fresh horse. This was done for two reasons: (1) there was no reason to exhaust the horses, and (2) a running horse doesn’t poop but a standing horse does. Obviously during the rainy season this method was not an option. During the rain, the wheat heads were laid out on the threshing floors or on the floors of the bastions and beaten with a flail.
The next step in preparing the wheat was to winnow it. This is how the chaff is removed, leaving just the edible wheat berry. Sutter wrote frequently in the New Helvetia Diary about whether it was a good day to winnow the wheat. Again, Sutter found a unique way to accomplish this. First, the combined, but threshed, chaff and berry were shoveled into handbarrows and carried to the tops of the bastions. Canvas from sail cloth was laid on the ground outside the Fort beneath the bastions. The chaff and berry were then shoveled out of the bastion windows and the wind would blow the lighter chaff away and the heavier berry would fall onto the canvas. Naturally, a good day to winnow wheat meant there was some wind. Small amounts of wheat could be winnowed in winnowing baskets. Once the berry iss cleaned of chaff, it is ready to be ground into flour.
The cleaned wheat berry is poured into the hopper (the large funnel) that puts the wheat into the grinding stone. The grinding stone, or mill stone, consists of two individual stones between which the wheat is ground into flour. The bottom stone is the bed stone and it remains fixed in place. The top stone is the runner stone and it is what is turned. The axle is slightly off center so that the runner stone turns in an ellipsis over the bed stone. This forces the flour out into the catch box as the stone turns. The wheat is pulverized because of troughs and ridges cut into the stones. The troughs are called furrows, and the ridges are called lands. The furrows and lands are different lengths, which also aids in forcing the flour out from between the stones.
The runner stone is turned via a wooden lever to which a mule is harnessed (in a grist mill – the runner stone would be turned by various cogs moved by water). It is important that the grinding be done at a constant, but not too fast rate. If the stone is turned too fast, the friction will create heat which will burn the flour. If that happens, the bread will taste burned even if it is not. Because of this it was important for the miller to frequently bend over and sniff for the smell of burning flour, hence the saying “keep your nose to the grindstone.” The grinding actually consisted of a couple of different grindings. The first grinding was done with a runner stone with deep lands and furrows, producing a coarse mixture of flour and bran. A second grinding was then done with a finishing stone with shallow lands and furrows to produce a finer mixture of flour and bran. The mixture was then sifted in large buckets to separate the flour from the bran. The flour has a fine light texture and color and is used to make bread, ship’s bread, cakes, cookies, etc. The bran is much tougher and must be softened before eating. At the Fort, bran was mixed with hot water and cooked beef and served in troughs to Sutter’s Native American workers. During planting and harvesting time, hundreds of workers needed to be fed at the Fort. Also, during the harvest, several rooms in the Fort became granaries for storing the wheat until it could be threshed, winnowed, and ground. Sutter bagged wheat that was not ground and used it as cash or to trade for manufactured items.
These are just the basics of agriculture at the Fort, but should be enough to interpret the grist mill station. Sutter also had fruit trees, an extensive vegetable garden, and produced wine and a form of brandy called aguardiente, translated as “water with a bite.”
ELP Agriculture-Grist Mill
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