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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ah, hindsight


In the seventies, once we had settled upon each other as life partners, we made a number of careful purchases that reflected our mutually agreed-upon goals. Land, of course, and seed; lumber and hardware and windows and an Aladdin lamp; tools for outdoor work, and tools for indoor work.

One of our indoor tools was a Corona hand-cranked flour mill. Like many others, we were very proud of our mill, as it symbolized for us independence and "self-sufficiency." But, again like many others, we found over time that the self is not sufficient for easily or conveniently making flour at the end of a long day of land-clearing, logging, firewooding, venison butchering, childcare, hand-washing of clothes, construction, bulldozer maintenance, and sock mending. Some things had to give, and so the mill made fewer and fewer appearances on the kitchen counter, and its stand-in, the sack of whole-grain Red Mill flour, became the principal player.

We never sold or gave the mill away, however, and it traveled with us from the Oregon coast range to Pennsylvania and then back to the Willamette Valley, where we reside today. You never know when you might need to make some flour, yes?

And I worked for the University for twenty-two years and never needed to make flour.

So here I am the stay-at-home housewife at last and it's seriously winter and the creek is over its banks and it's dark out there and I need to clean house and I just have no oomph and what's around here to eat, a little tired of potatoes and a little tired of winter squash and don't want cabbage and a little tired of eggs and a little tired of beets and a little tired of rice and chicken broth and I could make spaghetti to cheer me up but don't feel like putting together the sauce and I really shouldn't wipe out the walnuts and what will become of me if I start in on the baker's chocolate and anyway what's in the pantry, and -- oh hey, here's the old Corona mill.

Hm. Probably has less than an hour of use on those steel burrs. So I dig it out and wash it up and dry it on the wood stove and set it up on the kitchen counter.

One problem we had for a decade or so was that the mill, which attaches with a wing-nut bolt, needs more torque applied to the crank than the mill can stand still for without the bolt being first applied to the counter with such force that it will mar the countertop. You can use something to pad it, but the slippage factor is still, well, inconvenient. But our present counter was once a big shop table, made of two-by-fours and four-by-fours, and doesn't mind being modified, so, noticing two slots on the foot of the mill's stand for screws, I hunter-gathered about for a couple of drywall screws and a Phillip's-head screwdriver, and in short order the mill was fixed in place.

The other issue the mill had before was that it didn't make flour so much as it made cracked wheat, even on the tightest setting with which we could still turn the crank. To get flour, it seemed necessary to put the contents of the receiving bowl back through the mill two or three times, which was the real deal-killer for us as would-be bakers on a tight schedule.

But this time what I have on my mind is porridge. Mush. Gruel. Whatever. Hot cereal. Comfort food for sitting right by the wood stove and watching the eternal rains come sheeting down.

I pour in about a cup of wheat berries, half that of barley, half that of rye, and half that of amaranth seeds. And crank away.

The bowl fills reasonably quickly with what I can see at a glance is going to be a perfectly good hot cereal, mixed with boiling water and seasoned with a bit of salt and butter.

And I can see that it's not all cracked grain. Some of it is, but some of it is clearly flour.

Why didn't we, all those years, make cracked wheat and sift it for bread flour? That would have been easy enough, I should think.

Ah, hindsight.

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