Monday, July 1, 2013

Threshing and Winnowing Wheat by Hand

Wheat kernels
This is the continuation of the previous post, in which I described our foray into small-scale wheat growing and harvesting. At the end of June, we hosted a threshing bee here on the farm! Several of our friends and farm members came over to share a meal and to help us bring in the grain harvest. Both kids and adults seemed to have a tremendously fun time of it, and we all ended up with quite a bit of wheat by the end (I don't know exactly how much, since everyone got to take home wheat if they wanted). Here is how it went:

1. Threshing
Threshing in a pillowcase
The basic idea of threshing is to knock the wheat kernels off the stalks. We found a few ways to accomplish this, all of which were good fun. One of my favorite ways was to put a sheaf of wheat in a pillowcase, hold the pillowcase closed, and beat it with a stick for about 5 minutes, turning occasionally. Other methods included, smacking the wheat against the sides of a bucket, stomping on the wheat in a sturdy box, and swinging the bag of wheat against a hard surface.

2. Winnowing
If you are using a pillowcase, carefully pour the wheat into a bucket. I like to then shake it back and forth several times. The wheat falls to the bottom, and the chaff (hulls, stems, etc.) rises to the top. Then I scoop off the chaff and discard it. The next step is to pour the wheat (carefully!) from one bucket to another, allowing the chaff to blow away in the wind. If it's not windy, a box fan will speed up the process. You'll have to pour it back and forth about 5-6 times before it's clean.
Winnowing with a fan

3. Storing and Eating
The wheat berries should now be fairly free of chaff and ready to store. I just put mine in an airtight container in the cabinet. They are very dry and hard, so I imagine they'll last a long time. So far, I've been eating them as a whole grain, like rice, rather than grinding them into flour. Wheat berries are totally delicious! Simply put them in a pot with water at a ratio of approximately 3:1 water to wheat. Bring it to a boil for about 5 mins, then lower to a simmer and cook for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Then you can season them as you like and eat them warm or cold. I am particularly fond of mixing them with plain yogurt, salt, zatar (Middle Eastern seasoning mix), and olive oil.
Some of the finished product

Update: I just finished threshing and winnowing the last of the wheat. We ended up with about 10 quarts of wheat berries, which is 20 lbs., out of an area of about 240 square feet.

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