Grinding Grains


I’m getting ready to head to Oklahoma this week for Weston’s Army boot camp graduation. This is a copy of the CITR newsletter I sent out this weekend. I know not everyone gets the newsletter, so I’m re-posting it on the blog. Plus, I have a new Vitamix and I’m obsessed. You?

In this newsletter, I want to introduce you to Laura Phillips, an experienced home grain grinder. My daughter, Morgan, came downstairs the other day, stared at the kitchen counter packed with bags of hard red winter wheat berries I was dividing into smaller bags from a bulk bag, stared at me speechless, then just gave up and started laughing. I said, “If you didn’t walk into the kitchen and come upon sights such as this, you would wonder who I was and what I’d done with your mother.”

In other words, she’d stumbled into my latest obsession in old-fashioned and sustainable living practices–grinding my own grain (with my new Vitamix).

I blame Laura, who has been preaching the bible of grain grinding at retreats on the farm for the past few years. Here’s an interview to give you a little idea of what it’s all about.

Me: Why grind your own grain? Why not just buy flour?

LauraP: I do buy flour, both unbleached bread flour and all-purpose flour for anything that requires a white flour. I prefer the flavor and nutritional benefits of whole grains, though, and the economy of buying in bulk. Whole grain flour doesn’t have near the shelf life of whole, intact grains, whether they’re wheat berries, whole oats, or any other variety. Once that kernel has been cracked open, milled into a fine flour, and exposed to the air, its quality begins to degrade. The oils in the bran and germ portions of the grain can turn rancid within weeks in less than perfect storage conditions, especially in warm weather.

Me: What made you start milling your own flour?

LauraP: I grew up eating my mom’s wonderful homemade honey whole wheat bread. She bought her flour until she was in her 40s. After an illness, she became almost obsessed with getting the most nutrition possible out of every bite she ate. She made a lot of changes. Grinding her own grain in her Vitamix mixer was just one. Back then, the taste is what I noticed, and I made the switch as soon as I could afford a grain mill. My appreciation for the nutritional benefits came later. I’ve been grinding my own grain for bread for about 25 years now.

Me: What kind of grain mill do you use?

LauraP: My grinder actually is a Champion brand juicer with the grain mill accessory. The base unit is at least 25 years old and still working great. I did have to replace the grain mill a few years ago because the cutting plates were worn down.

Me: What are your favorite grains?

LauraP: I’m currently loving the slightly nutty flavor of emmer wheat, which is an ancient relative of our more familiar modern wheat varieties. It makes wonderful hearth loaves – rich, flavorful, and nutritionally rich. Spelt is a long-time favorite, and in recent years I’ve switched particularly when paired with oat flour. In recent years I’ve switched from the traditional red wheat to white wheat, which doesn’t have that slightly bitter aftertaste. I also use kamut, einkorn wheat, and rye berries – I love having such a variety of options.

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Laura’s Emmer & Oat Hearth Bread

1 cup whey or milk
1 cup emmer wheat flour*
1 teaspoon yeast
1 egg
1 Tablespoon honey
1 1/2 Tablespoons vegetable oil or melted butter
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup oat flour
2 to 3 cups bread flour

*Emmer can be substituted with spelt, kamut, or other whole grain ground flour according to what you have available.

Mix the emmer flour, whey or milk, and yeast together in a medium bowl, then let it rest for several hours or overnight. Stir in egg, honey, oil/butter, salt, and oat flour. Mix well. Add bread flour ½ cup at a time, mixing well after each addition until the dough is stiff and hard to beat. Let rest 5 minutes. Turn onto a well-floured surface and knead 5-10 minutes, sprinkling the dough and kneading surface with flour as needed to prevent sticking. The dough should be smooth and springy when finished. A slight tackiness is okay, so long as it’s not sticking to the fingers. Place dough in greased bowl, cover, and let rise until double, about 1 1/2 hours, more or less, depending on room temperature. Punch down, knead for a couple minutes to remove air bubbles, then shape into an oval loaf. Place on a well-greased cookie sheet. Let rise until double, about 1 hour. Bake at 375 degrees until done, about 35-40 minutes. (195-198 degrees F at the center of the loaf if you’re testing with a thermometer.)

