Monday, July 4, 2011

Review of Grain Mills: Country Living, Family and Lehman's Best

(Written in 2004)

I bought a Family Grain Mill first, because I liked the name, the "easy-turning" claim, and it was cheap. It did turn very easily, yes, but the flour was coarse. It made really good bread, but you cannot make cookies or pie crust out of it. The brownies I made fell apart and pie crust was impossible. If I ran the flour through twice or three times, it would start to turn into what I would describe as fine flour. I sent it back, and paid $30 shipping both ways to find out the hard way that "fine flour" is the coarsest kind of flour, just like "large" is the smallest size of clothes dryer. If you want a large dryer, you have to buy a "super-capacity", and if you want fine flour, you have to search the description for modifiers like "powder-fine flour".

Then Lehmans had their Christmas sale on their "Lehman's Best" mill with both iron and stone burrs for less than the price the mill usually is, so I bought one. Drawbacks I noticed right away-- the design of the clamp is so deep that you need at least a 2" lip on your counter or it won't fit.  And the grain hopper is a huge plastic thing that just rests in a receptacle-- one bump of an elbow and you've got five cups of wheat all over the floor!
Then I cranked the handle. Around two times and I knew I had another mistake on my hands. It's nothing a Clydesdale couldn't handle! It's like, *heave*, up one side, *grunt* down the other, *hurg* up this side again, *haul* down the other. I did some experimentation, and discovered that with the stone burrs and the right setting, I could produce what it was fair to say was "fine flour", with only as much effort as the average aerobic workout or shoveling of snow. I'd be in a sweat after five minutes, and take five minutes to rest; go again another five, and just think about what fine arm muscles I was building, and upper-body strength's a thing most women need more of, isn't it? After only forty-five minutes, I'd have five or six cups of flour for bread-- if the kids hadn't distracted me before that time. Forty-five minutes is rather long for Mother to be off the scene, and there's no way any of the kids could do the cranking. The kids had really enjoyed turning the Family Grain Mill, and watching the flour pour out!   They tried to crank this one and were not able to.  I have three year old twin boys, and if one of them would hang his entire weight on that handle it would go down slowly, but he certainly couldn't get it back up the other side. So I had to watch their disappointment as well as my own! Another thing-- the stone burrs weren't solid stone, and they were still shedding little rocks even after I'd put multiple batches of flour through the machine. My husband had just had his first broken tooth, so he wasn't in the mood for finding rocks in his bread. He insisted I use the iron burrs, but with iron burrs it's even harder and the flour is even coarser.  At least the Family Grain Mill had had a steel blade, and made good bread!  I was wishing I had kept it, while the second expensive mistake sat there on the counter. 

Third option, the Country Living Mill.  I'd heard nothing but good things on the internet, so I ordered one. It was quite a bit too much money for me, especially after I'd wasted $60 on the two-way shipping of the previous two mistakes. But I want a hand mill, I've wanted one for a long time. I told my long-suffering husband that I promised to be happy with this one, and it would definitely be the last mill and I would keep it. When it arrived I was almost afraid to set it up. But I did, and it was perfect! With the plates as tight as they arrived, the flour was as soft and fine as baby powder. I couldn't believe it. I loosened them a partial turn, and still the flour was extremely fine and soft, much softer than Lehman's stone burrs, and with the power bar on, it was extremely easy to turn. That handle is so BIG and easy to grab! You don't have to grip the handle hard, which is easier on the wrists. I can push it around by holding the handle lightly.  One of the three-year-olds climbed up on a chair and started cranking, and he was able to do it.

To test the speeds I'd been reading about on the net, I started cranking in a comfortable but steady fashion with one eye on the clock, and got three cups in six minutes, beautiful fine flour too. This means to make six cups for my usual bread recipe, I'll have to stand there for twelve minutes. That is doable.

My daughter stood there flipping through a catalog with one hand, cranking with the other, and pretty soon we made cookies out of the flour. When we came in from outdoors and I paused to clean up the entryway, I said, "Go crank some flour!" and by the time I came to the kitchen, there was enough for the waffles. This is COOL. I made bread and muffins, then needed more flour for putting in the casserole so I hopped over there and turned for one and a half minutes-- fresh flour.

There are two unexpected surprises with having this mill clamped to my counter. #1, that hopper on top is raised from the counter and steady, not wiggly like the other ones, so I've started setting my spiral recipe book on top of it.  That way it's up at a handy level for reading and out of the way of the stuff on the counter, safe from being spilled on. #2, the mill is a visitor-magnet. People who wander into the kitchen usually end up leaning against the counter being in the way, but they can't resist the uniqueness of the hand mill, and end up cranking the handle, making admiring exclamations and making flour for me. So I get a lot of flour I didn't crank, and the idle hands are doing something useful and staying out of the cookie dough.

So I am happy. I LIKE this thing. It's a beautiful mill, country-looking and old-fashioned, yet sturdy and streamlined at the same time. Fine flour. Easy to turn. Gets the job done quick. I'd say it's worth the money I spent for it AND the money I spent on the shipping of the other two-- because in the end, I have a really superior product that is perfect in every way!

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