Practical Milling: Part Two


By Sophie Nieport

Darke County Parks

DARKE COUNTY — If you recall in July, my last article began summarizing a book titled “Practical Milling” by B.W. Dedrick published in 1924. So far, I have been covering just the first chapter titled “Milling Principles, History, and Progress.” As the Miller at Bear’s Mill, I find it extremely interesting and helpful. I hope you too find interest in Practical Milling!

Wheat and rye are the only grains distinguished as bread grains. This means that the “quality of their gluten is such that it will give rise or expansion to the dough made from their flour when fermented, and then lightness and porosity to the bread when baked.” Many variations of wheat, rye, and corn are the most common grains that get milled into flour, or meal.

The term meal has many definitions, but when it comes to milling, it means “a coarse, unsifted powder, ground from the edible seeds of any grain.” Most meals get sifted after the grinding process. Sifting (or bolting), removes the large bran pieces that make some baked goods less desirable.

Before large bolting apparatuses were invented to sift the meal by mechanical means, the customer took the meal home and sifted it by hand to produce their own flour. This was done by a simple flat sieve made with a wood frame and fibrous material that did the sifting (oftentimes horse hair, linen, wool).

Hand sieves were slowly improved over thousands of years. In the late 1700’s, American millers asked Dutch manufacturers to make bolting clothes similar to their fishing nets. This was a huge success. In 1835, a Swiss inventor began manufacturing the first silk bolting cloth. Silk was the staple material for bolting clothes until wire was created as fine as silk. Current-day bolting clothes are made from silk, nylon, or other synthetic materials.

After grain is harvested, and before it is ground at the mill, it must first be cleaned, which involves removal of the chaff (the dry shell, husk, or coating part of the grain), straw, and dirt. The earliest and simplest form of grain cleaning was throwing the grain into the air, letting the wind carry away the light chaff and straw. The heavier grain would drop back down. Sieves with larger diameter holes would also work for sifting out the chaff and straw. A smutter, or scourer, machine used air to remove external dirt from the grain, leaving it cleaner for a purer, whiter flour.

The first mill erected on United States soil was in the French settlement of Annapolis Royal, in 1605, and was powered by water. These pioneer mills included lots of heavy lifting and hard work for the miller. Carrying large bags of grain up to the grinding stones, bolter, or both, meant lots of grunt work.

The biggest advancements to cleaning, milling, and bolting came around 1785 when ‘automatic milling operations’ were invented. Oliver Evans, one of America’s pioneer inventors, invented the conveyor, and elevator, which moved grain and flour through the

mill by mechanical means, without using manual lifting power. These inventions also allowed all milling operations to run continuously at the same time. If you have ever been on a tour at Bear’s Mill, you will have seen first-hand how the equipment on all four floors work at the same time, bringing the building to life! Evans also invented the ‘Hopper Boy’, or ‘Cooler’, which took the place of boys who fed meal into the bolting machines. It also spread the hot meal on the floor allowing it to dry, and cool off.

Around 1876, originating in Hungary, the steel roller mills became widely popular. Using a series of three machines, the grain gets crushed between two steel rollers with finer grooves as they progress through each machine, resulting in a very fine soft white flour. This is the present-day commercial milling method.

Most buhr-stone mills that couldn’t afford the new roller mills closed their doors or set fire to the mill to collect the insurance money. We are fortunate here in Darke County, that the previous millers did not sentence Bear’s Mill to a similar fate, and preserved the original building and equipment.

If you’d like to see Bear’s Mill in action, come see a grinding demonstration during our Fall Open House on Oct. 7 or 8.

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