Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Winter and porridge are a marriage made in heaven

In a strange coincidence (or was it?), The Age newspaper ran an excellent article devoted to the joys of eating porridge, just eight days after we did the post about rolling our own oats. The report by Carli Ratcliff is titled “Wild Oats” (see it here http://www.theage.com.au/lifestyle/cuisine/wild-oats-20120725-22oxl.html )

Oat porridge with sultanas and freshly grated ginger
The article is largely about the popularity of different types of porridge in various Sydney fashionable eateries (apparently it is “all the rage” at the moment). There are plenty of excellent suggestions for spicing up the traditional recipe, but the article does have a few oversights.

It doesn’t mention adding freshly grated ginger (as well as a range of dried fruits) which we reckon is one of the best ways to make a top class porridge. Surprisingly it doesn’t mention the benefits (let alone the possibility) of rolling your own oats.

Other ingredients we often add to our oats include apple, sultanas, goji berries, dried apricots, various nuts and seeds and honey. 
Rice porridge with fruit, nuts, seeds, yoghurt and honey
Sometimes for variety we have brown rice and to this we add sultanas, and sprinkle on top sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds as well as walnuts, macadamias and stewed apple or any other stewed fruit that we have at the time. As we haven’t been eating meat we also add quinoa when cooking the rice as this gives us protein.  Last but not least a dollop of plain yoghurt right on top and there it is .....our delicious breakfast.

Although the article promotes biodynamic oats, it is worth noting that even biodynamic and organic oats may have been pre-steamed to remove the natural oils to give them a longer shelf life. The best way to ensure you are getting all the goodness of the whole grain is to freshly roll your own.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Grinding our own Flour

Our last post told about our wonderful oat roller. As that purchase worked out so well, the next experiment on our grain processing journey was to purchase a wheat grinder. Once again we did some research, but our purchase this time was not as smooth running.
Retsel Hand Powered Wheat Mill
We wanted to keep things as simple as possible and decided on a hand cranked wheat grinder called Little Ark, purchased from Retsel in Dandenong, as a 60th birthday present for Heather.  One reason we chose this model was because we were told it could be attached to an electric motor if we wanted to go down that path in the future. The package, which included the handmill, steel grinders, stone grinders, 2 pulleys and a v-belt was fairly pricey, but the machine was a simple well-engineered design.

When we got home we eagerly unpacked the unit and put it together. In our minds we could already smell the beautiful aroma of bread baked from our very own freshly milled grain. We soon found out that it took far too long to mill enough flour for a cake by hand (and was very tiring as well).
The motorisation kit

So we set about converting the Little Ark to a motorised unit. We had all the gear necessary except for the motor (A very important component). We had been told that the cheapest source of a motor was to extract one from an old washing machine. Often people throw out machines with good motors when they start leaking, when the electronics that control the washing cycles fail or perhaps the gears seize up. I confidently told Heather that we would pick one up from the side of the road within the next few weeks.
Our second hand washing machine motor

In Victoria, we have a wonderful system of recycling called roadside collections. Each Shire has their own system, but generally it involves residents putting unwanted household goods on the roadside for collection by contractors (who hopefully recycle them). Although it is frowned upon by some, these collections are a goldmine for people like us, who have an obsession for re-using things. We spent the next month scouring roadsides on every trip we made. We came across every conceivable type of household product but no washing machines. Suddenly old machines were as rare as hen’s teeth!

We kept looking over the next few months and eventually came across one. We took it apart, attached the motor and turned on the power. To our relief the motor happily turned the grinder. However when we placed grains into the hopper, the motor didn’t have enough torque to turn the stones that ground the wheat. It just stopped. It was time to begin our search again, but this time for a stronger motor.
Our grain processing bench with storage shelves 

Over the next twelve months we came across several more machines. In each case we ran into problems. Usually it took around half an hour to get the motor out before we found out what the problem was. Some didn’t work, others were not strong enough, whilst others had shafts that were too big for our pulley wheel. It was important for the motor to have a small pulley on it which then drives a larger one on the grinder to gear the process down so that grinding stones are not turning too fast. If the grinding surfaces turn too fast, the stones and the wheat become too hot and the flour quality is severely reduced.

In an act of desperation we called into a shop that sold second-hand washing machines, thinking they might be able to help us source the perfect motor for our job. This idea came to an abrupt halt when they told us that for many years washing machine technology has advanced beyond the sort of motors we were looking at. Our only hope was to pick up an old machine with a suitable motor.
The grain mill in action -how easy is that!

By now we had almost given up on the project and the grinder was packed away. However, by chance we mentioned our dilemma to Heather’s brother Graham and he said he might be able to help. He took us down to his shed and pointed out a shelf at the back. There, underneath a few other things were two electric motors. Suddenly our grain grinder dreams were reawakened.

