a public speaker, and while I am comfortable standing in my booth and visiting with folks, it is another story being up on stage in front of an audience. He handed me the headset microphone and told me to introduce myself!

Once that was done, I place this product in the mill and we reground the coarser siftings. At this point I was fascinated! Right before my eyes, it all started to come together. He told us that white bread has been around for centuries. This is not the same white bread that we currently purchase off our store shelves, but healthy white bread made from whole grains obtained by soaking the grain and sifting. If you need more fiber, add in a little more of the bran you sifted out. Experiment with it. Regrind it and sift again. Add an egg or more oil. Don’t be afraid. Don’t rely on getting your nutrition from bread. Eat another salad, have another carrot, and realize that if you wanted all your nutrition from bread, you would have to eat A LOT of bread!

The servants in times of old got the heavier bread, and then what was left was made into loaves for the animals. He showed slides and spoke of “horse bread”. Centuries ago, farmers depended on their work horses. These horses needed more that grass to eat to give them the strength and nourishment they needed for the jobs they had to perform. This horse bread was made from the flour left over after the people got all they needed for their bread.

Well, this was indeed a very fascinating opportunity and I am very excited by what I learned. I still have a few questions, and I am not sure I would do this every time I wanted to bake bread, but I now understand how to obtain this white flour naturally and look forward to trying this out once I get my screens.

~Bonnie Jones

*These are the Amazon.com links to purchase Mr. Rubel’s booksBread: A Global History and The Magic of Fire: Hearth Cooking

11Mar 2015

For thousands of years bread has been referred to as “the staff of life”.  At least 10 books in the Bible contain references to bread, and others also contain references to leavening, flour, and kneading of flour.

Very early in history it must have been discovered that a more edible product could be made by separating the ground meal into coarse bran particles and white flour. The advent of weaving made this process possible. Sieves or baskets were made using horse hair or papyrus. Later, Ancient Romans ground and sifted the flour through linen, twice. This was an expensive procedure that only the aristocracy could afford. The whiter flour obtained was called “pollen” meaning a fine powder. The very best grade they called “flos” a word for a flower, being the best part of a plant. So our words “flour” and “flower” originally were the same.

It was only after leavening agents and yeasts were perfected that bread took on the round or “loaf” shape instead of the flat types produced from much denser grains of earlier times. Flat breads were a staple of diets around the world for some 5,000 years. By 170 B.C., bread baking had become a profession in Rome. It is thought that the Romans were the first to have started a milling industry using animals or teams of slaves to drive the wheels to grind the wheat. Before this, grinding of meal had mostly been carried out in the home using a device called a hand-quern. The hand-quern consisted of two round flat stones, one above the other. The upper stone was turned by a wooden handle, wheat was trickled in through a hole in the center, and meal came out around the edge.

During the time of King James I, bread for the poor was made from barley, Ireland commonly ate potato bread, and bread made from modern yeast (rather than a sourdough process) is credited to English bakers in 1634. The first American gristmill (which is a mill for grinding grain, especially the customer’s own grain) was built in Jamestown in 1621. Prior to that, the Native Americans ground corn by hand usually with a mortar and pestle, as did the very early settlers. In 1631 a gristmill was built in Watertown, Massachusetts, and in 1633 gristmills were built in both Dorchester and Boston. Wheat did not grow well in New England, so they relied more on corn and rye for bread. By mid-century New York had become active in wheat milling with Philadelphia, Willmington, Baltimore, and Richmond to follow. In 1752 George Washington built a gristmill at Mount Vernon and soon built two more, after which he was considered the most successful miller of the time.

Bread baking was time consuming and most bakers made enough bread to last at least a week at a time. It is estimated that by the end of the 19th century 95% of the bread consumed in America was still being made in the home kitchen. Through much of history, a person’s social station could be discerned by the color of bread they consumed. The darker the bread, the lower the social station. This was because whiter flours were more expensive and harder for millers to adulterate with other products. Due to the ease and affordability of large-scale processing we have seen a reversal of this trend. Darker breads are more expensive and highly prized for their taste as well as their nutritional value.

~Tracy Bartosik
Bibliography:
“Victoria’s Home Companion or Whole Art of Cooking”, by Victoria R. Rumble
www.bakeinfo.co.nz
www.breadinfo.com

20Feb 2015
Now that we’ve learned a bit more about wheat, I thought it might be nice to discuss the many other grains out there (after all, the GrainMaker does so much more than just grind wheat!).  Whole foods seem to be more popular than ever (yay!), and it’s nice to be a little more familiar with all the many varieties in the grain family. So here’s some info on other grains, old and “new” alike…

Quinoa (pronounced “KEEN-wah”)

Quinoa contains no gluten, so it’s a useful ingredient for people with gluten allergies. Quinoa is also a good source of high-quality protein. Several varieties of quinoa pasta are available, as well as the whole grain.  If using the whole grain, before cooking you must remove the naturally occurring powdery, soapy-tasting coating of saponin.  Saponin is indigestible and may reduce the absorption of nutrients. Running water over the quinoa for 2 to 3 minutes should be enough to remove the saponin. After the saponin is removed and the quinoa is thoroughly dry, quinoa can be ground into flour or cooked whole as a cereal, or it can be substituted for brown rice in many recipes. The flour can be used as you would use rice flour, or combine it with wheat flour due to its lack of gluten.

