On home-grown flour

Painted Mountain flour corn, seed gifted generously from Mike.  Riffing off my last post:  One cup medium-fine corn meal in four cups boiling water equals polenta; one cup medium corn meal plus three cups boiling water equals grits.  See how easy this all is?

One of the things most surprising to those considering a “local” diet is how truly dependent their normal diet is upon flour.  Though flour can be made of any grain, it’s wheat we Westerners are terribly dependent upon…surely there’s a way to grow one’s own?

I suppose there is; in point of fact, on commercial farms, spring wheat and regular rye are commonly grown between vegetable rows where I live (the wheat grows quickly, and its roots hold down the soil between the plastic-mulched crops of tomatoes, peppers, squash, etc.).  But wheat is not the normal commodity crop ’round here (ugh, we plow down our vineyards and orchards to grow corn and soy with shocking regularly here because–get this–we can’t find enough people to pick the grapes and fruit! sigh; this is a staggeringly sad factoid in a state with chronically high unemployment).  I’ve tried my hand growing hull-less oats and rye and buckwheat; all grew.  Dang, though, you need LOTS of grain to feed your own humble self.  My grains simply aren’t grown at that scale.

Child amongst the dent corn, August 2010.

However.  I do grow corn.  Armed with a handful of seeds in spring and with a $20 corn grinder in winter, whammo:  I am self-sufficient in dried corn and corn flour.

Can I just say there is NO good way to photograph this thing in action, at least not by me, not in this kitchen.  It is a corn grinder, and I do not lie that it cost $20 plus shipping: do the googles or the amazon to find it your own self:  I got the one with the deeper hopper.  BE WARNED it is not good if you’re looking to grind your own wheat flour:  it’s great, though, if you just want cornmeal on occasion, or wish to crack some corn for your chickens.

I grow dent corn, flint corn, and popcorn.  (I don’t grow sweet corn; it’s too easily had locally to make it worth my while.)  All can be ground; all make a decent flour.  Southern Exposure Seed Exchange both offers all kinds of corn AND gives a whiz-bang what-for lesson of which type is used for what:  go see for yourself.  And because I am a fool for polenta, I bought a packet of SESE’s Floriani polenta-specific corn to try this year.

This cheap thing is great for home use.  After about five passes, the meal is perfect for a good polenta; after four, it makes great grits…and I’ve used it for bean flours (garbanzo, black turtle) too to good effect.  Oh, and I’ve ground up rice in it too:  rice mush makes a great breakfast!

Give corn-growing a try this year, or, barring that, use your muscles and grind your own.  Trust me, the taste of freshly-ground corn is worth the turn!

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12 responses to “On home-grown flour

  1. That’s really interesting. I have also tried growing oats and spring wheat (tiny amounts – birds got most of it), but it’s never occurred to me to grow corn for grinding. Will give it some serious thought for this year!

  2. We have tried our hand at wheat, flax, and oats but corn is the only one that fills up a our gallon jars with out stealing too much space in the garden. Our little hand grinder gets a weekly workout around here but struggles to process the Painted Mountain corn. We didn’t plant any corn this past season but I hope to give it a go this next depending upon how the spring weather shapes up. Love that picture of your daughter in the corn…I have a similar one of our grandson standing next to the popcorn we got from you.

  3. I’ve often fantasized about growing wheat, the closest I get is growing silky wild rye (not edible) in my ornamental garden. Love the photo of the corn stalks towering over the little child.

  4. How far apart do you grow your different corns to keep them from cross-pollinating? I would love to grow popcorn but everything around here has to be fenced, to keep the deer out, and I just don’t have that much fenced garden.

  5. Very cool El! We’re also growing field corn — currently a variety that I’m in love with called “Henry Moore” (110 day, huge kernels/ears/stocks). I’ve been experimenting with nixmatalization — which creates hominy or, if dried and ground — masa harina for tortillas.

    The sodium hydroxide I tried does a number on the kernels and really works fast — but was a little scary (it is drain cleaner after all) even though I rinse and soak several times after its use. The calcium hydroxide (aka hydrated lime) works, though not quite as well, and when I finally processed that batch into flour, it didn’t have the required stickiness for making tortillas.

    Anyone else out there been successful with making masa harina? Freshly made tortillas are to die for — worlds better than store bought!

    For anyone looking to buy larger quantites of open polinated seed at reasonable prices, google “Leonard Borries” who sells out of Teutopolis, IL. I’ve got a 50lb bag of Reid’s Yellow Dent from him which doesn’t work well in my planter (small flats). Its free for the taking for anyone who’s interested in it (I’m located in Three Rivers, MI)

    • Hi David! I have only tried making hominy/posole with lye. I figured lye shouldn’t scare me because we make soap. It was fine/fun despite all the work and the fact that the corn I chose required that I pinch off the stem end of the corn as well as wash off/peel off the husks. As you can well imagine with all the other things I had going on, this little procedure has not been repeated. But it was tasty.

