Industrial Harvest


Milling About, Observing and Routine by sarah kavage
One of the things that came with me to Chicago from Seattle was a couple pounds of hard winter wheat berries grown in Eastern Washington.  That seems just a little bit silly since I was going to the heartland and all, but there it was in the bulk foods section, begging to come along and weigh down my luggage.  

This project requires understanding every link in the cycle of growing, refining and making all sorts of things with wheat.  Now that I’m feeling a little more comfortable with the baking, I can take things up a notch – what about actually making the flour?  Back in Seattle, I ground some of the wheat up in a coffee grinder just to see how that would work.  It took a long time and almost burned out the motor, but I did end up with something flour-like.  I thought I might be able to find someone who had a home-use flour mill in Chicago and try it, but it turns out I’ve been a little busy trying to find things like commodities traders and farmers and cannot even bring myself to think about running around this huge city trying to track down a flour mill.  Somewhere, somehow I heard something about using a blender to do the job.  And InCUBATE happens to have a really nice heavy-duty blender.  So this is what happens when you put wheat in a blender and make some bread with it.  

It took 5 or 6 rounds of running the blender, sifting out the flour, and putting the rest back in the blender till I was good and sick of the noise, and there were still a bunch of cracked wheat berries left over.  


Here’s the side by side comparison.  The blender flour (left) was more uniform in size and texture, while with the milled flour it’s quite easy to differentiate the flour (made up of the endosperm, the starchy interior part of the wheat) from the bran (its brown, papery exterior).  The texture of the blended flour was also coarser – comparable to hruba mouka, the coarse-ground flour used by the Czechs to make bread and dumplings.  

I decided to repeat the bomb-proof no-knead recipe from the other day, and used 1 cup of milled whole grain flour, 1 cup of fine whole wheat flour (the whole grain flour sifted) and 1 up of the blender flour.  To that I added a healthy dose of pure wheat gluten that a friend gave me.  Made from the protein part of the wheat, pure (or vital) wheat gluten added to bread is supposed to help it rise – another trick home bakers use to get bakery-quality results, especially for whole wheat breads.  

At the end of the milling, sifting and measuring stage, here’s what was on the counter.  The photo deliberately misrepresents my organization / neatness level. 

Wheat, Deconstructed

Wheat, Deconstructed

From left to right in the bowls, we have the sifted and unsifted milled flour, the blended flour, and the cracked wheat.  The cracked wheat won’t go into the bread but can be made into some sort of porridge (ugh) or as a substitute for couscous or bulgur in a pilaf (not so bad), or even into bulgur wheat itself, which sounds delicious but labor-intensive.  In the center we have the gluten on the left and the bran on the right.  The excess bran is used to keep the dough from sticking and to put a little crunchy crisp on the top, but there will still be some leftover.  I’ve been using it in shakes for breakfast and gave the rest to the person who gave me the gluten. 

The result:  delicious!  I was a little bit amazed at how quickly this bread baking stuff has become somewhat routine.  The motions, the textures and the timing are already starting to feel more intuitive.  No doubt my learning curve has been flattened (steepened? anyway, it’s getting easier) due to the advice of many friends and visitors (pros and hobbyists) to the InCUBATE ‘test kitchen.’  The all-powerful internet helps too, but the internet can’t stand in the kitchen with me and tell me  “that’s a good crumb” or “those little strands are what you’re looking for” or “it’s probably time for it to go in the oven now.”  These people are teaching me what to look for and how to observe the process, and it’s making this project a whole lot more satisfying and delicious. 

As a postscript, I thought of Heike a lot making this latest loaf and this post – read her observations, and her observations about observation here (I liked them so much I put them on my other blog).  She’s also the proud owner of a new flour mill!

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