Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Daily Grind

Ever since our first internship on the farm of the Sonnewald Natural Foods we have been familiar with the wonderful taste and nutritional qualities of freshly ground flour. We were quite pleased, then, on arriving up at Ecology Action in early '06 to find a flour mill in the food prep space. I slowly worked up to supplying all of our flour needs with it, and we started buying so much wheat that it only made sense to get it in 25 and 50 lb bags.

That was a Country Living Grain Mill (CLGM), and I recommended it to anyone who asked. It is important to note here that we were off the grid at EA, and this was a hand-powered mill. I was certainly just a little proud of that fact. When we moved down to the Golden Rule Garden we were blessed to have access to a Miracle Mill, which had stone burrs instead of steel, and an electric motor which was masked in a nice wooden cabinet. We had great flour with the convenience of pouring in grain and letting it do its thing. The downsides? I couldn't brag any more, the thing was LOUD, and it ground fast enough to heat up the flour considerably (which takes away from the flour's nutritional value). But I always told people that I would go back to a manual mill when I got my own. It keeps me one step closer to my food.

When we moved back here the decision to buy a mill was postponed, because Mom already had one. For anyone who gets Lehman's Catalog, she has the "Our Best Grain Mill". It is difficult for me to give it any kind of negative review, simply because it served us for over 10 years. At the same time, though, it is not designed to produce the quantity (or quality) of flour that other mills can. The burrs are a little smaller, its axle doesn't use bearings, and for many other reasons I can't list (for lack of engineering knowledge) it is harder to use. After using it very intensively this year, grinding 10 cups of wheat berries (~15 cups of flour) a week for bread, I managed to break the set of stone burrs and wear away a 1/2" of the brass spacer between two washers on the axle. So we decided it was time to upgrade.

I had always counted on acquiring a CLGM of our own, since I had such good experiences with it. They are of excellent quality, and the many reviews on the web attest to their popularity. There was no reason to pursue any other, knowing what I wanted.

Then I got an email through the EA vine from Cindy Conner, a Biointensive farmer and instructor, about the new grain mill she had recently gotten. No stranger to the grain grinding (or growing) scene, she had owned a CLGM for over 10 years. Recently, though, she had the chance to see a demonstration of the GrainMaker mill, made by a family in Montana. Her glowing report of it and pronouncement that it has now replaced the CLGM on her counter inspired me to ask a lot of questions and do some more looking around.

GrainMaker has a thorough website that explains the features and history of the mill, so I'll spare you those details (and myself the charges of plagiarism). Suffice it to say that, between the testimonials, my friend's comments, the lifetime warranty, and the obvious pride the company takes in the quality of their product, I was sold. So we took the leap and ordered one.

As soon as we received it I knew the company had style: the only packaging material inside the box was a 5 lb bag of hard white spring wheat. (At left, Alten admires the mill and wonders when I'm going to bolt on the handle.)

I took our Lehman's Best off the counter and replaced it with our new GrainMaker, and we were off and grinding. To say that I am happy with it is an understatement, and I don't even know where to start lauding its excellence. It is as smooth as any good grinder should be, exudes longevity, and shines from the corner of the counter (so much so that Alten is attracted to it from across the kitchen, and will not suffer himself to be far from it). Best of all, though, is that it will grind truly fine flour on its first grind, with the effort that I am used to expending on other mills - but with the other mills I had to use that effort twice, because I needed to put the wheat through two times to get it fine enough. In fact, the GM got flour finer than I have ever ground before, short of putting it through three times on the CLGM we had used. And with only one grind! You can tell I'm in love.

I look forward to working through corn, rice, quinoa, and the grains that are small enough to have stymied the other mills we've used: amaranth and teff.

Now for a few details on our installation. The photo at the top shows our grain processing facility, complete with the Lehman's Best mill and our oat roller (which I wrote about on the Golden Rule Garden blog). At right is the GrainMaker in place. The overhang on our countertop isn't sufficient to clamp either appliance to, and Mom preferred that I not drill holes in said countertop, so I got creative with boards and c-clamps. Close inspection of the image will show that I used a lap joint to make better use of the limited number of clamps. No applause, please. Somehow I think it's funny that Mom is fine with c-clamps more or less a permanent part of the kitchen, but isn't ok drilling very permanent (but oh-so-subtle) holes in the counter.

An unintended plus is that two of the clamps are bright red - just like the GrainMaker! Notice, too, that I used some cardboard under the clamps so as not to mar the finish of the new mill. Maybe at a later date I'll get some red cardboard, too.

The final affirmation of the mill's goodness was the bread I baked and shared with everyone this morning. Delicious, as usual, but much less dense thanks to the finer flour.


  1. Thanks for the review, that was very helpful. I'll probably be looking into a good hand mill sooner or later. Right now we use a corona, but mostly for masa. I wonder how the grainmaker would do with grinding masa.

    1. Hi! We have used it for corn flour and it did great, but that was dry. When you do masa, is it a cooked corn that you are milling? I would love to learn that process from you, do you use lime? We do use the mill for peanut butter, I suspect the burrs for the nut butters would be good with the moist corn. It would certainly be worth a try.

  2. Yes, we use lime and the corn is cooked and wet when you gring it. I found one resource on the web that says the grainmaker makes great masa, but is hard to clean and can rust since the plates are not stainless. You have to use the right kind of lime for processing the corn. I just wrote up an article on types of lime on the paleotechnics blog...

    For tortilla making and nixtamalization, check out tonia's page here. She's the tortilla queen, I just help eat them...