Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Grow your own wheat, make your own bread said the little red hen
Freshly ground wheat flour has a high vitamin content; vitamins that degrade all too quickly when exposed to the air. The whole grain flour that we buy from stores is often quite stale and may have significantly reduced vitamin content when compared to freshly ground.
GROW YOUR OWN WHEAT
(from breadinfo.com) Planting a plot approximately 10 feet by 10 feet will, when all is said and done, yield between 10 and 25 loaves of bread. To begin, find a nice backyard plot and choose the type of wheat you wish to plant. In the United States two varieties are grown, white and red. Red wheat is more common. Red wheat also produces bread with a much more intense flavor. Consider the advantages of growing winter wheat as opposed to spring variety.
Winter wheat can be planted from late-September to mid-October. It is the preferred variety because it tends to be more nutritious than spring wheat, protects the soil in the winter, and has less competition from the weeds in the spring. Try to plant early enough to get a good root system growing before winter dormancy sets in, but not so early that flies and pests become a problem. Spring wheat is planted in early spring and is most commonly found in the northern reaches of the country where the intensely cold winters create problems for winter wheat.
Finding a source for seeds can be a problem. Seed supply houses usually sell in large quantities to farmers and are not geared to individuals wanting to make a small plot in their back yard. The seeds they provide can also be laced with fungicide. Still, this is the best place to begin. You can also find wheat seed at your local natural food stores. The grain in the bins may be planted as well as eaten, just be sure you know whether you are getting winter or spring wheat so that you plant in the proper season.
Try to plant the seed on good rich soil. The ground should be relatively even. This can be done with a rototiller, or more naturally with a shovel and a rake. There are three methods of planting, one is the time honored broadcast method in which 3 ounces or so of seed is "sprinkled" over the garden bed for every 100 square feet. This is about 1 seed for every square inch. Planting density is largely dependent on the richness and moistness of the soil. More wheat per square feet will absorb more nutrients and moisture. Be sure to rake the patch to cover the seed and protect it from hungry birds. Another method, called drilling, creates a hole about every six inches and plants several seeds per hole. The plants come up in a bunch but spread out over the bare area. This method allows for weeding when the plants are young, but is more labor intensive. Similarly, tightpacked rows (about 6 inches apart) can be made in the soil and the wheat seed spread up and down the rows in the manner of beets or carrots.
HARVEST, THRESH AND WINNOW YOUR WHEAT
Wheat harvest usually occurs in June when the wheat begins to turn a golden color but still has a few streaks of green. Using a scythe or some other sharp blade, mow down the stalks then tie them into bundles, standing them upright in the garden patch. Then allow the grain to fully ripen into a golden color.
Twine could be used to tie the bundles, but the traditional method is to take about an inch thick bunch of stems. Tie the lower end, binding the stalks together. Then wrap them around the bundle tying the head and foot of the stalks at about the middle of the bundle, creating a shock.
Keep the heads dry, then thresh and winnow at your leisure. The simplest form of threshing involves grasping a quantity of ripe wheat in one hand and beating it around the inside of a barrel. The grain falls off the stalks and the stalks are discarded or composted.
Winnowing is the process of separating the wheat from the chaff and small bits of straw. Since time immemorial this has been done by pouring the wheat from one container to another in a stiff breeze. The breeze blows away the chaff and the resulting wheat is as pure a product as you may easily produce. Absent a stiff breeze, a fan may be used.
Your wheat is now ready for storage. Wheat may be stored in barrels, bags or what-have-you. The basic requirements are that the space be cool, dry and pest-free (think rodent and bug).
Throw some in a blender or food processor and grind to flour consistency.
Start with a half cup of whole grain. Turn the blender up to its highest speed. If the blender seems to bog down, stop and reduce the amount of grain. Add a larger amount for the next batch if the blender handled the original half cup sufficiently. Continue to grind the grains until they reach the consistency desired. Grind the grain in batches until the desired amount is achieved.
Pick your favorite pasta, pancake, bread, cookie or muffin recipe and start baking!