Friday, January 6, 2012

Grinding wheat - and trying not to starve to death

The grand kids have three weeks off of school for winter break and I've had them read two books - The Road Home and The Long Winter.  The Road Home is a modern times book about an earthquake, chaos, and how a family survives.  The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder describes how their family survived during a seven month winter out on the prairie.  They almost starved to death.  The temperatures reached 40 below. 

Not to long ago I wrote about our electric wheat grinder.  It's a great tool and has the ability to be used without power.  I decided to bring the story about the Ingalls family to life for the kids.  Let's grind wheat the way they did in the story.  You see, that family normally would have their wheat ground at the gristmill.  But not that winter.  Instead they were grinding their wheat in the coffee mill.  The book tells how they had to grind all day long to get the wheat ground into flour to make little loaves of bread.  They ate one potato and one roll at each meal and they only ate twice per day.  Even with that small amount they still ran out of food and had to take (paid for, of course, but still taken) more wheat from Almonzo's secret stash.  That still wouldn't have lasted the rest of the winter.  Two of the young men decided to take a chance and set out to bring wheat back to the starving town. 

OK back to grinding wheat.  Right before lunch today I had boy grind 1/4 cup of wheat in our little coffee mill that was probably very much like the one the Ingalls family used.  It didn't grind the wheat very well so I had him do it again.  It still wasn't well ground but we are using it like that anyway.  I had him warm up some water and the wheat is going to soak.  The Ingalls used a sourdough starter, just never using up all their dough, in order to leaven the bread.  Since I don't have a sourdough starter going I threw a little bit of yeast into his soaking wheat. 

A little bit before dinner time he's going to shape the wheat into loaves.  It's not going to work very well because the flour is a very, very, very course flour.  It's just a little more ground than if you bought cracked wheat.  I'm going to serve that and small potatoes for dinner.  When they finish their food I will ask them how they would enjoy eating that twice a day for about five months.  I'll also make a comparison between our hidden room home store and Almonzo's secret wall.  It will provide some very good conversation. 

Then I'll bring out the rest of the dinner.  Elk burgers.  Home grown tomatoes (in January!) (I dug the plants out of the ground last month and they are growing pretty well in the window in my library). And maybe if they are lucky a fruit smoothie to drink with all home grown fruit, of course.


  1. I haven't read The Road Home but I did reread The Long Winter not long ago, and I was amazed by the way they made do--the thing that stuck out most to me as a kid was the hay-twisting to provide heat, but the lighting and way they made do with food was something else. Great lesson with the wheat-grinding and when you read someone else's experience like that, it really does make you think.

  2. The Long Winter is especially interesting to me because DeSmet is not far from here. It's a good place to visit in the summer with some of the original buildings maintained as they were then. How much harder it would be for us to survive cut off from modern life than it was for them!

    Although this is a freakishly mild winter, last year two people died when they tried walking home from stranded vehicles.