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The daily grind, Amish style

grain mill

Lehman's Own Hand Cranked Grain Mill, $199.95.

For people who are into re-skilling and building household resilience, an essential source of non-electric and hand-cranked gadgets is Lehman’s. With a store in Ohio’s Amish country, Lehman’s sells thousands of old-timey implements online for use in the kitchen, around the house and out in the garden.

Lehman’s is the place to go for canning jars and supplies as well as Aladdin oil lamps, wood cook stoves and even hand-cranked laundry machines.

We ordered their Hand Cranked Grain Mill because we thought my wife could use it to grind her coffee while also making her own flour for baking bread.

We’d heard that there were many benefits to milling your own flour, aside from being sure that your whole grain bread really gets the whole of the grain (commercial flour labelled as “whole wheat” omits the wheat germ, which would go bad too quickly on store shelves).

Flour milled at home is fresher, of course — you know it hasn’t set on those store shelves in its vulnerable ground form losing nutrients. And at home you can experiment with whole grains beyond wheat that are not commonly available in flour form, from barley and amaranth to bulgar and quinoa.

Mainly, we thought it would be fun to process more of our food at home, encouraging us to eat more fresh whole foods while making our family more resilient. Saving energy while getting a little exercise would be an added bonus. So of course, we wanted a hand-cranked grain mill, rather than an electric one.

From bread to brew

Meanwhile, about the same time, I got back into brewing my own beer at home. At first, it seemed like a lot of trouble for a second-rate result. The beer tasted yeasty and flat. I tried little changes to fix things, but because I didn’t really know what I was doing it made little difference.

The quality only improved when I decided to take a leap of faith and make things even more involved — in short, to move from brewing with recipe kits using malt extract in cans of syrup or bags of sugary powder to brewing with all grains.

Using only grains (mostly malted barley, but for my latest attempt, a Hefeweizen, also wheat) more than doubled the time it took to brew each batch. But the beer turned out so much better, that I’ve decided to stick with it, at least for the time being.

And now, having expanded the process from about two hours to more than four, I just couldn’t resist adding even more manual work.

So, instead of buying my grains pre-ground, I decided to start buying whole grains and to grind at home. The theory, aside from pure masochism, is that unground grains keep more of their freshness while they’re waiting in boxes in the basement or a couple weeks or even a month before I get around to using them in my next batch.

It took me about an hour to grind the eight pounds of grains needed for the Hefeweizen. My arm got a good workout. And I do need to find a way to keep the ground grain from flying out of the grinding stones in every direction — with about half a cup winding up wasted on the floor. Maybe there’s some kind of optional attachment?

For people like me who just can’t resist the temptation to make an already long DIY process even longer, whether you’re brewing beer, baking bread or squeezing out your own cashew butter, I can certainly recommend the Lehman’s grinder.

Erik Curren is the publisher of Transition Voice. He co-founded Transition Staunton Augusta in December 2009 and serves as managing partner of the Curren Media Group. He is also partner in a solar energy development company.

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