Thursday, May 29, 2008

WHITE'S MILL: STONE-GRINDING CORN

In our travels, we keep an eye out for grist mills so that we may purchase fresh stone-ground grits. The flavor and nutrition is too good to pass up and our efforts are always well rewarded.

Recently, we visited White's Mill near Abingdon Va where we were shown through the mill by George Price, the president of the White's Mill Foundation and Jennifer Kling, chair of the operations committe for the mill.

Price and Kling are in the process of preserving and restoring the mill through their non-profit foundation and are deep into the process of procuring and administering state and federal grants for that purpose.

The mill dates from about 1790 and the earliest mill at the site was built by John Lewark, a Welshman who was originally a shipwright and later a millwright. He came to this country prior to the 1812 and was shipwrecked on the coast of North Carolina, near Kittyhawk. He served in the War of 1812 and lived to be ninety-six years of age.

Contact information for the mill is: http://www.whitesmill.org/; White's Mill Foundation, P.O. Box 63, Abingdon, VA 24212, 276-628-2960. They are open Wednesday-Saturday from 10-6 and are closed for January and February.

The videos accompanying this posting show an overview of the mill and what it looks like. The second video shows Kling providing a demonstration of the grinding process for grits and corn meal.
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SOURCES: George Price/Jennifer Kling, The White's Mill Foundation; Highland Mills by Clarence Baker Kearfott (B & I Printing, 1970)

A Yankee's Guide to Grits: Chapter 1, What Is Grits?

First, a little housekeeping......grits is a singular noun in spite of ending with the letter "s." It takes some adjustment and feels awkward, but I will try to use the word properly.

What is grits?

Grits is made from dried corn kernels known as flint corn. Most grits comes from white corn though yellow corn is also used. Grits was traditionally ground at grist mills powered by adjacent running water from streams or rivers. The force of the water turned huge water wheels to power two giant mill stones or burrs for grinding the corn.

Screens sift the ground corn yielding a chaff, the most coarse of the grinds, that is fed to farm animals. The remaining two products from grinding the corn are grits and corn meal. Grits is more coarse than corn meal.

Grits is customarily boiled in a liquid until it congeals until it becomes thick. Corn meal is used in baking and can also be boiled like grits for a dish called polenta (common in Italian cooking).

Stone-ground grits is a very nutritional product and has better taste than commercially produced varieties due to its being a ground whole-grain. Because the oil from the germ remains after grinding, grits is perishable and should be refrigerated or frozen.

The health benefits of whole-grains are well documented and grits is an excellent and tasty way to consume whole fiber.


In the supermarket, I see several types of grits. How do they differ?

You will likely encounter instant grits and quick grits. Stone-ground grits is not as common, but are clearly my preference in eating grits.

Instant grits is "made by cooking grits and then taking out the water so that they can be reconstituted quickly with boiling water." (Neal and Perry). To me, instant grits is the least preferable variety.

Quick grits differ from stone-ground grits (sometimes called old-fashioned grits) because the germ is removed and the "starchy endosperm is ground." Quick grits is ground more finely than the old-fashioned, stone-ground variety. This style of grits can produce a fine serving of grits and is very tasty.

SOURCE: GOOD OLD GRITS COOKBOOK, Bill Neal and David Perry. Workman Publishing, New York, 1991.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

I AM A DYED-IN-THE-WOOL CUSTOMER OF STUART'S SPICES IN ROCHESTER NY






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You may be wondering why someone writing a food blog from "deep in the heart of Florida" is writing about a spice company located just south of the Canadian border.



The answer is easy (albeit with background info added).



Nearly three years ago, I married my wife, Sue, who is originally from Rochester, New York. We often head north to her house that she owns there. The region's landscape, architecture, ethnic cuisines, and fabulous music scene are jewels for joy even in summer or winter.



The Rochester Public Market is the crown jewel. The market is a smorgasboard of fresh fruits and vegetables, seafood, etc. and is a first stop for me when I hit town. I walk the long aisles in complete amazement at the variety and quality of produce sold there.



While first shopping at the market, I had the good fortune to come across Stuart's Spices located in a stall near the entrance to the market area. Stuart and his wife are the finest of people. They are religiously faithful, ethical, perfectionists, and hard-working. They take great pride in their small business that sells hand-produced spices and extracts and, in my opinion, are the type of business people that has made our country great.



Quality drives their business and their spices are always fresh and pungent. I rarely buy any other spices and pick mine up when in Rochester or over the internet (http://www.stuartsspices.com/).



Fine cooking must have fresh ingredients of the highest quality. You will get nothing but that when you buy their products. I guarantee it.



Click the arrow on the two videos with this post to see Stuart's Spices and views of the market.







