My bread books have many chapters about flour. Cookbooks bore me. I look at the pictures and ignore the words because who in their right mind wants to read about cooking? Except, of course, my blog which is riveting dammit!
Flour is the victim of historic oddities which have made something simple into something complex. I blame the whole thing on Wonder Bread and early 20th century urbanisation. (I told you it was boring!)
Here’s what you really need to know about flour:
- For our purposes flour comes in two varieties; white (or “evil”) and 100% whole wheat (or “good”).
- Like the force; “good” (wheat flour) and “evil” (white flour) must be kept in balance. Cooking entirely with wheat flour is a hassle. You’ll need gluten and other stuff. It’ll take more cooking skill. Possibly even a bit of luck. I don’t do luck! (Note: If you’re thinking of commenting about how you always use only whole wheat just like grandma did in 1820 and you never have a bad loaf…buzz off.) Cooking entirely with white flour is much easier but it will lead your soul to the dark side. First it’s dull boring tasteless bread and then it’s Twinkies and Mountain Dew. Soon you’ll give up on homemade foods! You’ll wind up freebasing pop rocks and turning tricks to buy a Big Mac. Heed my warning; the best breads for a homesteader type with a day job and a modest level of baking skill have some of both sides. Go for a mix of white and wheat flours…it’s the middle path that leads to enlightenment.
- “Evil” (white) flour must be bought at the grocery store. There are a zillion different brands which annoy me equally. This is because white flour has been designed specifically for purposes other than making food taste awesome. White flour is basically ground wheat with everything sucked out of it until it’s a listless sad lonely failure that does nothing but sit around and watch TV. Then various unnatural things are done to it to make it super extra ultra mega white which is probably bad for it’s self-esteem and made it drop out of community college and quit it’s job. Then some “good” stuff is pumped back into it (“enriched”) which is like adding vitamins to sawdust. (The smart thing to do would have been to leave the good stuff alone in the first place but that would have affected it’s unnaturally long shelf life.)
- Special “bread flour” has additional voodoo that isn’t necessary to the recipe I’m discussing. It might be wise to avoid it unless your recipe calls for it.
- Within reason, try to buy fresher flour. In my limited experience, corporate behemoth brands haven’t made as good bread. I’m not sure precisely why.
- White (“evil”) flour, despite my complaints, has several advantages; it’s cheap, it’s incredibly uniform, and it lasts a long time. All are handy traits which might apply to a spark plug as well as a food component.
- White (“evil”) flour has an impressive shelf life but it doesn’t last forever. When it gets old, chuck it. If you have doubts, chuck it. If you’re bored and need something to do, chuck it. Don’t jeopardize future bread glory to save on cheap white flour. In case you’re wondering, chickens won’t eat stale leftover flour. Scary eh?
- “Good” (wheat) flour at the store usually has descriptors on the front of the package. Like a politician’s speech, most of the words are meaningless drivel and you can’t trust a damn thing. The way I (in my infinite wisdom) define whole wheat flour is as follows: “put the wheat kernel in the top of a choppy machine thingy and every goddamn molecule of it had better come out the bottom in the flour”. That is the only definition of whole wheat that matters. Marketers hate me.
- The way I make 100% whole wheat (“good”) flour is with a grain mill. (Or as I like to call it “Thor’s hammer of wheat kernel smiting”.) Mills are expensive and it’s a little weird to buy a machine to create something a cheap as flour. So be it. Some of my readers reload ammo even though they can buy it at the store. Draw your own parallels. I bought an electric mill. I have no regrets. Grain mills (at least mine) are about as complex to operate as a toaster. Unless there’s a portal to another dimension inside the machine, grain mills make 100% whole wheat flour. Smart people can probably make white flour out of a grain mill but I’m lazy and buy the white (“evil”) stuff.
- Unlike white (“evil”) flour, which is a miracle of industrialized chemistry, whole wheat (“good”) flour from your mill wont last as long. Store bought wheat flour is somewhere in between; assume a pro-rated lifespan.
- Just for the record I’ve been milling Hard Red Spring Wheat kernels. It’s not easy to find wheat kernels and shipping will kill you. Buy in bulk. Buy in person. To get mine I drove to an “organic” wheat mill in the middle of nowhere surrounded by (you guessed it) wheat fields. A pretty lady in a full length dress who probably knows both hymnals and how to drive a combine sold it to me. It was cheap enough that I bought a two year’s supply and still forgot the price. A 50 pound bag is a whole lot of future bread. Buy extra and keep it in your car to improve traction (or go ahead and stock your bunker). Wheat, properly stored, will outlast us all. Get the idea? Store wheat kernels (or “berries”) and grind it to flour (which has a lesser shelf life) as needed. If you don’t have a mill, the pretty lady had excellent wheat and white flour for sale too…all you need to do is burn a tank of gas driving to the middle of nowhere to buy a $6 bag of flour.
