My kingdom for a cracker

My friends Eric and Britt have long dreamed of creating a sustainability research and education center. Two years ago we almost bought a farm together, but I ended up in my house in town and they bought 3 1/2 acres in the Maxwelton valley. In no time at all they have fruit trees, gardens, ducks, chickens… and an very small wheat patch (couldn’t call those 5 rows a field).

Wheat heads ready for “threshing”

I visited them today and Eric let me cut some of wheat as it was going moldy from a recent rain. He had no desire to do anything with it. Sort of a “Here, you take it. Good luck.”

I’ve been pretty cracker, toast, cookie, chip deprived the last 10 days so I filled a shopping bag (recycled) with dirty wheat stalks and grain heads – and headed home determined to not go to bed until I’d had a cracker. Or pancake.

From wheat to mixer to colander to flour

I wish you could have been here. To thresh the wheat I put it in a wide mouth jar and plunged my hand mixer down in it, breaking up the wheat heads and spinning off some of the chaff. Then I dumped it into a colander and broke up more by grinding it into the colander holes with a rubber ball. Okay, got some wheat berries and lots of chaff. Now what?

Aha! the hair dryer! took the colander outside with my hairdryer tugging at it’s cord. A few short blasts and the chaff had flown up and the berries stayed mostly in

One cup of ground wheat fresh from coffee grinder

and I had a cup of wheat plus a porch (and hair) full of fluff.

To turn my berries into flour, I got out my handy dandy coffee grinder and indeed when i lifted the lid there was something that looked like what comes so easily out of the bulk bins at the market.

Of course there is no baking soda in my ten miles much less baking powder. But salt and oil are already on my “exotics” list so I mixed flour, honey, salt, water and oil and something came out of the pan that looked like some ancient bread the Hebrews took with them when they fled Egypt.

Pancakes, butter, mint tea

But I did it! By 9 PM (having started at 7.30) I had 4 little pancakes. I slathered them (okay, dotted them) with my hand churned butter and every bite was heaven. All ten of them.

How much we take the basics for granted. I laughed my head off watching myself do my little science experiment using household gadgets, but behind it all I was deeply humbled. I recalled those treks I’ve done in the 2/3 world. In Thailand watching girls and women run the foot pedal grain pounder to accomplish what i’d done in my kitchen lab -separate wheat from chaff. “How,” I wondered at that time, “could they spend their whole days doing that?” It was repetitive. Boring. Of course it was my terrified Western ego reacting, imagining being starved of stimulation and freedom. More scenes came. Of women grinding wheat berries for bread. Of horse drawn tractors drawing threshers. All of them carry with them this perfume of – tell the truth, Vicki – superiority. Or at least interest and relief I get to spend my days as I will.

Pancakes. Crackers. Cookies. Bread. Every thing that enters our mouths is the product of all those people planting and threshing and grinding not to speak of those entrepreneurial middle men and women who spend their lives and try for livelihoods by bagging and transporting and baking and packaging and delivering and pricing and ringing up so that those grains that began in Iowa – or Russia – can give me a little crunch on an afternoon break from writing.

I may just – like Eric – decide that the rest of that bag of wheat isn’t worth the work. The trying tonight to turn wheat into crackers, though, has taught me one more lesson about how much goes into feeding us.

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