Note: Get a taste of home grain grinding for yourself at a retreat at the farm! Laura will be back, grinding grain–as well as making cheese and leading herbal workshops–this August at the next five-day Cheese, Bread, Herbs & Soap Retreat. See below for more information.
Come learn at the farm!

Open NOW for registration:

Cheese, Bread, Herbs & Soap Retreat
August 28 – September 1, 2014

This five-day retreat includes two days working with all things cheesy and the family cow, one day of yeast breads, biscuits, and pie, and two days of expanded herbal workshops including a full hot process soapmaking session. My teaching partner for this retreat will be LauraP, an experienced herbalist, soapmaker, cheesemaker, baker, and home dairy farmer. For this retreat, you can choose to attend two, three, or all five days. Three meals per day are included along with all your supplies, materials, and take-home projects. All workshops and activities will take place at Sassafras Farm in Roane County, West Virginia.

Get all the details on this retreat, including how to sign up Go here.

Primitives & Pioneers Retreat — Canning, Cooking, Arts and Crafts!
September 13 – September 14, 2014 OR October 11 – October 12, 2014

This retreat will span two days, offered in both September and October, taking you from the kitchen, to the woods, and to the art easel with workshops including “Oh, Pioneer”–including corn cob jelly, hand-dipped tapers, homemade potpourri, rustic breads, fresh lard, and burnt sugar cake, along with “Let’s Paint Primitive”–an awesome art experience in which you’ll be led step-by-step to create two works of art, one on canvas and one on a old-fashioned bucket. (No prior experience required!) My teaching partner for this retreat will be Kelly Walker, daily painter, experienced teacher, and writer of Life of a Daily Painter. Three meals per day are included along with all your supplies, materials, and take-home projects. All workshops and activities will take place at Sassafras Farm in Roane County, West Virginia.

Get all the details on this retreat, including how to sign up, here for the September event and here for the October one.

Retreats at Sassafras Farm are real retreats to a farm, and I’m committed to making it an awesome experience for each person who is here. I will be welcoming each attendee not just to the studio and the farm but to my home. Spaces are limited–come join us and sign up!
Let the adventure begin! See you at the farm!

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A Bucket of Berries


Check it out.
It’s berry time! This weekend, my neighbor and his wife asked me if I wanted to go berry picking with them. We went around the hill to a dirt road lined with berries. The raspberries are mostly done, though I got a few. Mostly, I got blackberries. A gallon of them.
And many more still coming on, so I’ll be back sometime this week to pick again. Meanwhile, I took them home and got out my food strainer. (See ALL about my food strainer here.) I had told my neighbor about my food strainer and they were fascinated and amazed so I brought them up to the studio to demonstrate. They wanted to get the seeds out of their berries, and there is nothing that makes that easier than a really good food strainer.

Cleaned berries:
Food strainer, using a berry screen:
(I processed the raspberries and blackberries together for a berry mix.) Just put the berries in the hopper….
Push down with the plunger while cranking the strainer and the seeds and heavier pulp come out one side and the seedless berry pulp comes out the other.
It’s so easy. To get more, I take the seeded pulp and push it through a second time.
In the end, I got about a gallon of pulpy seedless berry juice to play with.
This bag was already frozen when I remembered to take a picture. I put it in the freezer because I don’t have time this week to make anything. I can make jam, straight from the bag, or I can process it further in a jelly bag to get out all the pulp if I wanted to make jelly or syrup. Probably, I’ll make jam, but I’ll decide that later.

My neighbors were impressed and amazed. I let them borrow my Squeezo to take home and do their berries and they’re planning to buy one. Because no one can see a Squeezo make nothing out of something that is otherwise hard work and not want to buy one.

It was hot, hot, HOT, but a fun day. Berry picking is the best kind of afternoon in the country–taking the time to do something productive, in the woods, in the peace, harvesting free food that Nature is just throwing in our faces at this time of year. Who needs air conditioning and TV? It’s BERRY TIME! Are you picking?

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The Slanted Little House

"It was a cold wintry day when I brought my children to live in rural West Virginia. The farmhouse was one hundred years old, there was already snow on the ground, and the heat was sparse-—as was the insulation. The floors weren’t even, either. My then-twelve-year-old son walked in the door and said, “You’ve brought us to this slanted little house to die." Keep reading our story....

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