29 December 2010

Grinding Grain

My recent post about homemade cereal inspired a reader comment/question about how we grind our grain. I responded to that question in the same comment thread, but I believe the issue deserves its own post.

If you want to get started grinding your own grain, there are several good options. The biggest thing to keep in mind is this: just as with any other tool, your level of investment in a grain mill should correspond to the volume and level of use you're expecting. But get the right tool for what you want to do.

If you already own a KitchenAid stand mixer, one easy way to get started is to add a grain grinding attachment to it. They can be bought new for under a hundred bucks at Amazon,and I used one on my own mixer for some time. They're good for small quantities of grain, and produce nice flour, but the hopper is not large at all. It's a good accessory for producing a few cups of flour or cracked grain here and there, but I wouldn't recommend it for large scale or everyday family use.

We got our first real grain mill in the late 1990s, when we were learning to take more control of our food supply. (Actually, my very first attempt at grinding wheat involved a blender --- and it was a total disaster. Unless you're simply cracking a cup or two of grain for chickens and have no other options, do not attempt this. It's like trying to drive a nail with the handle of a screwdriver.) The German-made mill we got is still popular and widely available, and goes by various names. "Family Grain Mill" seems to be among the more common. It looks like this:

and a basic set-up for grain can be had for as little as $130. Or perhaps even less. I haven't priced them lately, but this mill's wide availability makes it easy to comparison shop online.

We were happy with the Family Grain Mill, and used it for many years. It was a good, well-built tool that produced reasonably fine flour on the first pass through the mill. It can be adjustable from very coarse to fine. It also has several optional attachments available, for rolling oats or grinding meat or any number of other things.

Another nice thing about this mill: you can get started with a hand crank, and upgrade later to a motorized base if you want. The hand crank is not hard to use, especially for smaller batches or coarser settings, but will give you a good workout on the finest settings. It's also nice to have in case the power goes out, or you're trying to live a more off-the-grid lifestyle (or preparing for TEOTWAWKI, but that's beyond the scope of this blog).

Our biggest problem with the hand crank was securing the clamp tightly enough so the base didn't come loose while we were really cranking hard on it. Also, some of our countertops weren't designed so anything could be clamped to them. We had to find a clamping spot that would be both comfortable to stand in and allow the use of one's dominant hand --- and still allow clearance for the turning crank arm. An old table you don't care about scuffing up with clamp marks usually ends up being the best option.

As we began using the mill more and more regularly, we upgraded to the motorized base. We still had the hand crank for emergencies, but never used it again. The motor was absolutely wonderful. We used this mill for many years, even replacing the burrs a couple of times.

Eventually, however, we outgrew it. Two problems developed: the limited size of the grain hopper, and the mill's inability to produce truly fine rice flour (fine enough for soaking and fermenting into flatbread batter) on the first pass. With a second pass, we could get sufficient fineness --- but that involved standing with the mill and making sure all the flour went down the chute.

With the Yeoman Farm Children now needing large quantities of rice flour on a daily basis, we went shopping for a more appropriate tool. We found it in the L'Equip 760200 NutriMill Grain Mill:

In a word, this thing ROCKS. The hopper has a 20 cup capacity, which we will never outgrow. It's just as adjustable as our other mill, but produces ultra-fine flour on the first pass. It has never jammed or failed us in any way, and we have used it a lot for several years now. For the money (and you can get them for less than $250 - which is actually similar to the motorized Family Grain Mill), it is very hard to beat this mill. Its only drawbacks --- neither of which matter to us --- are the unavailability of other attachments and that it is electric-only.

Depending on your budget, it's still possible that none of the options in this post will work for you. There are cheaper hand crank grain mills out there, and we did experiment with one of them in the chicken coop because we had a large quantity of uncracked corn that we needed to do something with; that mill allowed us to crack the corn enough for the chickens to eat. The problem with some of these is that the long handles and large clamps make them hard to install and use in a kitchen. And I can't vouch for the fineness of the flour they can produce.

Another option, as always, is eBay. It wouldn't surprise me if many lightly-used grain mills of all kinds end up there after people have experimented with producing their own flour and then grown tired of the experiment.

As for us, we're sticking with the NutriMill. It's definitely an investment, but one of the best that our family has made.


Homesteading Mommy said...

Thanks! We're planning on investing in a good mill in the next year. Also, I wanted to let you know of a "quick" breakfast we do on some winter mornings. We make congee in the crock pot. I mix together, in significant quantities, grains of all kinds: rice, millet, amaranth, chia, quinoa, barley... anything I've got when I'm mixing it up. Then the night before, I throw 2 cups of it in the crock pot with 4 cups water and cook it over night. Sometimes I add coconut or nuts too. In the morning we add a dribble of milk and some honey... its basically an instant hot breakfast. Now we don't have any allergies so I use anything, but it would be simple enough to only make it with suitable grains. Just in case you want a morning off of grinding. Thanks again for the product review!

Rachel said...

It is a wonderful wonderful machine, isn't it, YF? We've got a couple of hand grinders for times of power loss, and a couple of good strong arms to "motor" it, lol...

Give the YFCs a hug from all of us down here...

Anonymous said...

OK, "fine rice flour (fine enough for soaking and fermenting into flatbread batter)". Enjoyed the like, but please tell us about the soaked and fermented flatbread!

Kerry said...

Hello. Do you have any suggestions for hulling either barley or oats? In addition to wheat and corn, we have recently bought unhulled oats and barley, and I am just beginning experiments with soaking, sprouting etc. Thanks.

TYF said...

Kerry - unfortunately, we have no personal experience with hulling barley or oats. Our kids can't handle either one. The few times I've experimented with oats, I think I bought them hulled. The "family grain mill" does have an attachment that rolls oats, but I believe you need to start with oats that are already hulled. You might want to search the Weston A. Price website for info.

CoastRanger - I hope to put up a separate post on the flatbread soon.