These motors were larger than the ones we had tried before so everything looked promising. We found some brackets to hold the motor in place, and rigged them up so we could slide the motor along  to tension the drive belt. We flicked the switch and tipped some grain into the hopper. It worked well at first- a bit too well. The stones were turning too fast, and then they stopped. The big pulley on the grinder was slipping on its axle.

This was a whole new problem. To solve it we had to get the pulley off the drive shaft. No matter how hard we banged it, it wouldn’t budge. So once again we lost our enthusiasm.

Freshly milled flour
By now Heather’s 61st birthday had passed but she still dreamed of a day when we would be grinding our own flour. Then one wet day when we didn’t have anything else to do, she suggested we have another go at getting it working. This time after a few well placed whacks the pulley came off. The slipping problem was a result of the small worm screw in the hub of the pulley not aligning with the flat spot on the shaft. Out came a file and a new flat spot was created and the whole lot put together. We added an old light switch to the circuitry to allow us to turn it on safely and away it went. To slow it down we placed an intermediary pulley in between the other two. This brought the rate down to about 100 turns per minute which is just right.

For a very professional finish, all the gear was mounted onto a solid bench (discarded by a member of the family) that also holds our oat roller. We turned the drawer space underneath into a convenient storage area for grains and equipment. The final modification needed was a cover to fit over the grinding stones to direct the falling flour downwards (instead of flying sideways). Heather made one out of an old ice cream contatiner and it works a treat.
Time for coffee and cake (made out of fresh flour of course)
Wonder of wonders now a cup of flour takes only a couple of minutes to grind and this is far less tiring than doing it by hand. It is all 18 months late, but at last Heather has got her birthday present. Perhaps we should start working on her 62nd birthday present now- she might just get it by the time her birthday, comes around in 2 months time!

PS. We purchased our Survival Ark Mill from Retsel in Dandenong. Their web address is www.retsel.com.au

Monday, July 16, 2012

Roll, Roll, Roll Your Oats

For many years we have dreamed of processing grains (Unfortunately, we are not in a position to grow our own). Apart from benefitting from the freshness and the health giving properties, the home processed product would be cheaper and we would be bypassing the embedded energy involved in the commercial processing system.
Our Schnitzer Oat Roller
We first put our toe in the water by looking at oat rollers. We enjoy a morning bowl of muesli or porridge and from our research discovered that commercially rolled oats often have their natural oils steamed out of them prior to packaging. This process allows the oats to have a longer shelf life without going rancid, but unfortunately results in the consumer missing out on part of the goodness of the whole grain.
After much internet searching we settled on a German made roller (Schnitzer) made out of wood and stainless steel, which we purchased from Skippy Grain Mills (www.skippygrainmills.com.au ) in NSW. Our Schnitzer hand roller is a beautifully crafted machine with a simple but efficient mechanism. It is a little on the expensive side, especially when postage is added, but well worth the money in terms of quality.

Bulk Oats
We purchased bulk (10kg) biodynamic groats (oats without the husk) from Eastfield Natural Food Store in Croydon and were soon enjoying beautifully fresh, delicious oats in our porridge, muesli, soups, cakes and biscuits. The only thing to keep in mind, is that once rolled, the oats will only keep for a couple of weeks. We generally roll our oats the night before and soak them overnight to benefit from maximum freshness. They take a little bit longer to cook than the heavily processed commercial oats in the supermarket, but they taste so much better and of course retain all their natural oils.
To help recover the high price we paid for the Schnitzer, and to share the benefits with others, we decided to take it to our weekly market stall. We use it to demonstrate how it works and sell freshly rolled oats each Saturday. It has turned out to be quite popular – especially during the colder months.
Bicep building
One side benefit of rolling your own oats is the upper body exercise. It takes just a few minutes to roll enough oats for our own personal use, but at the market on a good day we may spend 10 to 15 minutes rolling for other people. If bicep size was important to us, this is a great way to build them up. Heather is not too keen on large biceps, but Andrew has no objection. We must remember to swap arms though, or the result might be over developed muscles on one side of the body!!!
Often at the market, people (especially children) are keen to roll their own oats and we are happy to oblige. This puts a hole in our large bicep plan – but we have to fit in with the wishes of the customer.

We have had the roller for 18 months now, and it has happily rolled around 200 kg of oats. It shows no sign of wear and tear and works as well as it did from the start. We are happy to recommend it. If you are in the Healesville area (outside the old railway station) on a Saturday morning, drop in to our stall and have a look at it (and have a roll if you are game).
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