I discovered the nutritional benefits of freshly milled grains about 18 years ago. I had three little ones, lived in Ft. Worth, and was a stay at home mom who wanted to give her kids the most nutritious foods possible. I grew up with hot biscuits for breakfast, cinnamon rolls made from scratch and yeast breads. Not to mention the pancakes, waffles, pie crusts and plenty of homemade upside down cakes.
Mom and dad are amazing cooks and I credit them for putting me on the culinary track. Even though everyone at that point used white all purpose flour, Mom knew whole grains were best, and made a point of adding Kretschmer's Wheat Germ to just about everything to add nutrients and fiber. I can still see that jar, sitting in our fridge!
Some gal in Ft. Worth invited me to a lecture on the benefits of freshly milled whole grains. She was a former chemist who worked in the milling industry. She told us all about oxidation, and rancidity of oil. She told us that prior to the industrial revolution, every little village had its own mill, folks got their flour fresh from the mill, enough for their daily or weekly needs. And that after that revolution, the "peasants" discovered how easy it was to eat fancy white breads and cakes just like the rich people, and all the nasty fibrous wheat germ that would go rancid when left in the whole wheat flour on the grocer's shelves was better off tossed to the cattle.
And the human population began to be plagued by world record levels of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and many other maladies.
She showed us the numbers on nutrients in flour after so many hours post milling. It was absolutely shocking! But made perfectly good sense when I thought about the difference in green beans straight out of the garden compared to the shriveled ones on the grocery store shelf. Then several of my friends jumped on the bandwagon and started to tell about their poor husbands with chronic digestive problems too embarrassing for us to mention here on the blog, and how the simple change to freshly milled grains made those issues disappear. Meanwhile, I kept thinking about my kids' diet, that consisted of sandwiches made from store bought bread or homemade white bread with a little wheat germ thrown in for good measure, pancakes, cookies, waffles, pasta. Seemed like switching over to a home kitchen mill would be one simple way of adding lots and lots of vitamins and minerals and fiber to our regular diet.
I remember the first batch of flour I milled. It smelled sweet! And the kids, and my husband, were thrilled by the taste.
We never looked back.
Years later, when settling in on the farm, I began to mill and back for customers. First, just a few extra loaves a week. Then twenty extra loaves. Before you know it, I was carting 100 loaves of bread or more, 50-75 pizza crusts, dozens of brownie mixes, pancake mixes, cookies, cupcakes, all to the farmer's markets, all made from freshly milled whole grains. And I remember the day Philip told me that if I were a start up company, he would invest in me, he was so convinced that I was on to something big. He not only enjoyed the benefits of this nutritional passion I had, he believed that I had a viable business model.
Then he died a year later. And we had the opportunity to test his theory.
I guess most of you kind of know the rest of the story. We sold the farm and moved the bakery equipment to a little hamlet in far remote West Texas, Alpine. A college town near the border of Mexico. Elevation is around 4500 ft, with surrounding mountains over a mile high. A region filled with artists, Border Patrol agents, geologists, writers, historians, cowboys, teachers and professors, coaches and adventurers, all sorts of folks who like to eat good bread and are interested in nutrition.
Gambling is not my thing. I did buy a lotto ticket for my sister once. But coming out here seemed a bit of a gamble. Before you know it, I had a steady stream of regulars who appreciated my baked goods, and our family had a steady stream of VERY modest income.
You might remember that when I was a kid I hoped to be a missionary, to go to some far off country and help people in need. At some point I realized that we all are in need, no matter where we live. And while we each have needs, each of us also has some element, some offering that will help the rest survive. I depend on the milk I get from Sally at ZBar ranch. And the plants I get from Pat that always come accompanied by hugs. The teachers and coaches who equip my kids. The free counseling from my friends as we sit with our tea or coffee or wine. The poetry and music and art. The handy help when broken things and chicken butchering and dirty dishes pile up.
I found that we all have the opportunity to be the true Gospel to one another. The good news in being ourselves. Wow. Being a miller and baker of spelt and golden wheat and einkorn and kamut a ministry! Ministry of nutritious good taste. Offered up with lots of free cookies, hugs, tears and prayers.
That said, imagine the frustration and fear that has been creeping in as I see the price of commodities going up and up and up. I had been trying to ignore the trend, lalalalalala, as I had some extra cash available from the sale of the farm. Most of it had gone into an investment purchase, but there was a tiny cushion. Last month I worked on my quarterly tax report and decided to tackle the end of year, taking the shoe box of receipts and turning it into a list of expenses and sales.
Talk about a harsh draft of reality.
And then I noticed the grain inventory, you know, the bags and bags of grain in my ingredient closet, diminish.
I have been working on the best way to acquire chemically-free grains, and the hard truth is, they are hard to find. For one, the shipping costs for a pallet of grain, that would be 2000 lbs of wheat or spelt or kamut or whatever, runs about $500-$750 dollars. And the costs of spelt has gone from $25 to $35 to $45 to now $88 or more a 50lb bag. And I have made repeated calls trying to locate sources closer to home. Texas grains are sold by trucks, not by the bag. Have called countless farmers. And the protein content is significantly lower. Fine for cookies. Not for breads. At least the kind of breads I craft, sans weird additives that help boost consistent results.
And add the issue of global warming, or whatever you would like to call a very real meteorological issue facing us.
Great wheat and spelt are grown in places with pleasant, modest daytime temps in the 70's or so, with cooling nighttime temps that fall below 50 something. The last couple of years have hit Montana with record warm night time temps. You see, it is the stress on the grain that causes the protein content to rise. Sounds like a sermon in that illustration, don't you think? No stress, means wimpy grains. Each of the three major distributors of chemical free grains has been willing to spend a pretty significant time chatting with me, a little baker in the outback of Texas, explaining this phenomenon as I call to ask about the variability in grain I have received. The numbers are dropping significantly below the norm, below what will make decent bread, pizza crusts, tortillas. They are stuck with warehouses full of wonderful, chemical-free grains that are expensive, and won't bake into decent products. With no plans to contract for more crops of certain varieties until this stuff is gone. I could surrender and start adding vital gluten, with its long list of hard to pronounce ingredients, but even if I were to do that, the cost of using this inferior grain would be prohibitive.
So. What to do? First, I said a prayer for those farmers who are trying to do their best and are in a pickle. And for the distributors with their glut of grain that won't sell. And for me and my family, with a calling and a ministry that has looked like freshly milled, chemical-free grains turned into yummy loaves of Milk and Honey bread and Italian Peasant bread.
I got really depressed for a few days. Used up the very last bag of spelt berries. Have one bag of hard white wheat berries that probably won't work for bread. Put on a smile and sent the last loaves of bread out the door last Thursday. Questioned whether I should close the doors of the bakery for good and go get a job that would involve less hours stuck on my feet.
Then somehow, a fresh wind of hope stirred as I realized it would take more than that to make me give up the joy this bakery gives me.
I have several bags of organic khorasan kamut that makes the most delicious pasta you have ever eaten! Not to mention the crispy kamut crackers. And plenty of buckwheat for pancakes and crepes and perhaps brownie mix instead of spelt? Granola keeps flying off my shelves, and I have lots of organic rolled oats and other good stuff to keep that coming. Perhaps I need to start making organic pumpkin doggie treats with venison bone broth? More biscuits?
As soon as I get a pile of money I will order more grain from Montana, or Colorado, or wherever I can get some. And will learn to adapt and hopefully showcase these grains in a way that will nourish mind and body and spirit.
Hope to keep you posted. And offer up recipes and tips that might help some of you other home bakers out there, trying to figure out new ways of using the gifts life brings us.