If you've ever baked whole-wheat bread from store-bought flour and found it to be bitter and tough, let me tempt you with this: it's a completely different experience baking with home-ground flour.
Your whole-wheat loaves will rise with unprecedented softness and have lush flavor without any bitterness the result of oils that have gone rancid.
Why stop at wheat? There are so many delicious antique grains that are readily available all over the country. For bulk wheat, try www.wheatmontana.com. You can make protein-packed amaranth pancakes and buttery kamut biscuits using bulk antique grains from www.homegrownharvest.com. Whole grains are much cheaper to buy in bulk than flour, and they will store in an airtight container for years.
Don't be intimidated by words like "milling" and "grinding." Making your own flour in small ready-to-bake batches is not only easy but incredibly satisfying. You'll never want to buy flour again!
Buying • The key to a marvelous milling experience is a home grinder. Sure, people have been grinding grain with stone pestles for ages, but innovation offers some handy modern tools that work like a charm. While there are a number of electric grinders on the market, I prefer the trusty performance of a hand-cranked mill. Besides, I believe a bit of toil makes the end product more worthwhile. It's also comforting to know that my equipment will stand the test of time. In my experience, electric parts break and burn out. They're made with speedy convenience in mind, not tried-and-true performance. I love and recommend the GrainMaker, made by Bitterroot Tool & Machine in Montana (www.grainmaker.com). This sturdy USA-made mill is crafted of welded steel, weighing a modest 20 pounds, and produces about a cup of flour per minute. It fastens to a counter or solid workbench, wherever you have space to do your grinding. But I must warn you its gorgeous cherry-red color and old-fashioned charm beg to be displayed! And the warranty? Lifetime. Need I say more?
Grinding • Once you have your grinder, the next consideration is the type of grain that will best suit your needs. Hard-red spring wheat has high protein content, so it has great gluten potential for baking breads. but it will make a dense loaf on its own.
Lighten up your bread by mixing hard wheat with soft white spring wheat for better all-purpose flour. Experiment with proportions to come up with the consistency of bread that you like best.
If you're using the GrainMaker, place up to 4 cups of grain in the hopper. (Four cups of whole wheat is going to give you 5 to 6 cups of flour.) Give the handle a few turns to test both the coarseness of the finished flour. (It can be adjusted with the turn of a knob.) Crank the handle and grind. So simple! If you have flour left over from your current baking project, store it in an airtight container in your freezer for up to 30 days.
Muscle power • Another miracle of motor-free grinders is the restorative boost you get from exercising your muscles. Working out doesn't require a gym membership, if we simply look for opportunities in our daily lives to work a little harder. Grinding a few cups of flour exercises your lungs, back and even your legs. Your whole body gets into it. Want more of a workout? Trade in electric gadgets for hand-crank versions of coffee grinders, vegetable choppers, cherry and olive pitters, garlic presses and more. You'll find the more muscle you put into your efforts, the sweeter the results will be.
MaryJane Butters is the editor of MaryJanesFarm magazine. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.