Storing Home-Ground Flour
Don't make all your grain into flour at once. Whole-grain cornmeal or wheat flour or any other flour ground at home loses quality— flavor and vitamins — almost literally every hour it waits between the grinding and the baking. Home-ground flour and cornmeal has a higher lipid (oil) content and is not degerminated or bleached. It’s therefore better food for you and any other form of life, so it won’t keep like store bought flour — unless you freeze it. As soon as your grain is ground, the oxidation processes begin; ultimately they will turn the fat in it rancid. Rancid fat is not deadly poisonous; it’s merely slightly harmful to eat and unpleasant to taste. Weevils and other insects are also more inclined to get into and be a noxious presence in flour than whole grain. Home-ground flour can also absorb odor and dampness, so it’s best to store it in an airtight container — for a small quantity, a glass jar; for large quantities, one of the 5-gal. metal or plastic cans that you can buy with fitted lids. Best of all is to grind the flour just before using it. If you plan to keep it more than a week, freeze it!
Buying Your Grinder
Shop around, comparing prices and available models. Because there is such a confusing array of choices, tell the grinder salesperson you size of household; what grain or seeds you plan to grind, shell or crush for oil; and if you'll also be grinding feed for livestock, how many and what kind. Health food stores or co-ops sometimes have grinders for sale, but they're not as likely to be able to give you expert advice. Grinders are now available that can operate either by hand or by electricity at the flip of a switch.
Mortar and Pestle
A typical home grain grinder sets on a tabletop. There is usually a large screw clamp to provide firm attachment to a bench or table while you are grinding. The hand models work as long as you have the strength and will to turn the crank. Hand grinders come in various sizes. The Family Grain Mill, made in Germany, provides the best-quality flour of any of the grinders— bread quality with only one grinding! It is not too hard to turn and is reasonably priced (about $130). With the small, bargain hand grinders, it is hard work to get grain fine enough so as to not have chunks in it. The worst of the manual grinders produces a “fine meal” rather than a “flour” on the first grind. In order to get a flour grind, you have to crank very hard and put it through more than once. Then sift out the “grits” and put through again, and so on until you are satisfied with your flour. Feed the grits to your livestock, or cook for cereal.
Electric grinding is easy and quick, and blenders are easy to buy. They will work to grind a small amount of grain at any one time, such as the grain for your day’s cooking needs. But grinding is hard on blender blades, and they can’t handle bulk jobs. In most commercial mills today, flour is made by crushing the grain between a series of rollers, much like a wringer washing machine. The expensive electric models for home use can put out around 10 to 16 lb. of flour per hour, depending on size, and cost several hundred dollars. They are kitchen appliances. You plug one in and pour your grain in the hopper, and it grinds your baking flour. One or two quarts of grain at a time is about right for a small family.
“Stone grinding” means that the grain is reduced to flour texture by rubbing against a stone surface in a manner similar to the old-style water-powered gristmills. Stone wheel mills, whether electric- or hand-powered, cannot be used for soybeans because of the oil from the beans, but they will produce a fine flour. Incidentally, the more a grinder grinds, the better job it does, because the stones grind themselves into a better and better fit.
This type of mill crushes the grain between a stationary heavy wheel and a revolving one. These are good for people who want to grind feed for livestock as well as their own meal and flour. A burr mill grinds finer than a hand-cranked household mill, although you may need to
run it through more than once — maybe 3 times for baking flour. A burr mill is also the answer for folks who want to grind flour in larger quantities than household mills can handle. The drawback of a burr mill is that it grinds any grain fine but will not grind unthreshed grain-straw combinations. Incidentally, don’t run the burrs on empty. It wears them out faster.
You can buy an attachment for some household mills that will make rolled oats, wheat, or rye flakes ($99 attachment for the Family Grain Mill). Or get the Marga Grain Roller/Flaker, which has three hardened steel rollers and can be adjusted to make different grades of either flour or flakes, $70 from the Urban Homemaker (see “Buying Your Grinder” below). A roller-type mill is the best for rolling and flaking grains, but it’s not good for making flours. They are less expensive than hammer mills and require less power. They work by mashing the grain between two clothes-wringer-type rollers. You can set a roller mill to hull, crack, and grind grain. The grain will be quite fine, but not fine enough for baking. A good roller mill with crusher rollers can chop corn or grain on the stalk, wet or dry, into silage. A roller mill is what you need if you want to grow one of the grains that doesn’t thresh clean and must be dehulled after threshing and before grinding (such as oats or barley).
Hammer mills do big grinding jobs. They also use a lot of electricity and cost a lot. The hammer mill basically grinds anything. You can put whole grain right on the stalk into a hammer mill, and it will turn out a fine livestock feed that includes roughage and avoids threshing. You can mix the feed beforehand and then mill it, and grind corn on the cob. In some cases you can adjust these grinders to make cornmeal, too, but usually a hammer mill
always lets some coarser material through and won’t make a baking-quality flour.
[Adapted from the "Grinding Your Grain" section of Chapter 3: Grasses, Grains, & Canes. Other topics include: Cereal, Fighting Pests in Grain, and growing grains.