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By August 17, 2012 Read More →

Combines to Loaves via the Hand-Cranked Mill

To my untrained citified eyes, the wheat in our rural neighborhood looked ripe for harvest.  Were a combine to rumble down our road early last week, I would not have been surprised to see the amber heads turn and give the operator their best, “Hey, sailor” come-on.  This crop was ready for some serious action.
On Thursday, a crew of cutters at last succumbed to the siren song of Smoky Hill, Post Rock and Fuller, the trio of wheat varieties growing in the field to the north of us.
It is not a large field, easily knocked down in a day, and there was always the possibility I would miss them, but on my way home from work Thursday, there they were, the green John Deere leviathans chewing through the amber waves.
So, as I had done about this time last year, I sidled up to one of the beasts as it prepared to disgorge its load.

Fortunately, the harvesters remembered me from last year.  Who could forget some idiot in street clothes walking through stubble and chaff, waving a $20 bill, offering it for a bushel of wheat.  Some things just stick in a person’s mind, and I, being a particularly goofy thing, was firmly embedded.  As I told them again this year, I figured the added value of a fully processed bushel of wheat is at least $20.

The offer, the same as last year, was readily accepted, so I hurried home, jumped into my play clothes, threw a plastic laundry basket in the bed of the pickup and roared back to the field.  For about five minutes, the time it took the combine captain to scoop out several buckets of wheat, I was in the grain business.  To be accurate, I once again was the CEO of a vertically integrated grain-to-bread food processing operation.  OK, OK, so I didn’t till the soil, plant the seed or plunk down several million dollars for harvesting equipment.  But I did muscle a 60-pound tub of grain into the truck and then into the house, where, in the next few weeks, it will be cleaned, bagged and forklifted into a giant walk-in freezer. OK, OK, it’s only a small chest freezer, but I did carry the bags in outstretched arms, forklift-like!

From the freezer, the grain will then be hauled to the local flour mill, where a team of trained millers working round the clock will quickly convert the grain into flour.  OK, OK, the “local flour mill” is only a five-cup capacity grinder that clamps to a counter top, and “transporting” involves carrying it, a bag at a time, down the hall to the kitchen, and the “team of millers” is in reality a middle-aged individual who, from the comfort of his recliner last spring, thought that grinding his own flour would be a piece of cake, or bread, in this case.

The mill arrived a few weeks following harvest last year and was promptly assembled and given a test grinding.  After a few adjustments, the thing began producing flour.  By producing flour, I don’t want to imply it came spewing uncontrollably from the machine like the chocolates in that “I Love Lucy” episode.  This was a hand-crank model, meaning the “motor” was approaching 60 and was capable of only momentary bursts of speed.  Even with the “power” set on high, the mill is able to produce about a cup of flour every 10 to 15 minutes, which is about the stress limit for the motor’s “arm linkages.”  However, by grinding a few minutes each day, I can end up with a respectable amount of flour by week’s end, enough for a couple of loaves of bread.  And what fine bread it is.

The result has nothing at all to do with my baking skills but everything to do with fresh flour.  I’ve given a few loaves away, but if I were a more astute business person, I would sell it.  But what would such a loaf be worth, considering the hauling, bagging, baking, and particularly, the grinding?

Twenty bucks sounds about right.

[guest-author]Gordon D. Fiedler Jr.[/guest-author]

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4 Comments on "Combines to Loaves via the Hand-Cranked Mill"

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  1. Allan Searcy says:

    What a great article. :)

  2. Bob says:

    Heh, another excellent article from the Prince of Breadville!

    I love to bake my own bread. Lately, I’ve been using a Bread Machine and loading it with preloads from “Hodgson Mill”, which, I’m sure, far more resembles a factory complex than the stoic, old timey mill depicted on the box. At one point, though… I was hard core. Grinding my own spelt and everything.
    I cannot imagine grinding the flour by hand, that takes a LOT of energy! I used a power mixer with a grain grinder attachment, but you still have to take it slow as to not build up too much heat at the grinder head.

  3. Cindy in Louisiana says:

    I, again, enjoyed your article on wheat so much I just have to say,I wish we grew grains in SE
    Louisiana! What an adventure that would be. I would try to do just what you have done. I applaud your actions and your writing skills.

  4. Christy says:

    Love it, I did the hand grinding until I finally bought an attachement for the mill for my Kitchen-Aid Mixer, best $50 spent, I can still hand grind when I get the “urge” to be roughing it, but most times I use the good ole electricty.

    Another great article Gordon!