Here is my new electric flour mill in action. I hand ground about 1 to 1.5 lbs of whole wheat flour per week for 12 years, mostly for myself. Now I’m switching over to 100% whole wheat for all baked goods, and I bake everything from scratch, from bread to pizza to pancakes, sweet rolls, cookies, and more, for every household member. Next up: posts on sourdough baking this week with flour ground by this mill.
I bought an electric grain mill, a KoMo Fidibus 21 Grain Mill. I used my Lehman’s best hand crank grain mill for 12 years. My family needs more fresh whole wheat flour than I can grind myself. I want to use 100% whole wheat flour for everything I bake. I plan to keep the Lehman’s mill just in case I need a non-electric mill. I’ll post my review of the mill soon.
Since I began milling my own flour, I have become addicted to it. Fresh whole wheat flour tastes sweet. It makes wonderfully-tasting sourdough breads. Store bought whole wheat flour is rancid. Super polyunsaturated wheat germ oil is as fragile as hemp and flax oils once the wheat berries are ground. I think it’s a crime that commercial flour millers are allowed to put a two-year expiration date on whole grain flours. Always store whole wheat flour in the freezer unless it’s freshly ground and you plan to use it within a couple of months.
KoMo’s Fidibus 21 grain mill is handmade in Austria. It has excellent reviews. Specs: beechwood veneer, corundum-ceramic burrs, high-efficiency motor, and a solid beechwood hopper that holds almost two pounds of grain. It grinds 5 to 6 oz flour per minute.
The Fidibus 21 grinds soft or hard wheat berries, oat groats (dehulled oats), rice, triticale, kamut, spelt, buckwheat, barley, rye, millet, teff, quinoa, amaranth, and sorghum. It also grinds legumes. The only grain and legume it can’t grind because of their hardness are garbanzo beans and popcorn. The mill is adjustable to mill fine flour to coarse meal and cracked grain.
The formula for this loaf is found in my book. Dan does not like to eat 100% whole wheat bread like I do, so I add 2/3 cup cracked 9 grain cereal presoaked in 2/3 cup hot water, 1/4 cup ground flax seeds, 2 tablespoons whole caraway seeds, a little organic fair trade cane sugar (evaporated cane juice) and non-iodized salt to the unbleached flour. To accommodate the differences in our breads, I feed the sourdough starter with unbleached all-purpose flour when activating it for Dan’s bread, then feed it with my hand ground whole wheat flour before putting it back in the refrigerator in preparation for baking my loaf in a couple of days.
A few years ago, I grew wheat for three years in a community garden plot just to show that it can be done on a small scale in Flagstaff. I saved the seeds from the best (biggest, plumpest ears of wheat) for the next year’s planting. I began with one small packet of hard, red spring wheat from Bountiful Gardens, an heirloom seed company. Bountiful Gardens sells many unusual and rare seed grain varieties. The first year, I quadrupled my seed supply. The second year, I quadrupled it for planting a third time. The wheat was of excellent quality and made great bread.
The characteristics of YOUR local or regional wheat varieties
If you are a local food aficionado, find a local mill or agricultural cooperative that sells wheat berries or flour to retail customers. You’ll have to ask the miller about the characteristics of the wheat he/she sells. The climate and soils of a particular locality have a large effect on wheat characteristics. Wheat grown in your region will be more suitable for certain types of breads than others. Some climates and soils are better suited to hard wheats, others to softer wheats, and yet others somewhere in between. In addition, flour ground in small batches naturally varies in protein content and ash level from batch to batch. Bakers used to uniform results must adapt to this variation. As we return to cooking with locally grown ingredients, bakers will develop new regional specialties that take advantage of the unique characteristics of local flours.
If there is no local miller where you live, consider joining a natural foods cooperative or buying club. I belong to a small natural foods buying club in Flagstaff, Arizona that buys wholesale from United Natural Foods. Members place orders once a month. A delivery truck drops off the orders at the warehouse of a local business. I purchase 25 or 50 lb bags of organic hard, red wheat grown and packaged in Utah, the nearest commercial source of wheat to northern Arizona. I hand grind the wheat into flour for baking sourdough bread. I store the grain in two 5-gallon, food-grade plastic buckets. Wheat berries stay fresh for a couple of years if stored in a dark, cool, dry location.
