Hello and thank you for stopping by yet again to read my ramblings. What a wild topic, grain mills and Rachmaninoff, but I’m feeling very wonderful this evening from both of these things.
I’ll start with grain mills. I can’t tell you the hours, literally hours, I spent thinking about whether my baking was enough to justify the purchase of a grain mill. It does sound crazy, I know, especially when you start looking at just how much a legitimate mill costs – but when I realized I was spending about fifty dollars a month in flour, well – it was time for some serious consideration.
I went into looking at manual mills, electric mills, jerry-rigged mills (read: blenders and vitamixes). I watched countless YouTube videos on how to use mills and comparisons of different brands of mills. I read so many articles – from the simple ones written by people just enjoying having a mill in their kitchens, to articles so scientific it left me calculating moisture in grain. I looked up hooking up manual mills to bicycles, hand cranks, geared-down motors. I looked up particle sizes to figure out whether a mill could accomplish such a thing as “ultra fine rice flour” and realized I’d need sieves. I then learned about mesh sizes, mesh weaves… I literally went to bed many a night with mills in my dreams and the vision of having to sift to achieve some out-of-reach goal. I bought a 200 mesh sieve and about fainted when I saw the mesh (I definitely wanted nearly a powder quality and man… am I going to get it, just with a ton of work). Suffice it to say, after two weeks of continual research, I felt comfortable enough to winnow (see what I did there? Eh? Eh?) my choices down to two: a Country Living Grain Mill and the Grain Maker.
[Electric mills like the Komo were definitely at the top of my list, but the fact that they don’t want you to pass the grains through again was essentially the end of my quest with them. If I could only get gritty rice flour and not be able to remill it into a finer flour… I would have been really, really, really angry. Since I couldn’t find anything that discussed whether rice came though beautifully, and since everything I read talked about cleaning burrs by grinding rice… I wasn’t convinced that I’d get what I was looking for. I’m a pretty particular gal, I suppose, with pretty strict standards of acceptability when making a large purchase. Digression over, I shall continue!]
I’ll admit, the Grain Maker was cool. I mean, fire engine red. I like red things… two walls in my house are red. I have red shirts and sweaters. I have a candy apple red stand mixer… I was already sold. But – the goal was, ultimately, a mill that could grind a VERY fine flour as a springboard for me to then sift into an ultra fine rice flour. Let me back up for a moment and say this before continuing… if you’ve ever baked gluten free, you know that rice flour can make things very gritty if you don’t let your batter sit. Now, if you bake with ultra fine rice flour (ala Super Fine from Authentic Foods), you don’t need to let it sit. That flour is so wonderful because it is the texture of talcum powder, when makes it a beautiful pastry flour and a wonderful baking flour in general. So, back to the tale, I had read that the Country Living mill was capable of pastry flour straight from the mill. I couldn’t find anything for Grain Maker that said the same. I wrote the folks at Grain Maker.
I asked them specifically if the Grain Maker was capable of “Authenic Foods” style of Super Fine rice flour. What I got back was a response that… well… essentially said the Grain Maker could make nice flour and if I had any questions I could ask. Well… I had asked, and given that I couldn’t get a straight answer, I took that as a no. Not saying it can’t, but I wasn’t ready to plunk down 700 bucks if I couldn’t get a straight answer to a very specific question from the people running the business.
I decided that I’d heed the articles saying that the Country Living Grain Mill was the only steel burr mill capable of a pastry flour straight out of the mill on the first pass. I resolved to buy one… and by resolved, I mean sat there for two days doing math over and over to determine when I’d break even if I spent the money for not just the mill, but the motorization kit to run it. (800 dollars total.) I hovered over the buy button for probably half an hour. Eight hundred dollars to buy a grain mill… and not even knowing if it would actually do what I wanted straight out of the gate. 15 days to decide if I liked it, if not, return shipping for a 50 pound item. I finally swallowed my doubts and nerves (I don’t exactly like shelling out money all that much either… I’m not a skinflint, but something about big purchases gives me butterflies and not in a good way), and bought the thing.
A snowstorm blew in to Washington and Oregon, which meant that I had an even longer wait. So I checked daily to see where the mill was according to UPS, and like a basket of nerves, I wondered every. single. day. if I did the right thing. What if it came and I hated it? What if it came and didn’t work? What if it came and I felt like an idiot for buying it? I had nightmares about it. (I think I’m beginning to see I’m a little bit of a worry-wart…)
Well, it came. This giant, fifty-pound box that I slid into the living room and opened. I was excited and nervous, too. I pulled out pieces bit by bit – corn and bean auger, check. Geared-down motor, check. V-belt, check. Mounting board, check. Flywheel, check. And then… I was looking at my white Country Living Grain Mill that promised me so much. I put it all together. I set it on my dining room table. I loaded the hopper with Calrose Botan rice… and I flipped the switch.
Magic… that’s what happened… or at least that’s how it felt. I adjusted it, set it on about the finest setting I could get and have it still run, and it was almost enough to make me cry. The rice flour came out at only a SLIGHT bit more grit than the Bob’s Red Mill white rice flour. On the first pass. I was absolutely – AM absolutely elated. I haven’t even milled it again, I haven’t yet sifted it. I have a mill, it works, and I watched the most glorious thing happen in my own home – I made flour for my family.
Which brings me to Rachmaninoff. I am writing this as I listen to Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Opus 18. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJpJ8REjvqo) I’ve loved Rachmaninoff since I was a teen. The way he could zip through arpeggios, the bright and bold quality to his music, the richness and fullness of the orchestra… but this piece in particular is stunning – especially the second movement. It makes me think of winter fading, spring coming into bloom – the earnest hard work that life must do to simply repeat itself yet again. Flowers as they unfurl and call to the bees, buds growing into leaves… that moment when the world wakes up from winter’s sleep. Or… the beauty of being able to make something for your family in your home that is wholesome and healthy… the awe in the simplicity of grinding rice into flour (and knowing if the electricity goes out, you can still do it by hand). It’s a beautiful piece and I encourage you to take a listen at the link above. Masterful, thoughtful, incredibly stunning.
So… all this to say… 800 dollars well spent. With the cost of grains, and still having to buy starches, it will take me about 3.5 years to recoup my “losses” before I’m actually saving money again. That’s okay, really. I don’t mind playing the long game, because after three years… the money I’m saving is incredible by comparison (I just bought a 20 pound bag of rice for 11 dollars… come on!). And… best of all… I feel wonderful providing for my family.
Next time, I’ll tell you about the triple chocolate cake I baked tonight in between all my fretting… wonderful chocolate cake with chocolate custard between the layers and whipped chocolate ganache frosting… I died and went to chocolate heaven. Until then, my friends. 🙂