Life is complex. I say that often, but no truer words have been spoken.
I have long-held an ambition to make flour. Let me explain.
I have long-held an ambition to make wheat flour. I don’t mean buying a grain mill and some wheat and grinding it. I mean growing the wheat, harvesting the grain, thrashing it, grinding it and making a loaf of bread with it.
You have made it on the self-sufficiency credibility scale, if you can say you have done that. But even in my wildest dreams, I really couldn’t see myself growing wheat. Even in my dreams, I knew to be less ambitious. So I planted two chestnut trees. “I will make chestnut flour,” I thought. And so I have.
Back to the complexities of life. Why does a sensible, financially secure woman need to make chestnut flour? If she wants some chestnut flour, why doesn’t she go out and buy some?
Before I made my chestnut flour, I had never bought any nor had any desire to buy any. I had never seen any recipe that I wanted to make that required home-made chestnut flour as a key ingredient.
So what is the need? We need to go back a step. The need to make flour has something to do with the abhorrence of working in an office tower and being part of the rat race. What is the point of winning the rat race? You are still a rat.
I never craved a big house or a European car. I don’t like posh restaurants or five-star hotels. I can’t see the point in designer label clothes and consider $1,000 hand bags immoral. (Though, I do see the point of vet bills, fine china, cookbooks and kitchen gadgets.)
I like to make things. I like to grow things.
Instead of moving, along with my colleagues, to the western suburbs (if you are from Sydney, think North Shore) we bought a block of land in Bridgetown and grew two or three of every variety of fruit tree we thought would grow in the climate. We mapped out an area for a chook pen and a vegie patch and dreamed of being semi self-sufficient.
Now, the hypocrisy of the last statement is not lost on me. We are far from self-sufficient. The fact that I am writing this on a computer is proof enough. But, so is my pantry with its commercial condiments, flours, sugars, spices and multitude of other middle class delicacies. All of our furniture (actually, most – Maus has made some) has been purchased, along with loads of other things. All purchased from the money we earned from our participation in the rat race.
Our life is nothing like the life of a person who is really self-sufficient. They have to toil away, no matter whether they feel like it or not. Our life is not like our grandmothers’ lives. They, typically, had four plus children and every day had to cook from scratch for them, make them clothes, clean the house, do the washing and ironing, tend the vegetable garden, feed the chickens and, sometimes, even milk the cow. All without modern conveniences.
But, still, what a dream! What a silly dream!
The reality is, we don’t get around to fertilizing and mulching those fruit trees we lovingly planted all those years ago. So many have stopped fruiting. We prefer to buy two nectarines than to worry about what you are going to do with five buckets of nectarines. In any event, any fruit we did grow, the birds beat us to it.
But the dream to make flour has not subsided. My two chestnut trees produced enough chestnuts this year to make it a reality. And with my middle class toys – a dehydrator, a food processor and a Vitamix, it was very, very easy.
- Cut the chestnuts with a serrated knife across the domed side of the shell and pop them in boiling water for 8 minutes. Peel them.
- When they are peeled and cool, put them in a food processor. Pulse a few times to chop them. (This is to make drying easier).
- Lay out the chopped chestnuts in a dehydrator and leave to dry completely.
- Take small amounts of the dried nuts and put them in a high-powered blender and blend until very fine.
- Sift through a fine sieve and return any coarse pieces to the blender and blend again.
- If storing, store in your freezer.
To really live the dream, you will have to make your flour without any of these toys. Chop the cooked nuts and lay them out in a sunny position until very dry. Grind the dry nuts in a pestle and mortar, a little at a time. Sieve through a fine mesh and return any coarse pieces to the mortar for more grinding.
Now what did I do with my flour? I made bread, of course: four loaves of bread which taste great but were too dense for a photo or a post. I will try, again, when we have finished this lot (I made enough flour for two tries) and if I get better results, I will write a post.
“Be careful what you wish for, you might get it.”
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It’s astounding that it’s a fortnight since I read this post out loud to the G.O. while we were drinking early morning coffees in the sun on the verandah and our discussion it prompted. We’re all too familiar with those dreams hatched and disparity of their reality. Thank goodness the manifestation of some of our grander dreams were limited by our means. That so much time has passed between reading and commenting is testimony to our modest but busy life. Busy via our own dreams of our own brand of self sufficiency – working on our old house ourselves – the G.O. is restumping at the moment- rather than hiring people, and just the day to day living of it anti-consumer style. I have been having my own “chestnut flour” moments living out my dreams of baking bread, making soups, stock, tomatoes, jams, pickles, etc and reminding myself when it takes up more of my time than I ever envisaged that it is what I dreamed of 🙂
Ella, Dreaming is easy. I do love my life though.
Living on a desert island self sufficiency is but a dream… hats off for making your own chestnut flour 🙂
I don’t know, there is a lot you can do with dates 🙂
I think you’re being a tad hard on yourself – you are resourceful and semi self sufficient I think that’s more than most. Celia has a recipe for chestnut brownies that she swears by – maybe for next year.
Hi Nancy, I need to conquer Chestnut flour bread first, then brownies, then the world. You are kind but we are no where near self sufficient, not even in our dreams.
I love the idea of self sufficiency too. One day I am into it, the next I am off buying exotic ingredients. What an amazing creature you are to make chestnut flour- just superb. You probably know about all those chestnut flat breads that the Italians make with rosemary.
Hi Francesca. No I am not aware of those breads. I will try and check them out.
Here is one version,
Ar yes, I have an Elizabeth David and Maggie Beer version of that. Is it nice?
Glenda, you don’t need much space to grow wheat! A square metre for 1kg wheat.
I’m all for self-sufficiency lite – producing what you can without making it such hard work that you become a slave to it. I do admire you for your chestnut flour and hope you find the right recipe for your bread.
Anne, I love it ‘self sufficient-lite’. That is my new motto. Seriously Anne, 10 square metres of wheat would be a LOT of work for 10 kilos of flour. I don’t think I an THAT silly.
Kudos to you! I hang my head in shame of not being anywhere near self sufficient.
Although this past weekend, our community has started the rumblings of a barter system with homegrown veggies and the like. Think it’s time to start clearing a section of the garden to get serious with it all.
Have a wonderful week.
🙂 Mandy xo
I guess we all have to do what we can to ebb the tide of this silly commercial driven world.
I am sure the need to make chestnut flour comes from deep in your psyche where all dreams are stored; lucky you for being able to access it. Dream on and thanks for sharing them.
We have retired from the rat race but still live in the joy/horror of Sydney as a huge city beset by too many other people wanting what we have. I want a lemon trees from which I can get lemons to make lots of curd and tagines and cakes and as a twist to my occasional martini.
I keep tying to grow it, beset by citrus minor which sucks out the life from the leaves but, the dream lives on. Glad you are living yours.
Oh Robyn. Citrus grows extremely easily here. There must be a variety that is suited to Sydney.
I love this post. Particularly they you have never even purchased chestnut flour but feel the need to make it. And, realising you can not grow a field of wheat, got for a huge alternative in the form of chestnut trees. It’s great to have dreams and even better when they become a reality. Now you can seek out a new one!
Fiona I don’t want anymore dreams. That wheat field is enough to cope with. 😀
Great post and the sort thing I would do …… I am a self sufficient hippy( in my dreams) 😉
Carol, Aren’t we all? Though the reality is far from the dream.
Go you good thing. I’ve got a great recipe for chestnut flour brownies on my site… love your work.
Hiya Liz. I HAVE to make bread with this lot. Maybe brownies next year. I will have much more next year.
You need to change your name to Henny Penny.
Hiya, Susan. I don’t understand.