At the end of all this you should have bag of “evil” flour and a couple pounds of “good” flour (either from the store or home ground from your Bert Gummer approved mill).
Secure the two flour supplies so the cat won’t knock them over and call it a day. The next article is when you finally get to make a mess.
I noticed my local food co-op is now offering the following:
Hard Red Northern Wheatberries – 25 Lb in a paper bag – $16.50
1) Is that a reasonable price? Would I be better off going to WinCo or other bulk food retailer?
2) Even though I don’t presently own a mill, I understand these will keep quite a while. Can someone elaborate on how well this stores?
3) Is there a way to equate lbs. of berries to cups of milled flour?
I’m on the road so I can only reply quickly. More thought may follow if I get a chance to think it over.
1. I have no idea what the market price for wheat berries is…I’ll get back to ya’ on that.
2. Wheat berries, properly stored, will outlast us all. Storage is pretty easy.
3. Hmmm…mass to volume? I’m doubting it would be accurate enough for the recipe. Though obviously a pound of berries is a pound of flour. (I love tautologies.) Are you just wondering how many cups in a 25 pound bag?
Upon reflection I think the wheat price you’ve got is a smidge high but reasonable for local, right now, and instant gratification. (Also it’s the “hippie markup” because everything in a co-op is a smidge high.)
The “tactical markup” is a little bit more. It’s $54 (including s&h) for 45 pounds from emergency essentials but you get a nifty pail and don’t have to leave your house and hang out wiht hippies. (Note I’ve never bought wheat from Emergency Essentials but the other stuff was ok). So long as the local “hippie markup” is cheaper than the internet “tactical markup” it makes sense to buy now.
My advice is buy the 25 pounds and then take your time to seek cheaper source. 25 pounds will keep you busy for a while and you’ll probably get it for 30% less (YMMV) once you’ve found a nice obscure grain elevator in flyover land to sell it to you in bigger amounts.
New discovery…I found Hard Red Wheat Berries at $13.xx for 25 pounds at (of all places) Wal-Mart. Color me surprised; when I bought my mill (2009) wheat berries were “rare”. That means you can probably find it in every town and save $3 which you can use for a stiff belt of whiskey after braving the Wal-Mart shopping experience. (Also Wal-Mart is usually the cheapest around so that makes your $16 seem pretty reasonable. I’m guessing wheat went up in price since I bought my last stash in 2009. But there’s no inflation to see here…move along.)
I still want to devise a miniature Quern that I can hook my dog up to and stone grind about 50 pounds of wheat at a time. Or that I can hook a stationary bicycle up to, and let my wife do her exercises!
Grandma would approve of that, I’m sure, although mine would tell me to get my own backside on the bicycle, because I am carrying about an extra 10 or 15 pounds myself. Then again, I could grind corn for the Still with it, too, and get everyone some exercise, I guess.
(Oops! Forget that I mentioned the corn. I don’t want the ATF coming to see me, for either the A part or the F part. I ain’t started growing Tobacco. Yet…)
I love my electric mill. It’s fast and easy and it’s not like I need to grind flour by the ton. If the grid goes down for a month or something I’ll have bigger issues than the mill (and it doesn’t take a huge generator to power the appliance either).
I only ride bicycles to get from point A to B when my vehicle is broke (ahhh…memories).
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Quick question. Since your electric mill is obviously working well … which brand/type is it? I’m trying to buy one and all the reviews are … inconsistent.
I have a Nutrimill. As far as I’m concerned it’s perfect. (I also expect it to outlast herds of old bread makers.)
I agree that the reviews are confusing. I bought my mill a few years ago and reading them had me chasing my tail. I perhaps they overthink the matter? I put wheat in the top, get flour out of the bottom, it doesn’t trash my kitchen or sound like a jet engine (it isn’t quiet though), and don’t need a PhD to operate it. That’s all I ever wanted. (Note: I mill wheat and nothing else. If you want to get exotic then your mileage may vary.)
Mills are an odd appliance. They’re pretty expensive just to make flour but once you absorb the purchase you’ve got a lifetime supply of flour that’s a whole different world of taste. (Also wheat kernels cost nearly nothing and store essentially forever.)