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Food - Wheat

( Originally Published 1917 )



The world's harvest time. This is harvest time for wheat! Not a day passes in which wheat is not being harvested somewhere. Perhaps it is on the pampas of South America or the steppes of Siberia, but somewhere the sun will set tonight upon a harvest scene; somewhere the golden grain is falling beneath the sickle or reaper. Somewhere, too, wheat is being planted today.

When the wheat fields of Dakota are covered with snow, the men of the Argentine are threshing wheat; and when winter grips Patagonia, a harvest moon shines upon the grain fields of Scandinavia. As we are sowing wheat in the United States it is being harvested in the valley of the Nile, and as the Egyptians sow wheat the grain is being cut by Russians in Siberia. Thus we see that the process of the world's wheat production is an unbroken cycle.

Wheat a universal product. Wheat grows on every continent, and, to some extent, is cultivated in every civilized country. Distinctively the white man's food, it may be called the universal food of the Caucasian race. Not only is wheat eaten chiefly by the Caucasian, but he has taken it with him wherever he has migrated. He has bred wheat to meet local conditions everywhere, although it has been found wild only in the temperate zone. Wheat was the chief crop of ancient Egypt and there is reason to believe that its cultivation antedated the Pharaohs. To-day this grain is cultivated on every continent and on all important islands of the seas. There are wheat fields in Canada less' than six hundred miles from the arctic circle and in India within the torrid zone.

Civilization and the culture of wheat. The culture of wheat may be considered as a sign indicating the march of civilization. It should be noted that from the beginning of history the greatest wheat production has meant the balance of power among the nations. At least the strongest nations have always been the great wheat producers. Far back in the early ages when wheat was the chief crop of ancient Egypt, her power was as wonderful as her civilization. The ancient Romans at the height of their power valued their granaries almost as highly as they did their armies. Many other examples might be cited -to show that civilization, national power, and the cultivation and use of wheat have always been closely associated.

While England raises only a small fraction of the wheat needed to feed her people, among the possessions of the British Empire are to be found millions of acres of wheat land. It is fair to-day to call .the United States the leading wheat-growing country of the world, but the time is near at hand when she must increase her production in order to provide enough for her own people.

Origin of wheat unknown. No one knows the age of wheat. History refuses to give us the date of its origin. We are told that the Chinese used wheat for food twenty-seven hundred years before the Christian era and that it has been known on the uplands of Syria and in the valley of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers for ages. Traces of buried wheat have been found in ancient tombs of Egypt, in the prehistoric lake dwellings of Switzerland, and in certain regions of Asia. But it is impossible to deter-mine the exact age of wheat. Ancient history freely mentions the plow and speaks familiarly of cereals, among which is wheat. In fact, the oldest countries are those which seem most closely connected with this world-wide food.

Methods of cultivation. Wheat has been grown in the valley of the Nile for many ages. Each year the people are putting more intelligent effort into the cultivation of this grain. Even the modern tractor is occasionally seen in Egypt doing the work done centuries ago by the slaves of the ancient Pharaohs. But modern methods of sowing, cultivating, harvesting, threshing, transporting, and grinding wheat are not consistently practiced the world over. In parts of Syria and Russia the people are still content to use the same crude implements for cultivating and harvesting wheat that were used in Egypt and Rome thousands of years ago. Yet Russia is to-day the second largest wheat-raising country in the world, ranking next to the United States in the production of that grain. In some years the Russian wheat harvests have even surpassed those of this country.

Growing wheat in Russia. Wheat is produced in both European and Asiatic Russia, but the great bulk of the wheat lands lie in the so-called Black Earth district of Southern Russia. This enormous plain, probably in its depth of soil unequaled any-where else on the face of the globe, yields, under almost primitive conditions of cultivation, much more wheat than is consumed in Russia. This surplus grain is sold in Western Europe, where not enough wheat is raised to feed the people. Poland, once an independent kingdom, is another great wheat-producing section of Russia.

On the vast steppes of Siberia there are many wheat farms, and here may be seen modern American farm machinery' of every kind. Harvesters and binders manufactured in the United States are used throughout this part of Russia, with camels serving as the--motive power. Russia also employs modern oil and steam tractors which do the work of many horses. In fact, in all parts of the world one may see modern American power tractors at work where once slaves, camels, elephants, zebus, oxen, or horses ' furnished the driving power.

