Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Where do pancakes come from?

Last September we were reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" books, which gave us the idea to plant a bed of winter wheat in the raised bed we had recently harvested our purple sweet potatoes out of (ever the farmer!). We thought it would be wonderful to look out the window in mid-winter to see a perpetual patch of cheery green when most everything is dreary brown and grey. Then in spring, we would harvest the wheat and make bread from our harvest. So one afternoon we broadcasted wheat seeds upon the ground and turned them under with a steel rake. The kids had a great time keeping the seed from blowing out of the bed into the grass while fighting strong winds, and a few days later we were watching our sprouts popping up, in clumps and smatterings, evidence of our well-intended by ineffective planting prowess. Oh well, it would do...and it did.
Our wheat bed, all grown up.
All through the winter, the horses, chickens, ducks and goats took turns nibbling on the wheat bed. In spring we needed to clear a small section to ready the ground for cucumber plantings, so we allowed our saanen dairy goats, Violet and Sparrow, to take turns munching their fill.

Harvest day

Soon the wheat turned from green to gold and it was time to harvest. This day was hot and guess who was out there with a manual hedge trimmer hand-cutting the wheat while the children played in the pool?
Amber waves of grain, cut and ready to cure until time for threshing.

Threshing on the front porch, while listening to NPR's Back Porch Music. Heaven!
Even 3 year old's can thresh some wheat!
Threshing was fun for the kids. We decided to beat the wheat heads on the porch because I had saved the drying wheat just that morning from a rain. Also, the wandering Khaki Campbell duck troop were climbing up on the stacks and helping themselves, I really don't mind sharing but I just didn't want duck feet trouncing my wheat, or pooping all over it, so as usual the animals spurred me to action. Once the wheat was on the porch, well, it had to dealt with, right? So we got busy, with each child having a chance to thresh. It was fun to work together creating a beat and a rhythm like drumming. While much of the wheat ended up in the tote, an equal amount amount went pinging off in every direction. As much as I would like, Laura Ingalls Wilder I am not! No matter! We only wanted enough for some pancakes and maybe a loaf of bread, even if it meant we ended up reaping about 30% of what we sowed!

Carrying the leftovers off to the animals.
Nothing was wasted in this process. Even if it didn't get into the tote for us to eat eventually, our animals still benefitted from the process. After the stalks were threshed, the leftovers were carried off to the chickens, goats and horses for a treat. We also baled some and saved it to feed them another day. The chickens really seem to enjoy pecking and scratching to release the unthreshed seed.

Winnowing the grain with an electric fan.
       After the wheat seeds have been released from the heads through beating against the sides of the tote, you find mixed in with it a large amount of chaff and dried bits of stalk. This must be removed, unless you enjoy a bit of chokey-crunch in your bread! To remove this unwanted material, we winnowed the grain, which is basically pouring the seed back and forth in a stiff wind to blow the pesky bits away.


Clean wheat ready for grinding.

Cooperation was necessary throughout this whole adventure! Everything took muscle, from the sowing, to the threshing, and especially the grinding. Working together made the job more fun and more efficient.

Fresh ground wheat ready to make into pancakes,
mixed with eggs from our chickens and milk from our goats.
We made pancakes from fresh ground wheat from plants we grew ourselves, and we have enough leftover to make a loaf of bread. The kids had a blast and learned a lot from this experience-- farming, self-sufficiency, motivation, cooperation,biology, ecology, entomology, seasonal rhythms, resourcefulness, process, timing, patience, and how to make a pancake! It was difficult work however and I don't plan to ever do it again! This really makes me appreciate a bag of flour. I currently buy King Arthur brand flour and have since decided to buy organic winter wheat in bulk and grind it ourselves with an electric grinder. Spending $4 on a 5 lb bag of King Arthur now seems like a steal! You just don't realize how much work goes into something until you experience it for yourself.  This started as a homeschooling lesson for the kids, but of course, I learned a lot myself. 


The silver rain, the shining sun,
The fields where scarlet poppies run,
And all the ripples of the wheat,
Are in the bread that we do eat.

And when we sit, for every meal
And say our thanks we often feel,
That we are eating rain and sun,
And fields where scarlet poppies run.

~A Waldorf Blessing before Meals~


Amy C said...

What a great post! The process was so much more interesting to read about when accompanies by photos of your ridiculously cute kids!!!

Patricia said...

Once again you have shown what a piece of heaven must be like. I adore your life!