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02/08/2005: "it's miller time"

A couple of years ago, my aunt - a very liberal, sock-and-sandle wearing, environmentally ethical, common sense kind of woman - gave me a copy of a magazine called Mother Earth News, with the tagline of "the original guide to living wisely". The magazines I normally read at the time were Scientific American, Road & Track, and Sport Compact Car, so this was a rather radical departure. For example, one of the lead articles was a writeup on tipis and yurts, with one author's multi-year experiment in simple living, including hobbit holes. Yes, it was pretty far out there.

However, it grew on me, and now I have a subscription. Recently there have been some excellent articles on the phenominal benefits of whole grains, which of course is followed closely by information about grain mills. My wife and I already try to eat whole wheat to the nearly total exclusion of white flour, but reading these articles made me want to do something more. Thus, just this weekend I purchased my first manual grain mill. It's milling time!

Essentially a grain mill allows you to make your own flour from whatever grain (or seed, or nut) you have. To start off with we purchased a pound of hard wheat, but we can also do soft wheat, corn, oats, rye, spelt, rice... you get the idea. So now instead of relying on the supermarket for "whole wheat flour" (which might qualify for that title if it's 51% or more whole wheat, and not necessarily containing all the germ and bran that fully whole wheat would contain) we can purchase our own grain, grind however much we need, and in any combination and quantity we want or need. One article I read told of someone grinding a combination of wheat and soy, resulting in flour for baking bread that qualifies as a whole protein. Kinda cool. (Very cool if you're of the vegetarian/vegan leaning.)

This wasn't the grain mill I had originally intended to purchase. I first decided that we should start with the Family Grain Mill, a product of Germany, that can be purchased either as a manual or an electric grinder. The manual grain mill is fairly inexpensive, and would have been a good way to start out. Assuming we enjoyed making our own flour, I could have later purchased the electric base, plus the flaker, the meat grinder, the berry press, and so on. However, I could not find anyone that carried it locally, nor could I find a Canadian website from which to purchase it.

What I did find locally was an Italian product, the Marcata Margo, listing for only $90 (as opposed to $90 US for the Family Grain Mill manual base and grain mill head). Unfortunately, it seems that it's more of a flaker than a grinder, and can produce only coarse flour at best. As we'll be baking bread, and likely making pasta in the future as well, fine flour is what we want, so the Margo was less than ideal, despite the availability and price point.

However, when I did find a shop only 5 minutes away that carried the Margo, I decided to at least go see it. Turns out they carry other grain mills, including a Czech product call the Porkert 150. (Don't let the "pork" in Porkert fool you - it's not a meat grinder.) It's manual, it's made of hot-dipped cast grey iron, looks like something that my grandkids will be able to inherit, and came at the right price point, $80. Add to that the fact that it came highly recommended as the grain mill of choice (by the storeowner, and all the customers he's sold it to) and I snapped it up right then and there.

It's a really nice unit, both visually and physically. It's solid, and has that feeling of antique old-world quality that reassures you that it's not only going to work well, but work for decades without any trouble. I'm quite excited about grinding some flour now, and we purchased a pound of hard wheat to try it out. The only problem is that a pound of wheat isn't as much as I thought it might be, perhaps 2 cups, so I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with it. I guess we'll bake a small loaf of bread and see what happens. I'll probably have to go back for more grain sooner than later.

And before you ask, getting grain isn't a problem. I know of at least two stores that sell grain, most of which is organic to boot. I'm certain that with a little bit of poking around, I could easily find 20kg sacks of whatever grain I want locally. Of course, what I'd do with 20kg of grain (other than really develop some arm muscles cranking the grinder) I'm not sure. Likely I'll get smaller quantities of diverse grains, and start experimenting. The nice part about buying grains is that they'll store indefinitely, whereas flour lasts up to 6 months at best. Using it sooner retains more of the nutritional value.

The other nice part about this particular mill is that it doesn't just do grain. It's also advertised as a spice grinder, a coffee grinder... pretty much any hard, dry bean, grain, seed, nut, spice, or whatever you have that needs to be pulverized, this can do it. Heck, maybe I'll start making my own cinnamon. I don't drink coffee, but for those visitors that do, it might be nice to freshly grind some beans for their brew.

Mmmmm... I'm really looking forward to that first loaf of bread. I'll be sure to let you know what transpires.

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