Milling Flour

When we decided to mill our own flour, I found very little practical information on the topic. I hope the information on this page is useful to someone who might be thinking about doing the same.

This is the Diamant D525 grain mill. It is a big beautiful cast iron machine made in Denmark. We purchased it online from Lehman's just before the outbreak. This caused shipment delays and it didn't arrive until months later than expected. Our patience was rewarded.

Paula made the fabric cover, with elastic around the opening to keep dust out of the hopper. It is sort of like a shower cap, if anyone knows what that is any more. The flywheel is 16" in diameter, for size reference.

The motor is a 1/2hp utility motor from TSC. If it ever goes out, I will upgrade it to a 3/4hp or 1hp motor. The 1/2hp motor works pretty hard to turn the mill and it gets hot, especially in the fine grinding pass.

The mill can be turned by hand. The handle for that is hanging above the motor in the picture. It is a long bolt with a wooden sleeve that screws into a threaded hole in the flywheel. The counter top has alternate mounting holes at the end, to move the mill for manual grinding.

The motor turns the mill wheel a lot of times to grind a few pounds of flour. The wheel is not easy to turn when there is grain or flour in the mill. It would be brutal to have to actually run the mill by hand. A bicycle turning the mill Gilligan's Island style might be a better option. Let us hope we never have to do that.

This is hard red winter wheat. People have grown it for food for thousands of years. It makes excellent flour.

I grew up in the heart of wheat country so I can identify wheat on sight. I can confidently look at it and say, "That's wheat." My expertise ends there.

I can recall many times as a kid, crumbling a head of wheat in my hand and popping the kernels in my mouth. Barely bigger than toddlers, we went along while our grandpa harvested and hauled wheat. I remember riding in the grain trucks and combines.

As kids, we played in grain elevators, both active and abandoned. We climbed to the highest points, inside and outside, on ladders and catwalks. We crawled under them, in the dark low areas where the rats live. We watched them built and torn down, and we built tree houses from the rubble of boards and old square nails left behind. We laid on their roofs on warm August nights and watched meteors fill the sky.

I love the smell of wheat and grain elevators.

In the first pass, the mill is adjusted just tight enough to break the bran away from the endosperm and germ. It is worthwhile getting this adjustment just right. It can mean the difference between losing 20% or 50% of the weight when the bran is removed.

Grind a small amount of wheat. Sift the result.

When the adjustment is too loose, the bran will have a lot of white chunks in it. That is endosperm and germ still stuck to the bran.

When the adjustment is just right, the bran will have little to no white chunks in it. It will be distinctly brown.

When the adjustment is too tight, the bran is ground into tinier pieces. More of it will fit through the sifter, leaving more bran in the final flour.

Bran is so brown and those two words are so similar that I can't help but wonder if the words share a common origin.

Here you can see the result of the first grinding pass. The bran is brown and light and crumbly against the whiter heavier endosperm.

At this stage the flour is still fairly coarse.

Here is a tub of coarse flour with the bran, right after grinding. After passing through the grinder, the flour is very warm.

A sifter is used to remove the bran from the flour. I found that a regular sifter allowed too much bran to get through.

This is a professional grade powdered sugar sifter. The screen mesh is very fine. It works great for removing the bran.

I sift the coarse flour from one tub into a second tub. The bran is discarded into a bucket at the end.

I've read that cereal can be made from wheat bran. We haven't tried to do that. Paula really likes Honey Nut Cheerios. There's a long way between wheat bran and Honey Nut Cheerios, especially since Cheerios are made from oats.

I gave a few piles of bran to the chickens. They seem to like it, just stand there all day pick pick picking up every single piece.

Then I learned wheat bran is a main ingredient in bunny food. I dumped a pile into each bunny cage and they destroyed it. We are adding a second set of feeder bowls to their cages, for wheat bran, so they don't tear their regular dry food all over the place trying to get to the bran.

The chickens free range so they get a lot of variety in their diet. The bunnies live in cages. I figure the bunnies should get dibs on any variety I can bring to their diet that they enjoy.

This is the only real physical part of the process. You have to vigorously sift all the coarse flour, to get the bran out.

You start with a large light brown pile in the sifter. As you shake the sifter, the flour falls out and the pile quickly becomes browner. It's kind of fun to watch the transition.

Here is the result: bran separated from the flour.

The bran is light and fluffy, like sawdust.

The flour is still pretty coarse at this point. Small bits of bran make it through the sifter, giving it a brown speckled appearance.

The coarse flour is milled once again, in a second pass. The mill is adjusted tighter, to grind the remaining flour and bran into tinier bits.

A rustic wooden spoon is essential at this stage. The more rustic the better. This gem came from my mother-in-law Jo. It appears it was hand made in Sweden from soft white wood, no varnishes or coatings, just bare natural wood.

The coarse flour sometimes cakes together, then it stops flowing through the mill. The pile appears normal but the mill suddenly starts spinning faster and faster due to a lack of resistance. A spoon is helpful to push the pile when that happens, to get it flowing again.

The mill turns a little slower in this pass, because it is tighter. It is fairly easy to adjust the mill tight enough to stop the motor. This is when I think a stronger motor would be better.

The flour coming out of the mill is an even light-beige, almost-white color. Very tiny bits of bran are visible as brown specks.

The flour feels velvety and smooth. This is the only time I touch the flour with my hands, just enough to feel that velvet softness. Then I know the grinder adjustment is tight enough. The 1/2hp motor sounds like it is working pretty hard at that point.

After grinding, the mill is cleaned in preparation for next time.

The grinder part of the mill opens up easily. I use a brush and a compressed air hose to remove as much of the wheat residue as possible. It's usually packed in there pretty good.

I once tried running the flour through the mill a third time. It just caked together and would not flow. The flour started turning to dough inside the grinder, either from its own internal moisture or by absorbing humidity from the air. Cleaning the mill was quite a mess.

The bran from 12 lbs of wheat filled a 3 gallon bucket about half full. The bunnies will be thrilled.

12 lbs of wheat produced 9 1/2 lbs of wheat flour, after the bran was removed.

Flour benefits from aging a few days before use after grinding. This allows the gluten and protein to develop. Also, the color becomes a little whiter over time.

We have cooked using freshly ground flour. It is an experience worth trying, in the interest of enjoying all that life has to offer. There is something really yummy about it.

Paula has made several of our favorite recipes, side by side, to compare our flour to good quality wheat flour from the store. King Arthur wheat flour was used for the comparisons.

Every recipe was better when made with our home ground flour. Paula no longer buys any wheat or white flour from the store. She uses our flour for everything.

Some recipes need a minor adjustment when made with our flour, typically an extra tablespoon or so of flour. Most recipes need no adjustment at all.

My mom made the best bread when we were kids. It was so good fresh and warm from the oven, steaming and melting the butter you put on. I wonder what it would be like with fresh milled flour.