Sowing and harvesting in many lands. The sowing and harvesting of wheat differ widely in the various countries. In America machinery replaces man wherever possible, but in some parts of Russia, India, Egypt, Algeria, Palestine, and China the peasants and natives still cling to the crude ways of their forefathers. Many of them are too poor to buy machinery and others know too little of modern methods to use it. There are still many countries where wheat is sown by hand, harvested with a small hand sickle or a heavy "cradle," bound by hand, and then threshed with the old-fashioned hand flail. But the parts of the world where one may see the implements of bygone centuries in use are becoming fewer each year. Yet the ancient wooden plow—little more than a crooked stick—is still used to some extent in Syria, India, and China, while the implements of the Japanese are often as crude as were those of their forefathers.

But we do not have to go to Old World lands to find ancient methods and ancient tools employed in wheat culture. Within twenty miles of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and in other places in the Southwest, we may see Indians raising wheat and corn under these same primitive conditions.

Looking back at one of the oldest countries we see India, with more than three times as many people as there are in the United States, farming by methods almost as far behind the times as those of the ancient Romans. There are, of course, certain regions in India where the progressive Briton has introduced modern farming methods, but as a whole the country is using the methods and implements of long ago. In the fields of India the buffalo, zebu, camel, elephant, and ox may still be found hitched to the ancient wooden plow. There, too, one may see hand sowing and hand harvesting and, at threshing time, the old-fashioned hand flail.

The wheat farms of the United States offer the best example of the modern way of raising this grain. Vast farms, many of them containing thou-sands of acres, are plowed by great tractor engines pulling as many as eight plows behind them. On some of these farms the plows are followed by the harrows and these in turn by the seeders, so that in one day, and at the same time, many. acres of land are plowed, harrowed, and planted to wheat.

Perhaps nowhere else in the world does the wheat crop depend so much upon the whims of the weather as it does in India. Here seeding time is usually. followed by long, heavy rains and storms called monsoons. When, for any reason, these tropical storms lack strength or the rainy season is shortened, the wheat crop of India fails, and this failure usually means famine. We hear many sad stories of great famines in India, when hundreds and thousands of natives die for want of food.

Storing and shipping wheat. The handling and transportation of wheat have likewise undergone many changes. As in planting and harvesting, our methods of handling and transportation are the most advanced of all the world. Practically every wheat farm in the United States is equipped with modern machinery, and every farming center has its elevators for storing and shipping grain. The railroads of this country are equipped with every known device to facilitate the handling and transportation of grain.

Distribution of world's wheat crop. Few countries in the world raise more than enough wheat to feed their own people. Russia, the countries of the Danubian plain, the United States, the Argentine, Canada, Australia, and India always have wheat for sale. The United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Belgium, Italy, France, and Brazil must all import a considerable' part of the wheat or wheat flour they use.

Algeria was originally the granary of Rome. The Moors who later conquered it were not wheat eaters and as a result the growing of wheat in Algeria practically ceased. But in recent years, this crop has been re-established by the French government.

The world's crop of wheat is about 4,000,000,000 bushels. The United States furnishes about one fifth of the world's supply of wheat. By far the greatest part of our wheat is consumed at home. In normal years we export on an average 150,000,-000 bushels of wheat, including that ground into flour, while Russia under normal conditions exports more than 170,000,000 bushels and the Argentine sells to other countries more than 90,000,000 bushels. The world's consumption of wheat is advancing steadily. .,The rate of increase is about 100,000,000 bushels a year.

Under normal conditions the United Kingdom is compelled to import about 220,000,000 bushels of wheat and flour a year, and Germany must import about 80,000,000 bushels. The Netherlands finds it necessary to buy from other countries approximately 20,000,000 bushels of wheat and flour a year and Belgium about 50,000,000 bushels. In fact, every country in Europe, with the exception of Russia, Bulgaria, and Roumania, must look to foreign lands for a large part of its wheat supply.

China does not raise wheat enough for each inhabitant to have even a small amount, but uses rice instead. In Japan, however, about 1,250,000 acres of land are given over to the raising of wheat and the yearly crop totals about 27,000,000 bushels. This indicates that the average Japanese farmer raises 21.5 bushels of wheat to the acre.

Results of intensified farming. In the United States the harvests average only 14 bushels of wheat to. the acre. But in England and Germany intensified farming by a lavish use of fertilizer has been developed to such a degree that the farmers are able to produce an average of more than 30 bushels of wheat 'per acre. Intensified farming is also practiced in some of our states, the yield in Maine and Vermont having averaged as high as 29.7 and 29.3 bushels to the acre.

If all the land available for wheat were to be farmed under the method employed in England and Germany, the annual yield of wheat would stagger the imagination. But it is equally true that if all the land now devoted to wheat were to be farmed as land is .farmed in some parts of Russia, the whole world would experience a famine in wheat such as occurred in Russia in 1891 and 1892. Then thou-sands of Russians starved to death. That famine taught Russia a lesson and since then she has been doing much to improve her agricultural conditions.

