I spent some time this summer at my aunt’s house (see Better Than S’Mores for another post from that trip), and one afternoon she took us to the Nora Mill Granary in nearby Helen, Georgia. The granary is a historic (and still operating!) grist mill on the Chattahoochee River. You can buy all sorts of interesting jams, jelly, candy, popcorn and a million other things in the shop there, including grain products ground on-site like flour, porridge and grits. We’ll get to that–but first, a quick history lesson.
Nora Mill grinds its grains with a grist mill powered by the water flow of the river. (At this particular mill, the water feeds into a turbine rather than the vertical wheel you might be envisioning.) Grain is fed through a chute (knocked down by a rod called the damsel) and ground up between two large grinding stones. The stone on the top is the runner stone that rotates to grind the grain. The runner stone can be moved up or down to produce a coarser or finer grind. The stone on the bottom, which is stationery, is called the bedstone. The grooves in the bedstone help to move the grain away from the center and into the chute as it is ground. This grinding method uses the whole grain–the bran, endosperm and germ.
Grist mills were common throughout the United States and Europe until the Industrial Revolution, when the steel roller mill was introduced. This type of mill was much smaller and could be powered by steam, giving it some big advantages over water- or wind-powered mills. However, (according to the tour guide at Nora Mill) grinding whole grains in the steel rollers caused them to gum up due to the germ, so that part of the grain had to be removed prior to grinding. Most of the grains you can buy at the store today have been processed on steel rollers and have had the bran and germ removed during the refining process. (Many “whole grain” products are also processed this way, but have had the bran and germ added back into the mix after the endosperm was ground.)
Nora Mill says its stone-ground cornmeal, grits, oatmeal and other products are more nutritious because they include all the parts of the grain, ground together. They also need to be stored carefully–the granary recommends keeping its products in the fridge or freezer to prevent the germ from going rancid. The little bit of extra care is worth it though. We brought home bags of grits, oatmeal and porridge from the store and everything I’ve tried has been great so far. The grains can take a little longer to cook, but they make up for it in taste and texture.
Here’s my latest creation using the grits and the green cherry tomatoes my patio plant was producing well into October. I followed the instructions on the Nora Mill grits bag and took inspiration from this recipe for sautéed green tomatoes.
Grits and Sautéed Green Tomatoes
For the grits:
- 1/2 cup stone-ground yellow grits
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 tbsp butter
- salt and pepper to taste
For the tomatoes:
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion, sliced into wedges
- 2 cups green tomatoes, chopped or cut in half
- pinch of sugar
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- salt and pepper to taste
- Make the grits: Combine the water, butter and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the grits and whisk until the water boils again. Lower the heat to a simmer, cover and continue to cook for at least 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the grains are tender and the grits reach your desired consistency. Add more water as needed. Season with salt and pepper.
- Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. When hot, add the onions and tomatoes and sprinkle with sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften, about 20 minutes or so.
- Add garlic to the tomatoes and cook another minute or two. Season to taste.
- Serve the grits topped with tomatoes. I ate mine with a little hot sauce.