The self-suf­fi­ciency If you love flour and want to be self­suf­fi­cient, go nuts. WORDS NADENE HALL

NZ Lifestyle Block - - GRASS ROOTS -

WHEN MOST PEO­PLE think about be­ing self-suf­fi­cient, it’s usu­ally par­tial – not whole – self-suf­fi­ciency they think about. It tends to be the eas­ier op­tions, usu­ally fruit, veg­eta­bles and eggs, and then maybe meat.

But think about what you buy from the su­per­mar­ket and there are two prod­ucts that are dif­fi­cult to re­place: toi­let pa­per and flour.

Toi­let pa­per al­ter­na­tives tend to be cringe­wor­thy for a lot of peo­ple. There’s dried grass – York­shire fog comes highly rec­om­mended for its soft­ness – ded­i­cated, wash­able cloths or sponges (cot­ton is best), a squirty bot­tle filled with wa­ter, or a long, nar­row, rounded stone, ap­par­ently very ef­fec­tive and gen­tle on the be­hind.

Flour al­ter­na­tives are a more com­plex un­der­tak­ing. There are few places where you can suc­cess­fully grow wheat in NZ (most is grown in Can­ter­bury) due to is­sues with fun­gal dis­eases and cli­mate con­di­tions which af­fect its pro­tein lev­els. You need around 100m² to grow enough wheat to sup­ply the flour re­quire­ments of a fam­ily of four for a year. Then there’s the tricky mat­ter of get­ting wheat seeds to the right level of pro­tein to make bread (dif­fi­cult, even in good con­di­tions), then har­vest­ing, dry­ing and pro­cess­ing, fight­ing birds and ro­dents all the way. It’s also dif­fi­cult to store and goes off eas­ily.

Flour al­ter­na­tives are mostly nut­based, and one of the best is the sweet chest­nut ( Cas­tanea sativa). It has a great taste, is rel­a­tively easy to process, stores for a long time, and you can use it to make bread, pasta and cake. When wheat wasn’t avail­able in Italy in the Mid­dle Ages, the chest­nut pro­vided their flour of choice.

A chest­nut is much more like a grain than a nut, nu­tri­tion­ally-speak­ing. It is very low in fat (4-5%, vs 62% for the hazel­nut, and 71% for the pecan), con­tains good qual­ity pro­tein that is close to eggs (5%), and is high in car­bo­hy­drates (78%, close to wheat).

Bet­ter still, one tree will pro­vide enough for one fam­ily, although more trees means bet­ter pol­li­na­tion.

The sharp burrs on the outer shell are the big­gest draw­back – if one falls out of a tree and hits you, it bloody hurts – and you’ll need some­thing like a hand­pow­ered nut har­vester (see www.the­com­pa­, or sheets ly­ing un­der the tree, or thick gloves.

Pro­cess­ing is done ev­ery few days, the raw chest­nuts re­moved from the burr and dried for 48 hours or so to give them time to sweeten up.

The nuts are cooked to loosen the pel­li­cle (the brown outer ‘skin’), usu­ally by steam­ing. They are then pushed through a coarse sieve to re­move the pel­li­cle, leav­ing you with chest­nut ‘meat’, sim­i­lar in looks to fresh bread crumbs. This can be frozen and will last for six months, but you can also freeze the whole nut af­ter har­vest and process it through­out the next 12-18 months, giv­ing you an ex­cel­lent flour sub­sti­tute all year-round.

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