Wheat industry employs many people. Every-where a multitude of men and women are earning their living by working with wheat or wheat products. Every day huge ships loaded with wheat go back and forth across the oceans, and long trains loaded with this grain move across the various countries. Every day millions and millions of dollars are spent for wheat.

Perhaps the wheat which furnished the flour your mother baked into bread to-day came from a farm thousands of miles away. The wheat that enters into the food set before the English child may have traveled many miles in a wagon or an automobile; it may have ridden in a great cart over the pampas of the Argentine; it may have been carried by ship and hauled in freight cars. This wheat may have been planted, harvested, threshed, and handled in the old-fashioned, laborious manner followed in some parts of Russia and India, or it may have been produced on one of our great, modern, up-to-date farms.

If it were not for the men who devoted their lives to the study of how to grow, handle, and store wheat, you and I might often go hungry for bread. But the great grain experts worked faithfully at the task and gradually developed the modern elevator, in which wheat can be safely stored for many years. However, the crops that are now raised each year make it unnecessary to store wheat for use in future years and these elevators are used only to hold the wheat until the mills are ready to make it into flour.

Flour the chief wheat product. While some wheat is eaten unbroken or in its natural state, by far the largest part of it is turned into flour which in turn is made into various foods, such as bread and pastries. Then, too, a great deal of wheat is made into what is known as breakfast foods.

Macaroni. Next to bread and pastries, macaroni is one of the most popular foods made from wheat flour. Since the introduction from Russia, about 1900, of "durum" wheat, and still more since the European War increased the difficulty of procuring macaroni from Italy, the macaroni industry in this country has grown at a surprising rate. By the use of air currents and other devices, Italy's great climatic advantage of being naturally suited to drying macaroni has been overcome. The manufacturers now make artificial climates within their works that are under almost perfect control. Macaroni is made in many different forms, the most familiar being macaroni, spaghetti. vermicelli, and the fancy letter and star shapes. It is highly nutritious, exceeding in food value both bread and beefsteak.

Wheat on our bill-of-fare. Wheat flour appears on our bill-of-fare in many different forms. In fact, so wide is the range of its uses that at one meal it may appear on your table as an ingredient in half a dozen different dishes. For instance, if we were to consider how many ways it entered into our dinner we should probably find that we would have first of all, with our soup, crackers made from wheat flour; with our fish perhaps a sauce containing wheat flour and toast made from wheat flour bread. Then of course there would be wheat bread and perhaps macaroni made entirely of durum wheat flour.

With the roast we might have Yorkshire (wheat flour) pudding, or maybe there would be a fowl with dressing made of wheat bread. Our pies, our cakes, and our puddings would all draw heavily upon the wheat supply. Possibly instead of coffee or tea we might prefer a cereal drink containing wheat. A great factor at the athletic training table is plain boiled wheat and milk.

When at your dinner table to-night you spread a layer of golden butter over a slice of bread you will be adding the last link to one of the greatest business chains in the world to-day. The story of a bushel of wheat from the time it ripens at the end of a waving stalk in the warm sunshine until it is eaten as cereal, bread, cake, or pastry, is as interesting as the story of Robinson Crusoe.

The harvest. When the wheat is ready to harvest, many binders are sent clicking across the broad fields, cutting the grain, tying it in bundles, and dropping it on the ground. Harvest hands follow these binders, pick up the bundles of wheat, and set them up in shocks. Later to the fields come the threshing outfits with their crews, and the bundles of wheat are fed to the buzzing separator. As the grain is separated from the stalks it runs out into sacks and the stalks are blown out through a long pipe into a rapidly mounting pile of straw and chaff.

The sacked wheat is then carried to a near-by elevator where it is weighed and put into storage. But not &l the wheat is put into sacks; sometimes it is brought to the elevators in great tank wagons and dumped into a receiving bin. It is then elevated by chain cups or suction to a storage bin from where it is loaded through chutes into big grain cars. The grain is carried in these cars to large roller mills and converted into flour.

Flour milling. The history of making wheat into flour is long and contains many interesting stories, none of which, perhaps, is more interesting than one connected with spring wheat. Although only a bare half century since the superior qualities of this grain have been utilized, to spring wheat alone is due the beginning of the wonderful prosperity of the Northwest. And the secret behind this lies in the processes of milling. Spring wheat is especially rich in gluten, an element highly valuable in bread making. But under the old processes of milling, which reduced the grain to flour at one grinding, the bran — which is coarser in spring wheat — remained in the flour, discolored it, absorbed moisture, and caused it to spoil. Under a new process of successive milling, this dark-colored bran was removed. Then spring wheat came into its own. The vast prairies of the Northwest were turned into fields of wheat, stretching for miles in every direction, and thus Minneapolis became the great flour-milling center of the world.

