Afterwards, lax and very decorative spikes develop, first green and with a straw yellow maturation. They contain oval seeds of about 3 mm, which, depending on the variety, can be white, yellow, green, brown or even reddish. Once peeled and ready for consumption, they will all appear in a beautiful pearly white.
Cultivation for human food purposes is not widespread in Europe: these are generally small plots dedicated to organic farming.
Recently, however, the interest in it has increased sharply as it is rich in minerals and vitamins, as well as being valuable for celiac sufferers as it is gluten-free.
Extensive cultivation in Europe is linked to the use of seeds as animal feed, especially for poultry. In the American continent it is also appreciated for the supply of good fodder for cattle.
The Green Mile
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Origins and history
Millet originates from China and the Far East, where it has always been grown both for the production of animal feed and as an alternative to rice for human consumption. Its relative ease of cultivation and resistance to drought have favoured its spread throughout the Asian continent (especially in India) up to Africa, where it is still extremely popular today, representing an indispensable ingredient in the diet of many countries.
In these areas, its importance has never faded: still today it is the sixth cereal cultivated in the world and almost a third of the population of our planet usually feeds on it, in various forms. In Italy it spread especially in the early Middle Ages, for the ease of cultivation. It was thanks to this cereal that many populations were able to overcome famine and it was an important aid during the sieges.
It was mainly used after being reduced to small granules and fired like a polenta. Its primacy remained unbeaten until the arrival of maize from the American continent (whose cultivation, however, requires more water and fertilization).
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Exposure and soil
To have a vigorous growth and a good harvest, it is essential to dedicate to the millet a plot well exposed to the sun, that is to say that it is illuminated at least 6 hours a day, preferably in the middle.
It prefers well-draining and light soils, with a good quantity of sand and not too rich. On the contrary, we must absolutely avoid the clayey ones, heavy and without drainage: we would surely face radical rottenness and cryptogams will rise more easily.
How to prepare the plot
We work in advance the area (which should not be too small, given the low yield), possibly already the previous autumn. In the case of a compact substrate, we incorporate a good quantity of sand and a little well-seasoned organic soil improver.
Sowing should be done in early spring, ensuring that there is no more frost and that the soil has already been well warmed by the sun. Let’s further crush the soil, cleaning it carefully from all the roots.
This will help the plant to grow well and make it easier for us to harvest. It is not uncommon that it is difficult to distinguish the ears of millet from those of some spontaneous, contaminating (sometimes even dangerously) the product.
Let’s create furrows about 20 cm apart and about 5 cm deep. Let’s deposit the seed leaving 4 seeds every 5 cm. Cover with a hoe and water abundantly.
The first weeks after sowing will be the most challenging: it will be necessary, in the absence of rain, to irrigate often. The soil should never dry out completely (or be soaked in water).
Germination takes place in a favourable climate within the first week. In addition to keeping the area free from weeds, we must continue to keep the soil slightly moist for at least the entire first month.
It will then be completely autonomous until the time to proceed with the collection.
Depending on the geographical area and climate, harvesting may take place from mid-August to the end of September. To know the right time to proceed, wait until the stems and leaves are completely dry. At that point we will wait at least a week and then we can test if the seeds are ripe: they will be if they come out easily from the film that surrounds them, once we have rubbed them in the palm of your hands.
Then we’ll proceed by cutting the entire plant at the base and creating bouquets. They should be hung upside down, spreading clean cloth underneath. To let out all the seeds we will have to “beat” them repeatedly with a stick.
The remaining stems are excellent as fodder for all farm animals, from cows to rabbits. Alternatively we can use them as winter mulch, at the foot of the ornamental plants.
Pests and diseases
It is an extremely resistant grass. Its only enemy is radical rot, caused by excessive irrigation and poorly draining soil.
It is not even affected by pests and therefore it will not be necessary to use plant protection products.
On the contrary, you have to be very careful with the birds, as they really enjoy them. For this purpose, we can set up nets on the plots. Alternatively, a scarecrow or any object that moves in the wind creating glitter or sudden sounds is always useful.
Millet can be kept for a long time if it is harvested at the right stage of ripeness. Very important to avoid molds is to leave it for a few days in a cool, ventilated and dry place. We can then place it in hermetically sealed cans to be placed in a dry and possibly dark place.
The mile, for an animated garden
A small cultivation of millet, in addition to meeting personal needs, can be very useful to make the garden more alive. Its seeds are a food much loved by a large number of birds. It is advisable to always leave a part of them at their disposal and continue the distribution even during the winter, thus helping them to overcome a really hard period. If desired, we can make fat balls to hang on the trees.
Their realization is very simple: just melt margarine (better than butter, because it does not rancidize) and mix in the millet, sunflower seeds, pumpkin, flax or a mixed product for birds. Finally, pour into a mould and let it cool down.
The mile in the kitchen
As we have said, millet is a very interesting cereal and should also be used more frequently in western cuisine. In addition to the calories of carbohydrates, it can boast the intake of basic vitamins (such as those of the B group). Very important to combat stress, fatigue and some neurological phenomena, they are naturally present to a greater extent in the wholemeal product (with, therefore, the outer skin).
By using it we will also exponentially increase the intake of dietary fibres (useful for improving intestinal transit and giving a sense of satiety) and minerals, such as potassium, zinc, manganese and magnesium.
As we said before, this cereal is completely gluten-free: it can therefore be used with peace of mind by coeliacs. The industry is looking for it more and more frequently to obtain mixes suitable for the preparation of biscuits, cakes, pasta and other substitute products.
People who are not sensitive to gluten, on the other hand, can mix it 10-20% with wheat flour. We can then knead and obtain a multigrain bread extremely interesting for its consistency and delicate hazelnut flavor.
Millet can be used in many different ways: in salads, for creating polenta or delicious first courses. Moreover, thanks to its delicate taste, it can become the main ingredient of many desserts, appreciated even by children.
In supermarkets, organic shops and herbalist shops you can easily find whole-grain millet, husked, flaked or reduced to grain (or even flour). It is not difficult for the bakery to find ready-made mixes
How to cook the millet
In the kitchen the most used is the husked millet. To get the most out of it, it is important to wash it thoroughly under running water before cooking. We will have to repeat the operation until the liquid is completely clear. At this point let it drain well. Finally, put it in a pan with a drizzle of oil and toast it until it is golden.
Then add twice its volume in water and slowly bring to a boil, keeping it on the fire until all the liquid has been absorbed. We turn off, cover to keep warm and wait for it to swell.
It can be enjoyed in combination with legumes (so we will have a right mix of carbohydrates and proteins) or vegetables. Excellent also when cold, in salads or as an imaginative alternative to couscous.
An excellent and nutritious sweet, also suitable for children, is the Budwig Cream. It is obtained by flouring the grains raw and then mixing in seeds, yogurt, honey and cereal flakes. It is a good substitute for muesli for a healthy and hearty breakfast.