Threshing and winnowing the grain

A great deal of energy goes into baking a loaf of bread. Added to all the measuring, kneading, and waiting for the bread to rise is the lengthy behind-the-scenes process of harvesting, threshing and winnowing out the grains. In the past two weeks, we’ve harvested the remaining beds of spring-sown grains and hung them up in the new grain storage house to dry. Each type of grain has its unique characteristics, whether it’s the long stalk of the rye plant, the spiky heads of barley, or the plump, golden wheat grains.


Yesterday was my first experience threshing and winnowing grain. A special threshing floor was constructed of wood with a mesh-wire placed over to serve as an abrasive for separating the grain from the chaff. We started by bundling handfuls of grain in sheaves, with the heads together.


Then we basically stomped on the heads, trying to get the hulls off the grain.


Once we finished threshing out the grain, we gathered the grains and hulls into a winnowing basket, and sort of threw the grain up in the air, letting the slight breeze carry off the chaff.


Lamine, who has been threshing and winnowing his entire life, explained that often there is no breeze, and I need to sort of create a breeze with the winnowing basket. Sort of forcefully push the basket away from me, while holding it tight, and let the force of the push send the chaff flying.

My father once told me that he remembers having to steer the family donkey back in his village in Lebanon while it threshed out the grain. Donkeys or horses were tied up to the center of a circular-shaped stone or cement threshing floor, and sent walking round and round for hours, until all the grain was threshed off the stalks.


How To Make Olallieberry Pie

ImageWhat better way to use two and a half pounds of olallieberries than in a pie? Ecology Action employee Mark first had the suggestion when discussing what we would do with the multiple varieties of berries harvested Wednesday morning. Since it was my day for lunch duty, I set out for the kitchen a bit earlier than usual to give myself ample time to whip up a couple olallieberry pies.

I worked with the following recipe from the internet which was essentially encrypted between manifold, large pictures of all the steps involved in baking the pies.

Since we were out of pastry flour, the crust was formed from triticale flour, which is a cross between wheat and rye:

1 cup whole wheat
½ cup white flour
2 tsp. sugar
½ tsp. salt
½ cup cold butter, sliced
4-5 Tbsp. cold milk

The crust was certainly the most difficult part of the process. Apparently the recipe warns against touching the dough with anything but a metal fork, and it must be set aside to ‘rest’ about a half-hour before rolling out.

The filling was much simpler. I had a total of 11 cups of berries which I wanted to divide between two pies. The recipe called for 8 cups of berries in each pie, so the finished product was smaller and more compact that what would be expected if the recipe was followed to a tee (for one pie):

8 cups of olallieberries

1 cup sugar

4 Tbs. cornstarch (or kudzu root or arrowroot)

Dash salt

Once the berries have been ‘dressed’, give them a stir to assure that ingredients are mixed in well. Then, set pie filling aside and proceed to rollout the dough for the pie crust.

It was suggested in the recipe to turn the dough over at each roll, to assure that it doesn’t crack and piece apart. I noticed that turning it over onto a floured surface at regular intervals does help keep the dough together.

Once pie crusts have been rolled out and placed in pie pans, you can either bake the crust beforehand to get it nice and crispy, or pour in the berry batter prior to early baking. I forgot to bake the crust beforehand, but the pie came out fine.