Archive for Wheat

Harvesting Wheat

June 1989

Though wheat is harvested some place in the world each month of the year, June us the time for the Kansas harvest. Every farm family is organized and ready for the big rush to get the wheat in before rain or hail ruins the crop. This year the harvest excitement is mixed with apprehension since the wheat crop looks so bad. But good or bad, the combines will soon be rolling up and down the golden fields.

In a few brief days all the wheat in the county will be cut and the ground worked for the next crop. Harvest has not always been so quick and efficient.
The development of civilization can be linked to this history of wheat. When man discovered how to grow wheat and other grains he was able to quit his nomadic life spent searching for food and settle down in one place. Scientists believe that wheat was first cultivated in Asia in a land then called Mesopatamia, and is now Iraq. In 1948 an American archaeologist found kernels of wheat there that dated from about 6,700 BC.

The harvesting of wheat has changed through the ages. First wheat was cut with a sickle, then a scythe and then a cradle which not only cut it, but lay it down in a row this making it easier to glean.

For centuries wheat was threshed by driving livestock over it to trample out the grain. Then a tool called a flail was used. Harvesting became mechanized when Cyrus McCormick invented the reaper in the 1830s. The threshing machine was invented at about the same time. Then came the binder, the header and finally the combine which consolidated the cutting and threshing of the grain in one machine.

In the years I have lived, harvest time has changed radically. In the 1920’s and ‘30’s, just cutting the wheat took over a month. About the first week in June men from Missouri and Arkansas began to drift into Kansas, usually riding freight trains. They lined the streets of any good-sized town waiting for farmers to come and hire them. Picking up their gunny sacks or beat-up suitcases holding extra pairs of overalls and shirts, they went with the first farmers who offered them a dollar a day and keep.

Each farmer hired five or six men to help. My earliest memory is of the wheat being cut with a binder and shocked. But Dad soon bought a header that was pulled by 12 horses. It cut off the wheat stalks and elevated them into hay racks where two or three men with pitch forks distributed the load. When the rack was full the horses pulled it to a designated spot and the men pitched off the wheat into stacks.

When the men were in the fields, Mamma and the hired girl, who made three dollars a week, were busy in the kitchen making three meals a day. With the family, that made 12 or more people squeezed like sardines around the dining table. After the noon meal the men went outside and sat or lay under the trees for a half an hour and traded tall stories and rested. Then back to the field until dark.

After the evening meal, eaten by lamplight, the men took baths in the horse tank before climbing the ladder to the hay mow in the barn and bedding down with a few quilts for covers. Morning came early, but Mamma had pancakes bubbling and bacon sizzling on the range when they got to the house.

After the last acre was cut, the men took their pay and went home to the Ozarks feeling rich as kings.

In a few days the threshing crew came. One man owned the machine and brought along a few men to run it, but the whole neighborhood would trade work with each other to keep the grain going into the monstrous machine. A young boy or girl was the water monkey and made the rounds offering the sweating men a cool drink of well water.

Every self-respecting woman fed the threshers like they were royalty. Each dinner was topped off with pie – two or three kinds – juicy fruit pies and cream pies piled high with meringue. Each woman competed for the honor of being the best pie-maker on the run.

When we married in 1940 there was still a threshing crew of neighbors who pooled their labor each year. Glenn Manning owned the machine that threshed wheat for the Diamond Community. Fry and Dunklebeger each owned threshing machines that had extensive runs.

But times changed and the combines took over and sped up the harvest. High school boys were hired for extra help. Today’s harvest whizzes by like a fast-moving locomotive. But even with the rush the same old magic hovers in the Kansas air when the harvest is in full swing and the moon hangs low and golden in the sky.


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Whole Wheat Flour and Making it Yourself

On July 5th I posted an article from July 1979 about making your own flour, here is an article from a year later with further information on making your own flour, if you are willing to invest a little money. Please note that this article, as well as the previous one, was published in the Co-op News, whose audience was primarily farmers.


July 1980


For some time I’ve felt ripped off selling wheat for around six cents a pound and buying it back at the grocery store at these prices for one pound,

.13 white flour

.17 whole wheat flour

.45 white bread

.69 whole wheat bread

.80 white soda crackers

1.60 whole wheat crackers

2.20 snack crackers

So in protest I bought a flour mill attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer. It cost less than one hundred dollars (now about $130) and has been a genuine money saver while at the same time increasing our use of wheat. Four bushels of wheat kept us in flour and breakfast cereal for a year. The wheat was stored in tight metal containers and ground fresh each week. Newton wheat made the best flour for me.

One cup of whole wheat flour has 400 calories and contains 18 grams of protein, and two grams of fat. It is an excellent source of thiamine, niacin, and riboflavin, a good source of iron, and a fair source of calcium. The bran in wheat supplies bulk for the digestive process.

