Kitchens all across Ohio take on the warmth and aromas of the holidays as bakers pull out traditional recipes for candies, cookies, pastries and breads—special treats that, once reduced to crumbs in the holiday tins, won’t reappear until next year.
For Julie Clark, the retail manager at Bear’s Mill in Darke County, this is just another time of year when bakers, particularly those who prefer old-fashioned ingredients such as whole grain and coarse flours, find their way to the mill’s retail store to stock up.
“Customers who come and buy in large quantities know how to work with our flours,” Julie said. She’s referring to the stone ground products from wheat that are as close to whole grains as possible, still flecked with bits of nutritious bran and germ, all courtesy of their antiquated mill, an old world but efficient curiosity.
Julie and her husband, Terry, the miller, purchased the building in 1979. “We were young, ambitious and looking for something interesting to do,” she said. The millstones that make the flour that customers stir into their home style breads, tender dinner rolls and crunchy cookies are four foot in diameter wheels dressed with a cutting pattern of grooves or furrows. Reputed for the grinding quality and longevity, the original stones set in place in 1849 are still in service, turbine driven and powered by the waters of the nearby Greenville Creek. It provides an unheated grinding action that helps the grain maintain its texture and nutritional density.
The sources for the flours and grains ground at Bear’s Mill such as the corn and rye are Ohio grown and purchased through a local grain elevator. The hard winter wheat, a variety not suited for Ohio agriculture, comes from out West. “It’s a higher protein grain that interacts with yeast and forms a network of gluten,” Julie said, “and that’s what gives breads structure and density.” Spelt, an ancient form of wheat enjoying a revival of interest among bakers and often used for denser types of baked goods including German-style breads, comes straight from Dan Kramer’s fields at Food For Life Farm in nearby Yorkshire.
The soft red winter wheat is all locally-grown and Julie describes it as the variety most often seen when driving around Ohio’s country roads. “As it matures, it becomes the ‘golden waves of grain’ that are harvested in the summer,” she said. A low protein wheat, it’s ground and packaged as the Mill’s whole wheat cake flour, which will yield a tender crumb in cakes and pastry, pie crusts and biscuits.
Over the years, Julie noticed that bakers who have only used refined and bleached all-purpose flours are timid about incorporating the Mill’s rustic looking, textured flours in their recipes. “It definitely produces a different product,” Julie said. To get used to the texture and the way the flour works in recipes, she suggests beginning by blending it with a favorite all-purpose flour, substituting a fourth of the flour measurement with one of the Mill’s whole wheat flours.
“It may take some recipe adjusting, a little trial and error, but the results will surprise you,” she said. Certainly in a delicious way.
Marilou Suszko is a food writer from Vermilion. She is the author of Farms and Foods of Ohio: From Garden Gate to Dinner Plate and The Locavore’s Kitchen.
6450 Arcanum-Bear’s Mill Road
“Keep your nose to the grindstone?” A good miller needs to do this, not to get the job done, but to get it done right. If the millstones were too close together or moving to fast, they would heat the grain and burn it. A slow, cool, even grind is the goal to produce quality flours.
In 2000, Bear’s Mill became a not-for-profit organization operated and managed by the Friends of Bear’s Mill, which helps keep the mill operational and open to the public as an educational opportunity.
Bear’s Mill is always open for tours and features a rotating art exhibit and gallery space that spotlights a new artist every month, March through December. Friday, Dec. 7, is Bear’s Mill Candlelight Walk, a vibrant and visual experience for visitors that includes music, bonfires, food and shopping. Look for more information on this event and others at bearsmill.com.