Growing your own wheat
Adapted from Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains: A guide to high-altitude, semi-arid home permaculture gardens: The recent decline in global wheat harvests, surging human populations and rising wheat prices have lead to a resurgence of interest in small-scale wheat growing. You don’t need lots of acreage to begin your own wheat-growing journey. Even if you only have enough space to grow a handful of wheat berries, the experience will give you a much deeper appreciation for food and farmers. Wheat kernels are easily broadcast by hand in small plots. Choose easy-to-thresh common wheat, durum or Kamut. Einkorn, emmer and spelt berries are known as “covered wheats” — they have hulls that are very difficult to remove without specialized milling equipment.
Adapted from Wild Bread: Handbaked sourdough artisan breads in your own kitchen, 2009:
Sourdough bread is a staple food in my household. I started grinding my own whole wheat flour in 2007. I purchased Lehman’s Own Hand-Cranked Grain Mill, an enameled aluminum mill that consistently tests as the best hand-turned grain mill under $300. It has a clamp that attaches to the edge of my kitchen counter (I place pieces of rubber in between the mill and my countertop so as not to damage the counter top). I have both cast iron burrs, which I mainly use for cracking grain, and synthetic stone burrs that Lehman’s no longer sells, which make very fine flour (the cast iron burrs make good flour, too, but stone burrs are known for their extra-fine flour). I see on the Lehman’s site that they now sell an Optional Cast Iron Pulley Flywheel to make the hand cranking easier. Interesting. I might get one.
Over time, the originally clear oil I use to lubricate the crank shaft gets sticky because the more volatile components of the oil evaporate quickly in my dry climate. And flour holds an electrostatic charge, which means it flies around and sticks to the mill itself. The flour combines with the oil to form black, gummy gunk that eventually makes it difficult to turn the crank smoothly. I can always tell when it is time for a cleaning because the flour becomes coarser even though I keep the burrs tightened. Also, the bronze bearing covering the crank shaft starts to stick to the other parts and stops turning when the handle is turned (the crank shaft continues to turn inside the bronze bearing) and the machine begins to make a funny noise.
I use an adjustable wrench to remove the screw with a hexagonal head that holds the shaft together. A toothbrush works well to scrub flour off the burrs before washing them and is also good for washing the stone burrs with soap (I do not wash the cast iron burrs with water). A steel wool scrub pad is necessary to remove the gunky oil from the metal mill parts. Once everything is dry, I reassemble the grain mill and lubricate the crank shaft with more oil.
Why I grind my own whole wheat flour
- It’s the only inexpensive way to get real 100% stone ground flour.
- Hand-grinding ensures freshness.
- Only real whole wheat flour provides the health benefits of whole grains.
- I like the fact that using a hand grinder uses no electricity, and thus no fossil fuels.
- Hand milling provides excellent upper body exercise that balances out the lower body workouts I get from riding my bicycle and walking.
Grain mills are rated according to three features
- Flour fineness: Choose a grain mill with two round, flat synthetic “stones” or cast iron burrs. The outer stone rotates against the inner stone to grind the flour. Stone burrs are better for grinding fine wheat flour, but iron burrs are pretty good, too. The iron burrs are wonderful all-purpose burrs for grinding all kinds of grain and legume flours as well as making cracked grains and grinding nuts and seeds. I use the stones for milling whole wheat flour and the iron burrs for milling everything else. Really cheap mills cannot grind fine flour.
- Grinding speed: Some mills take a long time to grind a cup of wheat into flour, others take as little as 5 minutes. Faster mills are generally more expensive.
- Cranking difficulty: Some mills are designed to provide a lot of leverage, which makes grinding easier. Some mills require significant muscle strength. My Lehman’s mill is easy enough for an older child to use.