The value of the wheat depends upon the quality of the flour it produces. For this reason the United States government has maintained mills and laboratories where the exact milling qualities of each species of wheat can be determined. Then the farmers plant the variety of wheat on which the government reports most favorably. The chief types of wheat are known as hard, semi-hard, and soft, red, white, and durum or macaroni. Wheat is also known as spring and winter, but this depends upon the time of planting. The milling qualities of these wheats vary and for that reason the price also varies.

As with the production of wheat, no one knows how long man has been making it into flour, or similar products. The crushed wheat of prehistoric man was very different from the fine flour made in our great modern mills. The ignorant savage who lived centuries before the Christian era could not produce with the aid of unhewn stones a flour similar ' to that made by the skilled workmen who operate the complicated machinery of the modern mill. But as man advanced so did his methods of grinding wheat. For many ages, the natives of all countries ground wheat between stones.

Invention of the saddle-stone grinder. The first step toward modern milling was taken when the saddle-stone grinder was invented. This was used by the ancient Greeks, Romans, Swiss, and Egyptians. China and other Asiatic countries also ground their wheat with this device and it is even now in use in some parts of the world. The natives in certain regions of Africa resort to the same methods of grinding their meal as were in use in the time of Abraham. The saddle stone consisted of two stones, the upper of which fitted into the hollowed top of the lower. The wheat or other grain to be ground was put into the hollow of the bottom stone and the upper stone was rocked backward and forward until the grain was reduced to a coarse meal.

From the time of the first saddle stone to the present era of steel rollers the process of making meal and flour from grain has undergone many changes. Centuries of progress can be traced by the various developments of the flouring mill. Yet to-day practically every kind of grain reducer, from the saddle stones of the Egyptians to the mod-ern tempered steel rollers, is in use somewhere.

Family and state mills. In olden days the work of the miller was done by women and slaves, each family grinding its own meal. At that time there were no public mills and every house had its own saddle stone and its quern. Finally in Rome state mills were established and in these labored slaves and criminals. Oxen shared the labor with slaves. It was also the practice to put prisoners captured at war to work in the mills. The Roman mills were increased in size and gradually improved.

Introduction of the public mill. A little later the use of public mills was extended, and throughout almost all the civilized world the people were compelled to bring their grain to these public mills and pay a heavy toll for the grinding. The poor. people much preferred to do their own grinding with their rude little querns. But the landlords and public officials, greedy for the toll, used harsh methods to prevent the people from making meal or flour. Many times the homes were raided and the little mills destroyed or carried away.

Later types of mills. The water-power mill soon appeared, followed by the windmill. But it was many years before the steam-driven flour mill came into use. The water-driven mill was operated by the Romans before the birth of Christ and the wind-mill was introduced into England about 1200 A.D.

It was not-until 1784 that the first steam-power mill was established in London. Recently mills operated by electricity have been erected.

Undoubtedly the finest example of a Dutch wind-mill in America stands on the banks of the Fox River at Geneva, about thirty-five miles west of Chicago, Illinois.

It is part of the equipment of Riverbank Villa, the extensive estate of Colonel George B. Fabyan. It is seventy-five feet high and can grind one hundred and fifty bushels of wheat into flour in eight hours of good wind pressure. This quaint mill, which looks as if it might have been transplanted from Holland, was built in 1876 near Elmhurst, Illinois, by two brothers from the land of dykes. In 1915 it was taken apart and its pieces hauled by wagon a distance of nearly twenty miles to its present site. Old-fashioned burr stones are used in this mill and it grinds wheat, corn, and various other small grains.

At the' present time the most economical method of grinding is by water power, but it is only in certain places that sufficient power can be obtained. Minneapolis, Minnesota, which is the greatest milling center in the world, uses the power furnished by the St. Anthony falls of the Mississippi River.

Today in the great mills of America and Europe thousands and thousands of barrels of flour are ground daily between sets of tempered steel rollers. These grind the grain until it is reduced to a fine dust, known as our commercial flour. When you visit a great roller mill, and hear the whirr of the many busy machines, it will be interesting to recall what you have learned about the grinding stones of earlier days. You may think of the rude stones used by the savages, the saddle stones of the ancient Romans, the little querns of the poor people of Europe; the old water mills, in use for centuries, and still grinding wheat for the peasants; the picturesque Dutch wind-mills; the great modern steam and electric mills. Then you will realize how many years it has taken the world to develop machinery that will convert wheat into the fine white flour of today.



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