|Keith Malcolm joined Hodmedod during the first 2020 lockdown to help pack orders and has now taken on the role of miller, mastering the milling of wholemeal flour on our new mill.|
Over the last year or so I've achieved some half-forgotten childhood dreams. Remember those pre-barcode price guns in the supermarket? I use one every day now! And I always envied Panjit the forklift driver in the animated series 'Bertha'. I couldn't understand why I wasn't allowed to have a go on a fork-lift. Well now I am!
If you don't know it, Bertha was a factory machine capable of producing everything from watering cans to electric kangaroos. Now in general I don't go around naming machines. Clearly Bertha was special and had earned a name. I'm starting to think our new mill deserves a name too. It might not have Bertha's range of capabilities but it's no less impressive and I've already developed a soft spot for it.
The mill was designed and built by Andrew Heyn of New American Stone Mills. He runs a bakery in Vermont with his wife Blair Marvin. Blair explains in her TEDx talk that they decided to reimagine the stone mill after being blown away by a bag of fresh stone-milled flour left on her doorstep. The video is well worth a watch for Blair's take on the value of stone-milled flour. In another video, Andrew talks about teaching himself to weld and work with wood and stone in order to build a mill that met his requirements. From small beginnings, Andrew has produced dozens of mills now in use around the world. Our mill is stamped with the number 99. The small community of millers using New American Stone Mills - and similar - in the UK is a rich source of help and inspiration as we compare notes and share ideas.
Like its creator, the mill is pretty unassuming. At it's heart are two large rounds of Vermont granite each weighing in at around 200 kg, slightly rough to the touch and carved with opposing patterns of grooves. The pattern of grooves determines the qualities of the flour produced by a particular mill, and the intricacies of the topic are discussed in countless books, articles and forums. If you're interested, Theodore R. Hazen gives a good introduction. For now I'll just say our mill has been dressed primarily to produce wholemeal flour. The mill has no secrets - peer underneath and the workings are all there to see.
Once a week I take off the hopper and case and, using the supplied hoist, lift the runner stone to inspect and clean the stones. That job gives me a real appreciation for the simple elegance of the machine and I like to try out the different grades of flour that gather in various spots. This week I made noodles from the ultra-fine snowdrifts in the top of the case.
In use it's quiet and surprisingly dust-free. The runner stone is held just a quarter of a millimetre or so from the bed stone, partly by the grist and flour itself. Fine adjustments are easy to make, and feedback mainly comes from the feel of the flour, although sound and smell play a part. Once it's been set up for a particular grain, I can leave it be and get on with something else, keeping an eye and an ear on it from the other side of the mill room. When it's not happy, the sound changes slightly but the mill hasn't lost its temper (yet). One time it shoogled around a bit, and once it spat a little flour on the floor but both times it was easy to see where I'd gone wrong and it carried on without complaint.
So, while four-year-old me might be more excited by the batch gun and the fork-lift, present me is enjoying getting to know this lovely machine - and enjoying its produce. The only thing it's missing is a name. The best we've come up with in the mill house is Mildred. Maybe readers of the blog can do better...
Note: suggestions of 'Milly McMillface' will be counted as 'Sir David Attenmiller'!
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