Amaranth

Amaranth is remarkably similar to quinoa, however amaranth is much smaller and has a milder flavor.  It also turns sticky when simmered in liquid, which can make it less versatile as a “rice”.  It can be cooked whole into a gruel or boiled to produce tea.  Grinding the seeds for use in flatbreads, cakes and drinks is typical; so too is popping them, in which case they are made into sweets, snacks, and are also becoming a popular addition to breakfast cereals.  In Peru, fermented Amaranth is used to make a beer known as Chicha.  Amaranth’s leaves can be boiled as a vegetable and they can also be eaten raw.  Amaranth flowers are used as food coloring, cosmetic rouge and herbal remedies.  Amaranth is disease-resistant, very easy to grow, and does well in areas afflicted by intense heat, poor soil, and drought.  However, it also flourishes in wet tropical low-lands and mountain regions.  The seeds are a wonderful source of protein, and boast twice the calcium of milk, three times the fiber of wheat, and the leaves are an extremely good source of iron – even better than spinach! Amaranth can be purchased as a whole grain, flour, and as a breakfast cereal.  The flour works well in a wide range of baked goods, from yeast breads to muffins. It is low gluten and is usually combined with wheat flour.
Buckwheat
Buckwheat is not a wheat at all, and is actually not even related to it.  Buckwheat was cultivated in the very early times by the Chinese and Japanese, and is not a cereal grain, but one of the leafy seed grains.  It actually belongs to the family that includes rhubarb and sorrel.  Buckwheat is easy to grow in difficult climates and is well suited to cold. It’s also pest resistant and quick to mature.  Buckwheat can be used in everything from noodles to pancakes, and is sometimes even made into a porridge. Buckwheat noodles are available in health food stores and Japanese and Korean groceries.  Buckwheat flour carries a strong flavor and is low in gluten.  It can be used in small amounts in yeast breads, but is better in quick breads such as muffins, pancakes, and crepes.  Toasted buckwheat groats are known as Kasha.  They are sold whole, and in some markets in medium and fine grinds.  Kasha can cook in only 10 minutes.  Puffed kasha is available as a ready-to-eat cereal.

Barley

Barley as a whole grain is commonly used in soups and is a standard in dry bean and soup mixes.  You can also find barley flour, flakes, and sometimes barley grits and barley malt.  Barley flour long ago was a bread staple and is still used in flatbreads around the world.  It can be used in all baked goods, though it contains little gluten and should be mixed with wheat flour.  Barley grits can be cooked as a breakfast cereal and because barley is sticky and starchy, pearl barley is a nice alternative to risotto.  Barley flakes are very similar to rolled oats in their cooking qualities.  Malted barley is the main ingredient in malted milk powder, and malt also gives a delicious flavor to pancakes and waffle batters.  Professional bakers often use a little barley malt in their flour as a dough enhancer because yeasts love the stuff!

Oats

Historians believe the cultivation of oats followed hand in hand with the raising of horses. Even now people eat only 5 to 10% of the USA oats crop.  Oats are threshed and winnowed like wheat but must also be hulled.  The hulled groats are long, narrow, and golden tan.  Steel cut oats are grouts that have been cut or ground into bits. You can make steel cut oats with your GrainMaker mill!  To make rolled oats, processors heat the grain kernels to loosen the husks then remove the hulls.  The whole groats are steamed and passed through steel rollers that turn them into flakes.  Old fashioned oats are rolled the thickest, while quick oats and instant oats are rolled thinner and cut into finer pieces.  Oat bran is the outer coating of the grain.  Whole and rolled oats still retain much of the bran.  Oat flour is simply whole oats ground into a powder.  Oat flour is good in pancakes, waffles, muffins, and other baked goods.

Rye

Compared to other grains, rye is low in protien and not especially loaded with nutriets.  What appealed to farmers in Northern Europe was that it grows well in a cold climate, and will thrive in fairly lousy soil.  Nearly all rye grown for human consumption in the USA is ground into flour for bread and crackers and some of the rest goes into whiskey. Rye is a heavy flour with very little gluten, so don’t expect baked goods made from it to rise substantially.  Doughs will also be stickier than those made from wheat flours.  Many varieties of rye bread are a staple in Europe. Whole cooked rye berries or flakes are a good addition to grainy breads.  For porridges and muesli they are best used in combination with other grains.
 ~ Tracy Bartosik
Bibliography:
“All-American Waves of Grain” ~ Barbara Grunes & Virginia Van Vynckt
“A Cook’s Guide to Grains” ~ Jenni Muir
“The New Book of Whole Grains” ~ Marlene Anne Bumgarner
“Homegrown Whole Grains” ~ Sara Pitzer

www.grains.org