There are plenty of opportunities to find out where your food comes from when you work on a farm. I value every lesson learned volunteering at One Acre Farm in Morgan Hill, CA about growing food, harvesting and preparing it, and, let's not forget, enjoying it. And when a farm throws a party, you know you're in for a treat.
Before my farm host Michelle invited me to a Wheat Threshing Party, I didn't even realise it was possible to grow wheat on a small scale at home. If it's something you're interested in trying, you can read about Michelle's experience and get further information here.
Today, I'd like to share with you the process of threshing and winnowing wheat by hand through some photos and a video we took at the event on the farm. After going through the vigorous process every step of the way, my understanding and appreciation of wheat has changed completely. Whole wheat berries are delicious and nutritious. I'm also including simple instructions for cooking them and some suggestions on how they can be eaten.
About a month before the celebration, I helped with the harvesting of the wheat. The wheat was planted last Fall and harvested in Spring this year. It was tied up in bundles known as sheaves and left to dry standing, with the seeds up, leaned against a wall. And then we waited for the wheat to be completely dry.
Let me just say that wheat threshing by hand is laborious but offers an excellent reason to round up friends and family for a day of DIY fun. The basic idea of threshing, said Michelle, is to knock the wheat kernels off the stalks. Sounds like fun, doesn't it? Wait till you see how we did it!
Pillowcases. Yes, pillowcases! After a few years of growing wheat on the farm, doing Internet research, and some trial and error, this is one of Michelle's favorite and most reliable ways to thresh wheat. I'll let her describe how it works: "Put a sheaf of wheat in a pillowcase, hold the pillowcase closed, and beat it with a stick for about five minutes, turning occasionally."
It took a newbie like me longer than five minutes and a whole lot of elbow grease, but whatever it takes to get the job done, right? After we had beaten the wheat kernels off the stems and hulls, also known as chaff, the next step was to separate them. This process is called winnowing and involved a fan.
We emptied the pillowcase into a bucket and shook the contents several times so that the wheat fell to the bottom and the lighter chaff rose to the top. Then we used our hands to scoop and discard as much of the chaff as possible. More fun ensued!
The wheat was carefully poured from one bucket to another in front of a box fan so that the chaff was blown away by the wind. We had to do that for about five to six times to get "clean" wheat berries. We also used our fingers to remove some of the unwanted pieces towards the end of the process.
I've written a lot about One Acre Farm and our experience as regular volunteers there. We are thrilled to be able to share a video showing scenes on the farm, and the fun we had threshing and winnowing wheat by hand!
Wheat Threshing at One Acre Farm Video
It was totally worth the effort. We now have fresh wheat berries that can be ground into flour to make bread or use in baking. I like eating them as a whole grain, like rice. Wheat berries are chewy, tender and absolutely tasty. I hope you will give them a try if you've never had them. I've seen them at some grocery stores like the bulk section in Whole Foods.
We eat a lot of rice in Asian cooking, and it's nice to change things up once in a while. I was very pleased to find out that wheat berries make a nice rice substitute. Find below instructions on how to cook them and use them in recipes. Coming up next is a Malaysian recipe using wheat berries or your favorite grains. Don't miss it!
Hope you've enjoyed the little video we made of the farm we volunteer at. Follow me on Instagram @vermilionroots for more photos of farm-fresh vegetables. And don't forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel for more videos.
How to Cook Wheat Berries
Wheat berries are a great substitute for rice and many recipes using rice. Cook a big pot and store in the refrigerator or freezer. Adapted from One Acre Farm.
1 cup wheat berries
3 cups water
Rinse wheat berries. Place wheat berries and water in a pot and bring to a boil for about 5 minutes. Then reduce heat to a simmer and cover.
Cook until wheat berries are tender but not mushy, about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Check for doneness after 45 to 50 minutes. They should be chewy and not hard.
Drain wheat berries and transfer to a bowl. They are now ready to be served or used in recipes. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.