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I got a new wheat mill. Well, a used wheat mill. But it is the first old fashioned wheat mill I have ever owned, or used. The previous wheat mills were all stainless metal burr wheat mills.
This is a stone wheel mill, in a wooden box.
The adjustments are kind of funky. The settings are not the way the instructions say they are, they are about a sixth of a turn further clockwise than the instructions say, and you can only tell this by fiddling with it. So the first few times I used it, I learned why the sifter was invented, and why we have no real idea what "sifted" flour originally meant!
Biblically, the word "sift" does not mean to fluff, separate, or add air to the mix. It means to SORT. To select out the finer, nicer bits, so that the coarse bits can be either re-refined, or discarded.
If you are being Sifted, you are being tested to see whether you are sufficiently refined, or whether you need to be sent back for another lesson, or cast aside entirely.
The flour was a mixture of grainy and fine. The larger pieces were like medium to fine cracked wheat. The smaller particles were actually flour - a barely mealy flour, but usable for breads and cookies. Not fine enough for cakes or pastries.
So I pulled out a wire mesh strainer, and started shaking the flour through it, so that I had only the finer grind. The coarse grind went into a separate jar, to use as cracked wheat. I got half a gallon of sifted flour, and half a quart of cracked wheat.
You see, in earlier years, this is how wheat was ground. In some form of stone mill.
It could be a bowl and stone, hand ground (very time consuming, and the texture would be dependent upon the time invested). It could be ground in a hand powered small mill, or in an ox powered or water powered larger mill. But until the processes were improved dramatically, the output was very much as I produced on the first attempts with my new mill. Usable for bread with some cracked wheat in it. NOT preferred for fine baked goods, and not terribly good for thickening sauces or gravies (too mealy).
So out came the sifter.
Historic recipes called for "sifted" flour, to specify FINE flour. Later, they continued to call for "sifted" flour, simply because the measurement was a bit different, and it handled a little differently in some recipes. But generally it does not matter now.
It is one of those tools that has continued in use, when largely useless, simply because at one time, there was a DIFFERENT need for it than now.
But when that wheat mill produced coarse flour, how thankful I was that I knew that I could sift it, and come up with flour that was suitable for a light textured bread.
Next time I'll know how to set the mill better, to get a better result the first time around. But if I need to sift the flour to remove a few larger particles, I am equipped to do so, and know that this is what the sifting tool was originally intended for.
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