      The next year I got hominy-friendly corn…and have only ground it up! Maybe I should try again. Hmm. (looks at calendar.) But yeah, I am not necessarily worried about our eating too much of this home-grown corn so as to risk getting pellagra. However, I do love fresh corn tortillas, you’re so right.

      (Hey: did you see the post about fishing/mercury in the SWMI listserve? I tried to answer the issue by showing what Michigan is doing.)

  6. I never did process the lye batch (same as sodium hydroxide) all the way to masa, but I probably should give that a shot again. Couldn’t help but think that I was going to cough up my esophagus after eating corn treated with it. 8^P. Considering how well it ate the skins off though, I’m thinking it would’ve produced masa that was nice and cohesive. I probably used more lye than I should have, as there were no skins or stems left to knock off.

    I did see your post on the fish — you’re much more in tune with it than I’ve been. When we lived in Washington, I was smug with the idea that we had no coal fired power plants nearby. Then studies came out showing high mercury contamination just the same — coming all the way from China.

    I basically allow myself to eat a couple fish we catch every year and that’s all (from Michigan, anyway). Nowadays I’m even a little skeptical of Alaskan fish, as the Japan current (and everything it carries post Fukushima) is headed straight there. Makes me angry the way society is willing to risk everyone’s life and health in perpetuity in exchange for running their big screen TV for a few more years, but perhaps my perspective is not quite in tune with the actual risk.

  7. I’ve only ever grown sweet corn. Like you, I find it not worth the time, effort or garden space. But I’ve never really thought about growing corn to grind. I always said that we don’t eat much cornmeal, but lately we have drastically increased our cornbread consumption, so maybe it is time to try some dent corn.

    Thanks for pointing out that corn grinders are pretty cheap. In my mind I was thinking about those expensive grinders.

  8. El if you bake at all (and I know you do) you should seriously consider getting a grain grinder that can do wheat. Unless you don’t like whole wheat flour. Mine paid for itself in less then a year and three years later now food is practically free. Just sayin’.

    • Thanks for the input, Annette. I do have a grinder, actually! The reason I got this corn mill was the flour mill ground things into, yep, flour; much too fine for polenta and grits and my bean flours. Honestly the flour mill does work great for small batches…but I now make between 6-12 loaves a week so I rely instead on the mill where I get my flour…the quantity I need is just too great (and the price of berries vs milled is tipped toward milled, believe it or not…and I can’t get Michigan berries, sob). My loaves are sourdough with 30% white flour w/ germ, 60% whole wheat and the rest is rolled oats and wheat bran. The white allows a bit more rise, just a bit. But you’re quite right about the things paying for themselves.

  9. Cheryl, well, if deer aren’t an issue for you, I would definitely suggest giving field corn a try. It’s funny how much you get: the kernels are just so very little of the total product…mostly I give the stalks and leaves to the goats and if the stalks are too dry the compost gets them. It’s so bulky!

    Mike, yeah, those Painted Mountain kernels are a bit of a bear because they’re so FAT. But, well, they make a mean purple polenta! Can’t fault them for that 🙂 I am surprised you didn’t do corn this last year. I swear I am going to do that one year, just grow enough for two years… May you have a sunny non-windy season to grow them.

    Hi Jason! Thanks for commenting. I think you do a fine job growing enough to keep your bees happy. Your gardens remind me of my Minneapolis garden, especially your front yard, sigh…those were simpler gardening days for me, just worrying if my perennials clashed. One day, I will get back to it. 🙂

    Annie, I haven’t given the cross-pollination thing much thought mainly because they all tassel out at different times so they don’t have much of a chance to mix. Good point though. If I were to save them I wonder how pure they’d be.

    Hi again, David. Yeah, I am not sure about your son, but my daughter is a keen fisherwoman. We’re even smoking some fish this weekend (so hey we’ll be adding some carcinogens to our mercury). I suppose everything in moderation but it pisses me off just the same. I think the whole chemical house of cards will tumble and it’ll be a huge wake-up call, the more we can connect the dots that Twinkies = Parkinson’s and baby shampoo = something horrible happening to you when you’re 40. That’s why you and I are doing what we’re doing, after all.

    Fritz, I think the “brand” on the one I have is Corona. They’re from Mexico or South America somewhere; somewhere where dry corn is a lot more common in the diet, surely, so it makes sense to have something inexpensive like this…a real go-to item. And like I said it does fine with rice and with beans too; probably wouldn’t use it for nuts but anything dry/not oily should work wonderfully.

    Annette, well, yeah; I think what’s great about this DIY thing is you have, at least initially, a great big list of items that people can buy you for the holidays or for your birthday without their feeling like you won’t use it! I will admit only a few of my outlandish implements gather dust; everything else gets fair use, at least annually. Hah!

  10. Pingback: What Seeds I Ordered, Part 2 | The Homestead Fritz

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