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Anyone heard of or tried burning off chaff/hulls of grain?  RSS feed

 
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I've heard of or seen this somewhere before but google searches show nothing. If I recall correctly it was in an article about the traditional Scottish diet that passingly mentioned that they sometimes did this with oats. Basically the idea is to thresh the grain as usual (or cut the whole heads off with shears, that could work too) and then somehow burn off the inedible parts leaving the grain intact, perhaps a bit toasty but still good for eating.

Getting the kernels off grain that's been cut down and further processing them seems to be the limiting factor in how much grain can be grown with hand tools. Broadcasting one person can sow acres and acres, scything one person can cut down acres and acres. If burning is a viable way of cleaning grain it should vastly increase how much one person can harvest vs threshing, winnowing, milling and winnowing again for a hulled grain.

Best way I can think of to do this largish-scale is: build an earthen floor/patio without a roof over it somewhere. Soil cement would do nicely I think. Pile the threshed grain or cut off seed heads on it. Build a fire elsewhere and get some hot coals going. Throw a few large, hot coals into the pile. Stir with a shovel until all the chaff and hulls are burnt off. Then put out by shoveling up the grains and tossing them ten feet into another pile.

Would it work though?
 
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I'm not sure how helpful this will be, but green coffee beans are done something like that (only in a wok or skillet over a medium-high heat). You stir them continually to prevent scorching. When they begin to brown you will hear a cracking sound (it is aptly termed 'first crack'). At that point, the skins start coming off the bean. Of course, you want to roast the coffee beans so you continue until they are dark, but if you were only trying to loosen the husk, you could stop there. All you need to do then is take the pan outside and shake and blow across it to remove the lightweight skins or husks.

Of course, you are only doing a small amount at a time so that makes it feasible for coffee. With a large grain crop, it may not be useful and I seriously doubt if putting a few coals in the heap on a slab will do much good -- it would be an extra and probably unnecessary step unless you could get the grain hot enough to ensure every piece was thoroughly heated on the outer surface. Is there a reason why it can't be stored whole and the hulls removed as needed? Would it spoil more quickly that way?

Another thought ... when I prepare soybeans for milk or tempeh, I soak them for several hours in water. After that, the husk comes off easily by just rubbing them between my palms while still in the bucket. The hulls float to the top and can be skimmed off. You might try that because it's a lot easier to dump a mass of grain in water to soak than shoveling it around with hot coals. You would have to spread them out to dry again though and they may spoil before they dry.

Maybe there is a reason that people have simply threshed and winnowed grain for thousands of years.
 
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I used to be of the "everyone historically did the absolute best they could with what they had" philosophy but I've since been convinced otherwise. It's entirely possible they just hadn't thought of it yet, like with no-till.

Or, perhaps burning off the chaff has a negative effect on wheat's ability to be made into bread, and they just did with the other grains what they did with wheat. (Wheat was the favorite grain of anyone who could afford it. It is thought that grains like rye and barley originally spread out from the fertile crescent as weeds in wheat.)

I am growing barley, though, because it is higher yielding than wheat AND cold-hardy/short-season enough to be double cropped in most temperate climates. I am also of the philosophy that coarser foods like rye, oats and barley are better for the health.

I like your soaking the grain to remove the hull idea though, seems easier than milling and re-winnowing.

 
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This is from the Ancient Foods Press. While wheat is one of the first grains domesticated, it was not the only one and they all were grown around the same time period, so it would be rather moot to argue which was domesticated first.

It is said the Ancient Egyptians believed that one day Osiris, god of agriculture, made a decoction of barley that had germinated with the sacred waters of the Nile, and then distracted by other urgent affairs, left it out in the sun and forgot it.
When he came back the mixture had fermented.
He drank it, and thought it so good that he let mankind profit by it.
This was said to be the origin of beer.

Like emmer and einkorn (ancient wheat), barley has been cultivated since the earliest of times.
I say this without giving a specific date because archaeologists are at this moment pushing back the beginnings of agriculture with every find they make.

According to Wikipedia:

“Barley was the first domesticated grain in the Near East, approximately  the same time as einkorn and emmer wheat. Wild barley (H. vulgare ssp. spontaneum) ranges from North Africa and Crete in the west, to Tibet in the east.  The earliest evidence of wild barley in an archaeological context comes from the Epipaleolithic at Ohalo II  at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee. The remains were dated to about 8500 BC.  The earliest domesticated barley occurs at Aceramic Neolithic  sites, in the Near East such as the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B  layers of  Tell  Abu Hureyra, in Syria. Barley has been grown in the Korean Peninsula since the Early Mumun Pottery Period (c. 1500–850 BC) along with other crops such as millet, wheat, and legumes.”

One of the earliest accounts of the distribution of barley can be found on a clay tablet from Mesopotamia, written in Cuneiform dating to 2350 BC. It called for a ration of 30-40 pints for adults and 20 pints for children.

By all accounts whether it was in Mesopotamia, Egypt or later in Greece or Rome barley had a variety of uses as it does today.

Barley is eaten in breads, soups and stews. In ancient Egypt as today it was made into porridge and sprouted barley was used as a base for beer.  Barley was and still is today a major feed crop for domestic animals. Barley was used as a type of currency to pay royal workers in Ancient Egypt.

Barley beer may have been the first fermented drink developed by Neolithic people although there is evidence that another drink,namely honey wine (or Mead as it is known), could have predated barley when man was still a hunter-gather and had not put down permanent roots and turned to agriculture.

According to Egyptian food and Drink, by Hillery Wilson, because there was no distinction in ancient egypt between barley and wheat it is impossible to be certain which was the oldest cultivated grain; both were generally termed”corn”.

Barley is eaten in breads, soups and stews. In ancient Egypt as today it was made into porridge and sprouted barley was used as a base for beer.  Barley was and still is today a major feed crop for domestic animals. Barley was used as a type of currency to pay royal workers in Ancient Egypt.
 
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