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Gratitude & Happiness

Queries on Quality Querns.

on April 20, 2015

Q  is for Quern.

One of the things I do in my efforts to eat healthier is to avoid processed and refined grains, such as corn and wheat. In my search to replace these, I have found many interesting variations created from nuts, seeds and gluten free grains. Have you ever heard of coconut flour? Or Teff? Finding grains and products that have not been modified, are sprouted and use the whole grain is important. This is because of the way the other versions break down into sugar and gluten causing illness, irritation, inflammation and difficulty losing weight.  Now, when I think about how our ancestors used to make flour, and how it was probably of a more natural variety, I see why the quern is so valuable.

 A quern (pronounced KW – ern, the qu is the same as in the word ‘quick.’) is part of a tool made from two circular stones and used as a hand – mill for grinding grain into flours. There are two parts, used in pairs. The lower, stationary  stone is the quern. The upper mobile part is the handstone.

Story of the Stones:

Querns were first used in the Neolithic Era to grind cereals into flour. The early Maya used hard ripe kernels of maize, boiled in water and lime, which produced nixtamal so it could be softened and made into unleavened dough. In Mesopotamia, nuts, seeds, fruit, vegetables, herbs, spices, meat, bark, pigments and clay could be ground. Quite the variety! Some ground materials had traces of arsenic and bismuth or antimony for the preparation of medicine, cosmetics, dyes and alloys. In the Shetlands, tobacco could be ground into snuff.  Laws in Scotland made it a legal requirement for tenants to pay for the use of the Baron’s mill and gave him the right to break quern stones used illegally. This rule was abolished in 2004. The quern, was eventually replaced by millstones once mechanized forms appeared, such as the water and windmill.  Hopefully this made the process much quicker.

The manufacture of querns is often from igneous rock such as basalt. In naturally rough surfaces, the grains do not detach easily, so the material being ground doesn’t become gritty. If the material is not readily available, sandstone, quartzite or limestone may be used.

Kinds of Querns: Their Transformation.

  • Saddle and trough are the earliest known, from 9000 BCE at Abu Hureya, Syria.
  • The Saddle – a rocking/rolling handstone  by push/pulling, shaped like a saddle. The handstone is cylindrical like a rolling pin to crush.
  • Rotary Hand – uses circular motions to grind. Both pieces are circular.  The handstone is heavier and provides the weight for grinding. Sometimes the stones fit each other with the upper being concave and lower convex.
  • Beehive – Earliest to appear in British Isles in middle of Iron Age (400 – 300 BC) and then spread into Northern half of Ireland, from Scotland after the 2nd century BC. It originated 2500 years ago, and in maritime Scotland 200 BC.  (wikipedia.)

A demonstration of how the quern works:



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