By Mike on Saturday, August 27, 2011, 22:26 - Permalink
My attempt to home-grow cereal crops on a small scale (Project Wholegrain) is not going altogether as well as I had hoped, so I've supplemented my meagre harvest by going out gleaning.
Gleaning is the practice of picking crop remnants - usually grains - from harvested fields, that is, picking up the bits that the reaper, or nowadays, combine harvester missed.
These could be just parts of the crop that had been flattened down too close to the ground for the harvester to collect, or they may just be missed patches or edges. In some cases, they could be feral populations of crop plants growing in a field margin or hedgerow, having self-sown there in previous seasons.
Gleaning - Legality And Etiquette
Is it legal to glean the remnants of grain like this? - honestly, I don't know. In times gone by, it was accepted practice, indeed, it was convention that farmers would harvest once-over only, not revisiting any area - so as to leave some remnants for the poor to glean (and I expect sometimes accidentally-on-purpose leaving some missed as an act of charity).
But that was then, and this is now. A few things you definitely shouldn't do though, most of which are common sense - don't take anything from a cropping field that hasn't been harvested and don't make a nuisance of yourself by straying off the path or trampling far and wide across private fields.
I very much doubt anyone will object to you gleaning if it's just from the easily-reachable margins of a field where the main crop has been gathered in.
I found lots of ripe wheat that had been missed at the edge of a field.
A little further along, I found a bit of barley and yet further, there had been oats, but the grains there had all fallen from the ears.
Picking wheat by hand is a prickly business, as the ears are quite coarse and spiky. If I'd planned this better, I might have worn gloves.
I picked about a pound of wheat ears and about half that much barley.
This means I can revise my plans for my grain-growing project. I'll try making bread from this wheat, then this barley, along with my own barley and also my wheat can all be malted to try to make beer.
The ears of wheat consist of the useful grain enclosed in tough, inedible strawy husks.
These must be separated and the first part of this process is called threshing - not too hard with this clearly modern wheat cultivar - some of the grains just fell out on their own as the bag was knocked about a bit on the way home.
I continued this by tipping the whole lot into a tough plastic sack and crushing/rolling it underfoot.
The loose mixture of grain and husks after threshing still needs to be separated.
Repeatedly dropping handfuls of the mixture from a small height over a large basket allows the breeze to carry away the papery husks (also known as chaff), whereas the heavier grains fall straight down.
This is called winnowing. In larger bulk, it could be performed by flipping the whole basket so as to toss the grain all up in the air at once.
The mostly-cleaned wheat grain looks great - fat, orange-buff kernels that are clean and hard.
In small quantities, they can be crunched and eaten raw, but this is quite punishing on the teeth, so I don't recommend it.
They can also be boiled and eaten as an alternative to rice. I've tried this and in all honesty, I don't know why it's not more popular. Wheat is a tasty cooked grain - a bit more chewy than rice, but that can also be nice.
But I want to try making bread, so I need to grind the grain into flour.
I did this a bit at a time, using a granite pestle and mortar. Really hard work - not a problem for this small experiment, but I wouldn't want to do it this way regularly.
After much pounding and grinding, I ended up with 250g of meal comprising a mix of slightly granular white flour, bran in a variety of sizes and a proportion of cracked and kibbled grain fragments.
With a little more time and a lot more effort, I could have continued sifting and regrinding the larger pieces, but my arm was hurting from the work so I decided to just let things be a bit rustic.
I made a simple bread dough - just the whole wheat meal, a little oil, a pinch of salt, yeast and warm water.
It was a bit weird to work with, because the coarse nature meant it took up water more slowly than ordinary flour - so it started out quite loose and wet.
I left it overnight to prove, then tipped it gently onto a tray and baked it.
The result was a flattish, dense loaf with an amazing smell. The texture is quite dense and a little doughy, but I expected this. The flavour is highly complex and interesting - deeply wheaty and malty-tasting. Great, but even better with just a little dab of salted butter.
The loaf has a coarse nutty graininess to it, so it takes a bit more chewing than sliced white, but it's a very satisfying bit of bread.
Threshing the barley was easy, because the task just consists of breaking the grains off the ear and separating them from their whiskers. This can be done by rubbing vigorously between the palms - a bit of an uncomfortable, bristly job, but OK for a small amount like this.
The kernels have a husk that clings very tightly and won't rub off - this is normal, and not a problem, because I'll be malting the barley to make beer.
Update (Much Later)
Although I started malting the barley by soaking it overnight, then spreading out on a tray to sprout, it just went mouldy and the experiment was a failure (as indeed was much of Project Wholegrain - the parent project of this article)