We are spoiled today. We don’t have to bake our own bread or even grind the flour. People used to mill flour with those big grindstones. This process produced whole wheat.
|Mount Vernon Ladies' Association|
Anyone who has discovered weevils in their flour knows what a pain in the bum they are to rid from the pantry. But a hundred years ago, you just sifted your flour and hoped you removed them. Fortunately, the bugs are harmless to us. We just gag on the thought. In fact we probably eat plenty of their eggs all the time. Anyone who is into organic knows how difficult it is to keep the weevils out of any flour, cornmeal, oatmeal, etc. The easiest way is to keep the flour cold. Cold also prevents flours from going rancid.
I’ve stored plenty of flour varieties in my freezer. I have plastic containers marked for each type of flour and I just keep those containers in there all the time. I merely drop the bags into the container and seal the container. I don’t know if our ancestors put flour into the cold cellars or spring houses to keep those little bugs from hatching. I’d like to think they did.
The processing of wheat into flour changed drastically in the 1800’s. In 1869, Charles A.
|Charles Alfred Pillsbury by Minnpost|
They also bought as quickly as it could be harvested. There are plenty of theories of how the demand for wheat pushed the farmers to produce as much as possible and mechanized farming made wheat an excellent cash crop. The desire to grow more and more also pushed the price of wheat down. Eventually the madness led to the dust bowl.
But here’s a little tidbit that I recently learned which makes me wonder just how often someone "tinkers” with our bag of flour. Did you know that all-purpose flour that is sent to the North is different from the flour sent to the South? Why? Southerners like to make biscuits and Yankees make bread and rolls. Biscuits need softer flour.
But flour is flour, right? No.
A quick peek at the wheat berry.
|Wheat Art by Johns Food Share|
There’s the germ, which is the embryo part of the seed.
The bran is that outer shell.
Endosperm is that starchy part.
Flour falls into two major categories soft or hard. Soft is used in biscuits, cakes and delicate pastries, and hard is used in breads, pasta, etc. So that all-purpose flour headed to southern stores has more soft flour mixed in it and those going to northern households has more hard flour. Soft flour is taken from the endosperm and it’s very powdery. Hard flour is courser, absorbs more liquid, creates a more porous texture, and contains more protein and gluten.
All-purpose flour is a combination of hard and soft, and apparently blended differently depending upon its destination.
Soft flour is packaged usually as cake flour or for things that require a gentle touch.
Hard flour comes from spring wheat. It’s commonly packaged as bread flour. If you are
High gluten flour is a specialty flour and is usually added to other flours.
Whole wheat can be hard or soft, and it uses the complete wheat berry, the endosperm,
Graham flour is the basis for those graham crackers that everyone loves. It’s unbleached flour and not refined. It uses the endosperm of winter wheat and then mixes in the bran and a touch of the germ, giving it that sweet nutty flavor. It was developed in 1830’s as healthier flour than that plain refined white flour by a man named Sylvester Graham. So those little crackers have been around for a very long time! If you don’t plan on making too many s’mores, try added cream cheese or even peanut butter to those little crackers. (Yummy) Graham flour is course and not used often the kitchen, except for certain desserts such as cheesecake or fruit pies.
|Sylvester Graham & Nabisco (National Biscuit Company)|
Self-rising flour is an all-purpose flour that contains salt and baking powder. Personally I don’t recommend it for breads, but when your eyes aren’t ready to open and it's Sunday morning, you can whip up a batch of pancakes or waffles with self-rising flour. Add milk, an egg, a little melted butter and a pinch of sugar to taste. (My family doesn’t want sugar in their pancakes, but I’d add just little bit of sugar to give it a good flavor but not enough to make it sweet.) It also will make fast batch of muffins by adding melted butter, applesauce (or whatever), some brown sugar (applesauce can be sweet so the amount of sugar can be cut down) egg and spices such as nutmeg, allspice, and cinnamon.
Wheat bran: I cheat. I grab that box of bran cereal if I can find the plain stuff that’s not mixed with other ingredients. Besides that cereal makes the best bran muffins!
Semolina is durum wheat flour, and it's very hard and used for pastas.
Rye flour is ground from rye. Pumpernickel is also a rye flour but ground more like whole wheat, and it’s courser. Since rye’s gluten doesn’t have much elasticity, rye flours are usually mixed with wheat flour.
Oatmeal is made from oats but is also ground into flour.
Now the flours start getting a little odd.
Buckwheat is not wheat. Not even close. It’s an herb. But it makes delicious pancakes. The seeds from the flowers are the "buckwheat."
|Fagopyrum-esculentum (Buckwheat) by Satyam Prakash|
Cornmeal or corn flour is made corn. The cornmeal is course and the flour is ground finer. Cornstarch is ground superfine from the endosperm of the corn kernel.
Soy flour is made from soybeans, once the oil has been removed.
Rice flour can be made from white or brown rice.
Potato flour is made from dehydrated potatoes.
There are many different types of flour used around the world, and if you can get your hands on the different flours, it’s fun to experiment.
I’ve ground my own wheat berries and made bread from it. We can chalk up that as
|model116-01 GrainMaker® mill|
So even our western settlers were probably buying flour, although many a farm woman ground her own flour. The flour milling companies put the flour in sacks and printed the sacks in floral and other prints. Frugal women made curtains, aprons, shirts, and dresses from the sacks. It really didn’t matter if the logo showed and was often incorporated into the outfit’s design. (Think concert tee shirts, favorite movie, or other logos we wear today.) It became a major advertising gimmick. Women would buy that brand because they wanted that material. Tins for staples and smaller batches of flour were developed and printed, and again women liked the tins. Barrels usually came from a local flour gristmill and contained a large quantity of flour.
Flour has been around almost as long as mankind. Tools for grinding flour have been found and dated to 6000 BC. Bread has a been a staple ever since. Today we think nothing of it. Probably most American's don't even recognize wheat growing in fields. We have more varieties of flour available to use in our local food stores than ever before and with Internet, more recipes for those flours. Artisan breads have come into vogue, yet our ancestors didn't think of them as anything special. It was merely simple bread recipes, passed from mother to daughter.
We don't have to grind our flour, but if you ever get a chance to do..go for it! It's amazing to see what comes out of the grinder, and it's fun. It's one of those things that everyone should have a chance to do it. That flour can be turned into a loaf of homemade bread. And while you're doing that back-to-our-roots thing, try making homemade butter.