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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

RECIPE: Rabbit a la Carr




RABBIT A LA CARR

In the forties and fifties, my parents lived on NW 6th Place in Gainesville, Florida where my father was early in his career as an English professor. Their neighbors across a sandy back alleyway were Archie and Margie Carr. Archie would soon be recognized throughout the world for his research into sea turtles as well as his vivid writings about his field work in Costa Rica and other parts of Central America. Margie, later known by the more formal Marjorie, had a similar impact on Florida environmental affairs and, singlehandedly, marshaled support to stop the boondoggle Cross Florida Barge Canal.

My memories of them are dear and precious and I particularly remember many evenings over fine food and spirits listening to the Carrs and my parents carry on with maximum hilarity and intelligence. Enveloped by the drone of crickets and summer frogs in pre-air-conditioning days, life could not have been richer.

My father told me that often he would hear Archie shooting in the woods for squirrels and rabbits to feed his enlarging brood of fine children. Now those woods have been developed and shooting would be an imprisonable offense. I suspect this recipe came from those earlier days.

If you are timid about rabbit, try this recipe with chicken.

Ingredients:

One cut up rabbit, washed with vinegar and water solution
1 cup, flour
Salt and pepper to your taste
1/2 cup, peanut oil

Preparation:

Heat oil in a Dutch oven, preferably cast-iron
Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees
Place flour, salt, and pepper in plastic zippered bag
Shake until meat is coated
Remove from bag, shaking off excess flour mixture
Add to skillet and brown to a crusty golden color on all sides
Add ½ cup of water and 5 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
Cover and place in oven for two hours
After one hour, add ½ cup of port and one pound of mushrooms browned in butter in a separate skillet

Friday, May 09, 2008

I Have Drawers and Cabinets Overflowing with Spice Bottles

With some purchases for the home, it is better to start out right, buy high quality, and avoid choosing the "cheap" alternative. In my case, I have owned many cheap flashlights or shovels that end up breaking or bending in the first year. It took me decades to learn the folly of my ways. Buy right at the git-go and never buy again.

In my kitchen, up until now, I have not found a satisfactory way to store spices. I tried every available alternative and none easily and conveniently store the wide range of spices that I own. I buy and discard spice storage systems in the same way that I bought and discarded flashlights and shovels.

My kitchen drawers have been overloaded with spice jars and cabinets with lazy susans crammed full too, making it impossible to see what I had on hand. Plus, leaving spices in this "lost and found" state virtually guaranteed that they would age past any potential for potency and flavor. Some developed an aroma more like black dirt than pungent spices.

The spice storage systems that I located in local stores were not large enough for my needs. Usually, they held only a paltry amount of spices and were useless for this adventurous home cook.

As I had learned with flashlights and shovels, I decided to drop a few extra bucks, get the right product, and keep it for decades. I think I have found the way out of my morass.

The Kamenstein canisters fit that bill and are solving my spice storage problems. I first saw them on the Food Network (as I was surfing for ideas for the redesign of our kitchen) and I have purchased a test set of six of the canisters.

I have not bought the strip yet, but the canisters, filled with my fundemental spices, are all in a row on the side of my microwave. Slap 'em on and they stay. I am very pleased. So far, so good.

Using this storage system, I can now buy spices in bulk at the amount that I will likely use and not be stuck with aging spices in jars with embarassing expiration dates (one friend had some in her cabinet older than her 23 year old son). Plus, I will no longer bear the costs of packaging and, through the better vendors, my spices will likely be fresher at the time of purchase.

Hopefully, my search for the proper spice storage system is over. I am pleased with the result.

If you are looking for a spice source, my recommendation is http://www.stuartsspices.com/ located in a suburb of Rochester, NY. I buy from them at the Public Market in Rochester or you may find their products at their store, on-line, or by phone.

Oh by the way. I now buy Sears top-of-the-line shovels and, for flashlights, only Mag-Lites.





Kamenstein® 5 canister magnetic strip rack w/spices from Pfaltzgraff.com

Thursday, May 08, 2008

THURSDAY DOWNTOWN FARMERS MARKET IN GAINESVILLE WAS BUSY. PLAN AHEAD TO AVOID PARKING PROBLEMS

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I had errands downtown and was able to get to the farmers' market on the town square early, shortly after 4. There were lots of customers early for the market that is open from 4-7. Based on earlier trips there, I would recommend shopping early as some vendors sell out of their prime produce before closing.
The variety at this market is greater than the farmers' market held on Saturdays near the Highway Patrol station. Sweetwater Coffee was selling coffee and assorted "hippie" crafts (soaps, incense, etc) abounded. Produce seemed in full flourish with lots of lettuces, zukes, yellow squash, herbs, cucumbers, tomatoes on hand. One truck was selling milk and grass fed beef. A fair amount of plants were on sale for herbal gardeners. I saw a limited amount of small citrus and other fruit trees available too.
The parking options are challenging and I used the parking garage. Carpooling might be a good idea or taking the bus which has stops right at the courthouse square area where the market holds court. With some planning, access to the market will be easier.