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Grain Mills and Other Things

A belated “Happy New Year!” I’ve been trying to write something the past few weeks, but I realized I just needed a bit of time off. What better time for a break than when I don’t have much of anything exciting going on to write about anyway, right? Well, I received a grain mill for my birthday, and another year is under way, so it’s time to take some more notes about what’s been going on.

We caught a cold right around Christmas time, and it took its sweet time traveling through the house from one child to the next, and then on to Scott. Aaron and I were the only ones who didn’t get sick throughout the 2+ weeks it made the rounds. Some of the kids were nearly better and then seemed like they were hit by a second round, but things passed quickly once we reached that point (thank goodness). We got a few days of reprieve, and then Aaron and I finally got sick.

Between the sickness and the sudden extreme drop in activity in our schedule after the holidays, I’ve been feeling a little out of sorts myself. It’s a strange feeling, not having any urgent projects or tasks to work on. We’ve been reading a little more, watching lots of documentaries, and the kids have spent a lot of time playing in the snow. This past week was a little more “normal” for this time of year, as the kids started to feel better

Thanks to some special circumstances, we were able to get an outdoor wood burner installed at the end/beginning of the year, and we’ve been heating the house with wood since then. Scott has been busy cutting, splitting, and stacking wood so that we are prepared for next winter. We still haven’t gotten a wood stove installed in the house, but we are contemplating doing that sometime this year if the finances will allow for it. We’d like the wood stove in as a back-up emergency heat and cooking source in the event of power outages, but we’ll just have to see.

Scott has also been working on fixing up an old trailer with his brother to convert it into a car hauler. They’ve been doing that and working on getting wood together the last month or so on the weekends.

Adeline and I both celebrated birthdays this month. She’s 10 now! Adeline got two glo-fish for her birthday this year and is enjoying her new pets. We had a joint birthday party with her girl cousins on my side and my sisters and sister-in-law. We all went sledding together, got a good workout and hand lots of laughs, and then spent a few hours just visiting. I don’t know if we’ve ever done something like that, just the moms and all the girls, but it was fun!

For my birthday, Scott and the kids got me a copy of “A Catholic Introduction to the Bible: The Old Testament” by John Bergsma and Brant Pitre. It’s a book Scott and I were both interested in, and it’s essentially a textbook on biblical study. I finished the introduction the other day and am reading through the introduction to the Pentatuch, and so far, I’m really enjoying it.

I can’t remember where I heard about the book, possible from reading some different books by one of the authors (Brant Pitre), “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist,” and “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary.” Both were incredibly insightful books that really helped me to better understand certain aspects of my Catholic faith, and that got me excited to learn so much more. Over the last few years, I’ve learned certain things about the Holy Land, Judaism, and more that have really helped me to gain a deeper appreciation for the stories in the Bible and how everything connects to each other.

The other gift I got that was really exciting for me was a hand-crank grain mill! I admit, I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get one for Christmas, and then for my birthday, but a few days later, I did! My brother and his wife and family bought me one and gave it to me over the weekend. I put it to use on Sunday, and I am very happy with it.

We discussed the possibility for years now of getting a large, quality grain mill. The previous owners of the house had one, which got us interested in the idea. I’ve wanted to grind wheat berries for making fresh flour ever since, but I just haven’t had a good way to do it. When we grew corn for drying this past fall, I tried grinding it with my mortar and pestle, but that was incredibly tedious. I tried using our blender, but that was also tedious and not incredibly effective. I started looking into mills again at that point, and it seemed there were two good options: buy the big mill, or get the best small one on the market. This is the second option.

Cracking beans on a low grind setting.

I specifically wanted a hand-crank one, as I want most of our food preservation tools to be able to be operated by both hand and electricity. We have a Norpro Food Strainer and Sauce Maker that we can use by hand or by attaching a drill to that has absolutely changed canning for me for the better. I believe I could rig our drill up to the grinder, but after testing it out, I just don’t think that will be necessary. It worked incredibly well, much better than I expected.

To start, I had to wash the mill by hand and then run a batch of something through that could be discarded, like dried beans or something that I wouldn’t feel funny tossing out. This is recommended in order to ensure that any factory dirt and debris is removed. Initially, I kept the grind loose because I needed to get familiar with everything, and I didn’t know how easily things would go through… would I need to grind twice or more? The first grind was fairly easy to run through, and it really just cracked the beans.

You can see that the clamp plate isn’t very far onto the table. With the lip of the table, it gives an even poorer surface area to clamp to. Something with a square edge would work much better.

I decided to tighten the grind plates up and run the cracked beans through a second time. I found this to be a little more difficult, but I figured this was due to the tightness of the plates. I had to have Adam hold our dining room table steady for that one. I adjusted the mill a little tighter partway through the grind. The grind still seemed pretty large, so I tightened the mill again and ran some of it through a third time. The third grind was much, much more difficult, but it gave a good consistency. I was a little nervous how it would handle corn at this point, because I was running the beans through 3 times to get the size grind I was looking for.

I tossed the beans out after finishing the grinding, washed the mill again, and got it ready to grind corn. Initially, I ground some larger grind material I had left from grinding corn with the blender, and this was fairly difficult to grind into a corn meal consistency. However, when I used whole kernels, I was able to grind tight immediately and get the right results. The kernels went through so smoothly, and it was much less labor intensive. The table didn’t really shake much, and Gideon was able to do a tiny bit of cranking, too.

Re-grinding some blue corn, and this is as fine as I could get it. I forgot to get a picture of the yellow corn, but it ground more finely than this, overall. If I can tighten the screw a little more on the grinding plates, I should be able to get a more consistent grind.

It seemed to me that the mill got more difficult to crank the smaller the object I was attempting to grind. I don’t have any wheat berries at the moment, so I can’t experiment with grinding flour right now to see if that would be more difficult to grind than whole corn kernels. When the mill was difficult to crank, the mill itself wanted to rock around, and Adam or I would brace it while the other would crank it. I felt like this wouldn’t have been an issue had the clamp plate been larger.

I am contemplating either cutting a small notch into our counter so that the whole mill is better anchored during use. As for the table wobbling, I think just having the mill clamped to a counter that won’t move around would help greatly for stability. Another option would be to attach a larger clamp plate so that the mill has a larger surface area to grip to.

The mill is made of cast iron, but it’s tin-plated to help prevent rusting. It’s heavy-duty and I’m not concerned it’ll wear out anytime soon. For being able to grind coffee or nuts or corn, this mill will be perfect. I’m not sure how the mill will handle wheat, but even if it doesn’t do great, I’m willing to wait to get a good quality mill for grinding wheat. Besides, we’re not growing our own wheat right now, so we’ve got some time.

I’m hoping to get ahold of some grains to play around with soon, but I’m excited that I can even use this for grinding nuts or coffee. I’ll have to give an update of how well it works after I’ve used it a few more times, but so far, I’m pretty happy with it!

I hope this winter is finding you well!

Love and Blessings~ Danielle

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