Back to Basics – What we learn from Milling Grain

Bread, the staff of life, has some interesting things to tell us when we compare making it from first principles compared to buying it as a finished product. Here’s a guest post from Mrs Ermine for whom food is a passion with the lowdown.

I buy bread wheat directly from some farmer friends who live close by, by sack of twenty or so kilograms for £8 each. This is above the wholesale price they are paid for wheat, to take into account the extra work entailed in organising collection, bagging the grain up, and so on.

Wheat in the fields

I pick a couple of sacks up whenever I am passing by, or visiting them, so there is no extra transport cost involved for me. To turn my wheat into flour I have a small, but sturdy, “Country Living” grain mill that I bought many years ago when I had a “proper job” that earned me a good deal more money than running The Oak Tree Farm  does now.

Mr Ermine, being a handy sort of chap with all things electrical, has grand plans to motorise the mill, but for the moment I turn the handle myself in the dead times when I am cooking something else. I don’t really need the extra exercise now, running a smallholding gives me quite enough of that, but I certainly did benefit from the effort  it took when I sat behind a desk all day.

American "Country Living" Grain Mill

My habit of making bread and pasta from wheat grains surprises a lot of people, but it really is quite a sensible way of carrying on. As soon as wheat is milled, the increased surface area of the tiny flour particles results in rapid oxidisation of the vitamins in the wheat. Flour that is stored for any length of time, even wholemeal flour, has a considerably lower nutrient content than freshly milled. And for the Ermine household, it has the great advantage of being cheap. Really cheap.

Your local, friendly, near-monopoly supermarket chain charges, at time of writing, £1.29 for 1.5kg of wholemeal flour. A rapid calculation shows I pay 60p, a mere 47% of the shop-bought price. When you start to make bread and pasta, the savings really add up, but you could just as well benefit from those savings by using shop bought flour.

So in short, thanks to a one-off investment in the grain mill, Mr and Mrs Ermine eat better food for less than half the price of supermarket supplies, thanks to a friendly transaction with a local farmer and a small amount of physical effort. Our food miles are vastly reduced too. What’s not to like?

Mr Ermine adds:

The cost difference suprised me, as it shows the invisible hand of the market is in full price-gouge mode. A 100% markup on a low-tech basic foodstuff which is a 1000-year old mature technology is really quite remarkable.

The grain mill is designed to run at 60rpm and needs about a 1/4 horsepower (200W) motor. An average human can achieve a sustained power output of about 1/10 horsepower. This accords with observation, I don’t hear the sound of this running for sustained periods of time, more 2-3 minute bursts 🙂