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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.