What’s in the flour?
While any grain can be ground into flour, wheat flour takes the cake in terms of commercial use and availability in the United States. After wheat is sown, grown, harvested and transported, it still takes a beating before it reaches the supermarket shelf. Essentially, commercial milling strips a grain of anything that might turn rancid over time—fat, protein, and nutrients, for instance—and then pulverizes the remaining bits of carbohydrate into a flour that is shelf-stable for years.
Most wheat flour products are “enriched” with thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin. But as The Joy of Cooking points out, “Enriched flour contains only some of the many ingredients known to have been removed from it in milling.”
There is an alternative. Wade’s Mill is a small-scale, old-fashioned grain mill that has been producing “fancy family flour” since 1882 in Raphine, Virginia. Wade’s Mill flours and mixes are never bleached nor enriched—just ground and promptly shipped to ensure freshness and nutrient content. Owner and miller Jim Young sources whole grains such as yellow corn, hard wheat, rye and buckwheat from local and regional farms and co-ops when he can. The mill welcomes visitors and offers a seasonal array of cooking classes, local food lunches, and holiday celebrations in its quiet corner of the Shenandoah Valley.
Wade’s Mill flours and mixes can also be found at various Charlottesville retailers, and online at www.wadesmill.com.
Until the 1940s, regional water- or animal-driven stone mills like Wade’s Mill were the norm across the United States and throughout the world. Typically, the top stone (or traveler) moves across the etched surface of the bedstone and slowly, forcefully crushes each grain into a coarse flour. In fact, the phrase “nose to the grindstone” refers to the miller’s habit of smelling the grains and stones as they revolve; a skilled miller can detect heat-damaged grains, and will slow or halt the process to let the stones cool off.—Lisa Reeder
Storing and pouring flour
Freshly ground flour deteriorates rapidly; Jan Nau at Wade’s Mill recommends using their flours within one month of purchase, or freezing the flour for later use. At room temperature, flour should be stored in an airtight canister away from light and heat. In the freezer, use a freezer bag around the bag of flour, but keep it unsealed until the flour is frozen—that way any moisture will escape rather than cling to the flour as ice crystals. Using a marker to note the day of purchase, or freezing, will take the guesswork out of baking projects.
When recipes call for sifted flour, use a sifter or a fine-mesh sieve to shake the flour into a fluffy mountain in a large bowl. The object is to aerate the flour, so don’t pack it or shake it down! Gently scoop it into your cup measure, then use the straight edge of a butter knife to level the cup. While stone-ground flour will deliver superior flavor and nutrition, you may find it is “thirstier” than traditional flours, so always start with a lesser amount than the recipe calls for.—L.R.
Ground cereal grains and their uses in the kitchen
From corn: corn grits, corn meal, corn flour, corn starch
Uses: polenta, cornbread, spoonbread, johnnycake, hush puppies, corndogs, fry batter
From buckwheat: buckwheat flour, groats/kasha, buckwheat honey
Uses: pancakes, crepes
From rye: rye flour, rye berries
Uses: pumpernickel bread, rye whiskey, beer
From Durum wheat: semolina flour
Uses: fresh pasta, pizza dough, couscous, bulgur
From hard wheat: bread flour, all-purpose flour
Uses: yeasted breads/crusty breads, toothier baked goods, non-baking applications
From soft wheat: pastry flour, cake flour, Italian “OO” flour
Uses: softer breads and rolls, tender baked goods