For many years my husband, John, and I ground our own whole-wheat flour. We bought a hand-cranked mill with small millstones soon after we married and bolted it to our kitchen counter.
We milled flint corn from our garden into cornmeal. A bucket of oats filled from a neighbor's combine yielded steel-cut oatmeal and sweet oat flour for muffins. We joined a food buying co-op and brought home 50-pound sacks of wheat berries, a staple for baking bread.
When weekend visitors politely asked if there was something they could do to help, we filled the mill and set them to work cranking. The charm had worn thin for us by then, and grinding flour was just one more chore to perform. Children twirled the crank to see how fast they could grind, while adults knew to pace themselves and steadily cranked until a soft mound of flour filled a large bowl.
Our flour-grinding days dwindled after we arrived home from Colombia with a sibling group of toddlers. We heaved home bags of flour from our co-op while a few cobwebs began to decorate the flour mill's hopper.
John and I told each other this was only a temporary measure until we caught up on sleepless nights, but weeks drifted into months as parenting and farming filled our days. Finally, John came home from an organic farming conference toting a white electric grain mill. We packed away the hand-powered mill.
Once a week I would throw cupfuls of grain into the funnel and plug in the machine. It roared and chomped spelt, rye, and wheat berries into flour, but I had to wear earplugs to muffle the decibels. Now and then John would remember to clean out the mill's filtering system, and it would be ready for the next baking day.
Suddenly one fall, our home was void of two pairs of work boots by the back door, and Carlos no longer left his truck keys on the kitchen table. Instead of pulling multiple loaves of bread from my oven, I baked only one loaf at a time, once a week. I still used the electric mill, but sometimes during blueberry harvest I'd buy a bag of the bread flour offered at our co-op instead.
Somehow, "next time, I'll grind the flour" slid into months - until this morning. Determined to reclaim the flour-grinding habit, I dumped a small bag of spelt berries into the hopper, inserted earplugs, and turned on the machine. The mill shrieked as the blades spun, and I scooped the spelt flour into a jar.
Next I eyed a five-pound bag of wheat berries and emptied most of it into the hopper. I needed a fair quantity of flour because I wanted to bake blueberry muffins for the church potluck.
The mill howled and crunched, and I resumed sweeping the floor. I felt smug as I mentally ticked jobs off my to-do list: Yesterday's cream had already been churned into butter, flour was ground, floor swept...
Then out of the corner of my eye, I spied a plume of flour painting the wall, a row of cookbooks, the CD player, and a stack of CDs. I yanked the cord from the socket just as flour covered the smiling faces of Phil Cunningham and Ally Bain. Like a scene from the prairie Dust Bowl days, a quarter inch of flour flowed across the counter in windblown dunes. A haze of flour hung in the air as the finer grains settled over the entire kitchen.
My to-do list had just grown longer.
I had forgotten that the bin beneath the mill held only 8 or 9 cups of flour, and a five-pound bag of wheat berries produces twice that amount. And who knew the last time John had cleaned the filter? I reached for a whisk broom and a dustpan.
I hope the mice and chipmunks feasted on the flour I tossed out the back door and into the woods. I still had the flour I needed to bake the blueberry muffins. And I still had enough left over to keep me busy until John can cross "clean mill filter" off his to-do list.