Even if you buy whole wheat flour at the grocery store it is a wonderful nutritive bargain. This past year a wheat flour especially designed for home bread making has appeared in local stores. Its cost is higher than all- purpose white flour, but it does give superior results.

Since getting my flour mill I’ve been determined to experiment until I produce a 100% whole wheat loaf with a soft crumb. So far I’ve never been able to go much over 80% whole wheat flour and get the softness and texture my family wanted. Here is the recipe I’ve liked best so far. If any of you have a better one I’d like to hear from you.


Whole Wheat Bread


2 cups whole wheat flour

1 cup bread type white flour

1 cup oatmeal

1 package dry yeast

2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons molasses

1 cup warm potato water

1 cup milk, scalded and cooled to lukewarm

2 tablespoons shortening

2 ½ cups whole wheat flour approximately


Combine the first six ingredients in a large mixer bowl. Add molasses, potato water, milk and shortening. Beat on medium speed five minutes. Remove beaters. Add the last whole wheat flour gradually, stirring with a spoon. Turn out on floured board and knead until smooth. Be careful not to work in to much flour. The dough should be a little tacky to handle.

Set to rest in a bowl rinsed out with warm water. Cover with a damp towel and let rise for 1 ½ to 2 hours at about 80° F. Punch down. Divide into two balls. Cover and let rest five minutes.

Shape into loaves and place in greased bread pans. Let rise for an hour or until indentation made with a finger remains and doesn’t spring back.

Bake at 400° F for 30 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on racks.


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Make your own flour

If only I had the space to grow my own wheat…

July 1979

So much field work is being done by local farmers that the landscape along the road changes each time I go to town. What was a gold plated expanse of wheat in the morning is nothing but a short stubble by early afternoon and then transformed to a soft brown carpet of disced earth by nightfall. Resounding in the air is the throb of trucks, tractors and combines as working hours are extended almost indefinitely in order to take advantage of favorable weather conditions.

Now in the middle of all the other household and garden work pressing to be done is the time to take some covered containers to the field to fill with wheat fresh from the combine. If it is kept in a fairly cool place the wheat can be used for flour and cereal until next harvest. The flavor of products made from home grown wheat is excellent and the nutritive quality is unsurpassed.

It would be great to have a home flour mill, which is available on the market, but if you don’t, a good blender can make both wheat cereal and flour.

To do so, wash a quart or two of wheat. Remove the chaff that floats to the top and dry thoroughly. It usually requires several hours to dry.

If you want to make whole wheat flour, put ½ cup of dry wheat in a blender and turn to a high speed. You will get almost 1 cup of flour. Feel the texture with your fingers and continue until the flour feels quite smooth but with some crunchiness left in it. Continue making flour until blender gets hot, then stop and wait for it to cool down. Make only enough for immediate use, since this flour will be free of preservatives. Consequently, its shelf life is short. The finished product is not as fine textured as whole wheat flour in the stores but it makes bread with a wonderful satisfying flavor.

To prepare wheat to eat as a cereal proceed the same way as for flour but stop the blender when the grains have been cracked several times. Some will be fine and some coarse. Stir into boiling salted water and simmer for twenty minutes. Serve warm with light cream and brown sugar. This can also be enjoyed at dinner or supper as a paste or potato replacement.

Whole Wheat Bread Sticks
2 cups white flour 2 cups milk
1 cup oatmeal 2 eggs
1 tablespoon sugar 2 tablespoons fat
2 teaspoons salt 2 tablespoons molasses
1 pkg. dry yeast 4 cups whole wheat flour
Mix first five ingredients in large mixing bowl. Scald milk. Cool to 115 to 120°. Add milk, eggs, fat, and molasses to dry ingredients. Beat on medium speed 10 minutes. Remove beaters. Add more wheat flour stirring it in with a spoon until too stiff to handle. Turn out on bread board and knead for 5 minutes. Set to rest in a bowl. Cover with damp towel and keep at about 80° for 1 ½ to 2 hours. Punch down. Divide in 3 or 4 parts. Cover with damp towel. Let rest 10 minutes. Roll each piece out on a lightly floured board to ½ inch thickness. Cut in strips 5 inches long and 1/3 inch wide. Put on greased cookie sheets. Let rise at room temperature for 1 hour. Bake at 375° for 20 minutes or until brown. Remove from pan and cool on cake racks. Eat as is or return to 325° oven and bake until hard and crisp. Store in air tight containers or plastic bags.These are good served with cheese, fruit and milk. As a snack for children they are tops in nutrition. Kids will eat them instead of cookies which are too full of fat and sugar to be eaten as a regular part of the diet.

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