This post is the fifth and final post in a series discussing our adventures helping Jeff & Amanda Barger harvest and process an experimental plot of wheat into flour the traditional way—using traditional hand tools and equipment. This process requires a number of separate steps completed over a long period of time.
Previous posts in this series:
Reaping Wheat – A Shocking Experience (July 5, 2018)
Bringing in the Sheaves (July 20, 2018)
Winnowing It All Down (August 8, 2018)
Grinding Wheat (October 22, 2018)
Few people I know today remember the story of “The Little Red Hen.” According to this old-time children’s folk tale, a little red hen finds a grain of wheat, which inspires her to plant, harvest, and grind some wheat into flour to make a loaf of delicious homemade bread. Realizing this to be a long and laborious process, the hen asks for help from other animals that share the barnyard with her, including a dog, a cat, and a duck. All of them refuse to help with the hard work, so the little red hen does it all by herself. When the hen finally bakes the bread and is ready to eat it, she asked each of them who wished to join her. With all the hard work done, each of the animals eagerly asked to share the bread with her. However, the little red hen denies them a share of the bread, because they had done nothing to help her with the work when asked to do so. The morale of the story is that those who wish to enjoy the fruits of hard work should be willing to offer their help. This is one of the core values of traditional living that I learned growing up on our family dairy farm.
This is why Barb and I were eager to help Jeff and Amanda Barger harvest and process their experimental wheat crop to experience and learn the process with manual labor and traditional practices and equipment commonly used 100 years ago. We participated in a community effort with like-minded friends and neighbors throughout the summer and fall to harvest, flail, winnow, and mill the wheat into a coarse grain. We shared in the labor and enjoyed the time we spent together at each stage of the process. In appreciation for our help, the Bargers graciously shared with us a portion of the wheat grain we all produced.
Four months to the day after we first harvested the wheat crop, we were finally ready to make a loaf of wheat bread from the grain we received from them. Before making the bread, we decided to see if we could grind down the course grain we received into a finer product. On October 29, I took our share of the wheat and sifted it a final time using a standard wire mesh strainer to remove the largest grain and as much of the remaining chaff and hulls as I could. I then used our hand-cranked grain mill to further grind the grain. After grinding it twice through the mill and a third time using a mini food processor, I managed to reduce the grain to the general consistency of a fine beach sand with some flour mixed in. In terms of coarseness, I consider the resulting grain to be the consistency of middling—somewhere between cracked wheat and flour. I simply lacked the equipment necessary to effectively grind it all down to a fine flour. However, after reviewing a number of recipes for wheat bread, we determined that our middling wheat was sufficiently fine to use in making bread if we soaked it before mixing it into the bread dough.
Having achieved a useful product, Barb made the bread dough on November 5 and we baked our first loaf of homemade wheat bread. We have enough remaining grain to use in making many more loaves of bread, so we stored it in our chest freezer to preserve it for future use. Barb allowed plenty of time for the dough to rise, given the density of the grain we were using. We wanted to make sure that the bread would be as light as possible.
We wanted to bake the bread in our wood cook stove, but the temperatures have been too warm lately to fire up the stove. Even on the coldest days of winter (when the outdoor temperatures remain below freezing), our wood cook stove can heat the entire house to nearly 80 degrees. With the daytime temperatures now hovering in the mid-50’s, it didn’t seem wise to bake the bread in the wood stove. However, our gas range is a technology that would have been available roughly 100 years ago, so we still managed to honor our guiding principle—to produce a loaf of bread from standing wheat using only manual labor and equipment that was available 100 years ago.
The loaf of wheat bread that we baked turned out well. The consistency was perfect (not too dense), and it tasted the way homemade wheat bread should taste. Yes, it was a lesson in making bread the hard way, but the community spirit and personal satisfaction we enjoyed along the way made it all well worth the effort. The effort reinforced what we already knew, homegrown food always tastes best. Now we have a half gallon of natural wheat grain to use in future baking projects. It is a benefit that we will enjoy over many more meals. While we can’t share the fruits of our labor directly with you, I hope this series of website posts will entice you to consider using the old ways to serve your own basic needs. The satisfaction you will gain from your own efforts will help you better appreciate the value of a natural and simple lifestyle—the kind your ancestors once lived. That is what we hope the stories of our life here at Peeper Pond Farm will ultimately mean to you.