Grist for the Mill

grist for the mill

On a Sunday in September, a group of gluten lovers gathered at School Road Farm, the charming homestead of Jim Leap and Polly Goldman. They came for the Central Coast Millstone Dressing Workshop, organized by Monica Spiller of The Whole Grain Connection. In this gathering, they tapped into an ancient process.

Milling grains started at the beginning of agriculture, where humans coalesced into settled societies, largely around grain economies. All culture flows from this point. Like the metate grinds the corn, and the chakki grinds the pepper, the millstone’s motion crushes the grains to flour, and has been doing so very effectively for people through time. Here on the Central Coast of California, the first stone grinding was practiced by the Ohlone people, who ground acorns in large stones with small carved pools.

Community flour milling has been a common process for centuries, and like much of our food heritage, has been lost in the last century, since the industrialization and de-localization of the food system.

One key piece of the whole process was keeping the millstones sharp. Millstones become dull after prolonged use, and a smooth millstone will produce course, “cakey” flours. In step with the happy resurgence of grain growing on the Central Coast, this workshop brought together a small group of impassioned advocates from around the state.

The workshop was led by Roger Jansen of Jansen Grist Mills in Chico, CA, a master millstone dresser. It began with learning the basic anatomy of a mill stone: the bedstone, runner, furrows, skirt, and eye.

IMGP2749 IMGP2754 IMGP2894IMGP2770After a demonstration by Roger, who made the process look as rote as tying his shoes, the students were given the reins to start learning to season the stone.

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With some close guidance from Roger and from master miller, grain cleaner, and farmer Doug Mosel of the Mendocino Grain Project.

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Everyone got a turn!

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Things got dusty — real granite-dusty.

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And once we had all practiced, we went to the real deal. We fixed one of Suncoast Organic Farm‘s mills.

We first took it apart and re-roughed the furrows,

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Then we painted it to have a clear visual correlate to how it was running,IMGP3232Put it back together,IMGP3141

Ran it,

IMGP3186Discovered where we needed to re-rough/re-season the surfaces,

IMGP3204Worked on it together,

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Re-assembled the mill,

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And got flour!

Finally, Roger initiated all of us into the “Wheat Penny Society”.

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And the beautiful day was over. We gained wonderful skills, new friends, and newfound confidence to participate in milling our own grains.

Many thanks to Monica Spiller, previous member of the Wheat Penny Society, who created this wonderful workshop!

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ALL PHOTOS IN THIS POST ARE BY ELIZABETH BIRNBAUM, AND ARE SUBJECT TO CREATIVE COMMONS LICENSING. PLEASE REFERENCE THE PHOTOGRAPHER IN ALL RELEVANT MATERIALS.
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