Sifting through Gold

 With earphones on, I methodically poured wheat onto a white dinner plate before lifting the plate and gently shaking it, looking for stray stones and sticks. Then, I poured it into the hopper of my humming wheat grinder. The first few platefuls were awkward, but I quickly found a rhythm. And then I found myself chuckling. I felt like a gold miner, panning for gold, the only difference was that I was panning through golden wheat, looking for rocks. Well, okay, there were lots of differences. And I wasn’t a miner. I was more surprised that the motion felt so natural, and was probably similar to that which miners used.

wheat berries

The truth was, I was less than pleased that the bucket of wheat I was currently grinding from was so unclean. In fact, I was downright annoyed. Still, considering the fact that I hadn’t had to pay for it was nice. I was nearing the end of my free wheat stock. My parents had stored buckets of wheat in the basement, in the event that there was a catastrophe. There are also buckets of dried beans and of rice. Several years after they purchased it, however, my mom was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, which meant that there was no way she would be using that wheat even if there was a great catastrophe. Still, it stayed in the basement for another five or six years before I bought a wheat grinder, anxious to try my hand at healthier baking. My mom eagerly offered her buckets of wheat and I gladly accepted it. This made the bread I made not only much healthier, but also incredibly cheap. For the price of the milk, butter, yeast and sugar, (under a dollar in total, I’m sure), I could make four loaves of bread. This brought me endless joy. As I made more and more bread, I got better at it and enjoyed it more and more. I began preferring my hearty whole wheat bread and started adding my freshly ground wheat flour to recipes that called for all-purpose. With few exceptions, it worked extremely well. In fact, I enjoyed the nuttier flavor it lended.

One day, I was preparing a chicken pot pie crumble, and opted to swap whole wheat flour for the white. I had done it before, and it had been barely discernible. This day, however, I was out of my own ground wheat. I did, however, find an old bag of Gold Medal wheat flour, a holdover from before I had my own mill. I opened the bag and sniffed, smelling for rancidity. I stuck my finger in and brought it to my mouth, tasting for any signs of rancidity but didn’t taste any. I decided to go for it; it was nice to clean a bag out of pantry, and I couldn’t imagine it wouldn’t work. The color was darker than my flour, but I pressed on, sure that the flavor would not be overpowering.

When dinnertime came, we gathered at the table and dished out servings of pot pie crumble. My husband exclaimed when he saw it. “I love this dinner!” I smiled. I did, too. It was comforting and delicious. The crumble was both easy and interesting; a nice change from pie crust that I was far from mastering. When we took our first bites, however, I tried to hide a grimace. This was bitter, not at all comforting. Maybe I got a bitter piece of garlic, I reasoned, though I knew the likelihood of that was low seeing as how it had baked in the oven for at least half an hour after the vegetables had been sauteed on the stovetop. I took another, and another, before realizing it was the flour. Crestfallen, I fumbled through the rest of my dinner, wishing I had stuck to the recipe.

That night, I realized how much better freshly ground wheat flour tasted and I understood why so many people disliked whole wheat. I realized that the wheat I had was most likely white wheat, which would explain its mellower taste. Instantly grateful for the wheat I had been given, I began to worry about purchasing the right kind of wheat when I ran out. Would I be able to pick the same light tasting wheat?

My fears were somewhat assuaged when my parents brought me the bucket I am currently grinding from. When she agreed to bring it down on the phone, I could hear the hesitation through the phone. “Of course we’ll bring it down. [long pause] But I don’t know if you’ll like this one; it’s older than the others and I think it might be red wheat.” This gave me pause.

“Well,” I said, “it’s not like you’re going to use it, right? If I hate it, we’ll either choke it down or toss it.”

“True,” she agreed. And shortly thereafter, she brought the 50 pound bucket of wheat down. Only slightly nervous, I ground some wheat, preparing to make bread and pancake mix, and after I had ground a cup, I noticed a small, round bead-like thing in the hopper. Clumsily, I tried to fish it out but was thwarted as it continued to shimmy down toward the mill and disappear. Frantic, I did the only thing I could think of. I called my mom.

“No, I’m sure it’s just a rock,” she reassured me. “Like what you find sometimes in bags of barley or beans.”

I carried on, grinding enough for my needs, and made bread. Instead of impatiently devouring it ravenously in once the bread was finished, however, I paused, not only because of the rock that had been ground into my flour, but also because of the red wheat. I took a bite and tasted it more deliberately than I usually do. And I couldn’t taste any difference. The worries I had had that the flour would be bitter like the Gold Medal were unfounded. Thankfully.

IMG_1513 for web

After that, I had to sift through the wheat before putting it in the hopper, something I hadn’t had to do with the other three or four buckets I’d used. I’m annoyed, but willing. Freshly ground wheat is worth it; what can I say?

Fresh bread

This was a recipe for white bread, but works very well with my freshly ground wheat, as well. I use instant yeast, which is another post for another day, but this recipe was initially written for dry active, so either will work. If you use dry active, make sure to proof it in one cup of water with the sugar that goes into the flour.

makes 2 loaves, can be doubled for 4 if you have a mixer big enough.

1 cup milk

3 Tablespoons sugar

1 Tablespoon salt

1/4 cup butter

1 1/2 cup cold water

1 Tablespoon yeast

1 teaspoon sugar

6-7 cups flour (preferably freshly ground wheat)

In a saucepan, combine milk, sugar, salt, and butter. Stir occasionally until butter is melted. Add the cold water, and let rest until it reaches a nice, warm temperature. If it is too hot, it will kill the yeast. Meanwhile, add 2 cups of flour to the bowl of a mixer (I use a Bosch) and mix in the yeast and teaspoon of sugar. When the milk mixture has reached a nice temperature, add it to the flour-yeast mixture and mix. Continue mixing and add flour gradually until it’s a soft dough and doesn’t stick to the bowl.

Raise until it’s doubled, then punch down and raise again. Put it in two greased loaf pans and raise again. Bake at 425 for 10- 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 325 and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes.

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