I was driving toward Stokesdale, NC to pick up my dog (it was being boarded while I was on vacation) and passed something that gave me pause. It was a working grist mill! That is something you don’t find everyday.
I had to stop and check it out. The mill, called Old Mill of Guilford, was being tended by a nice lady from Germany. She and her husband had moved to the US to become farmers and she worked at the mill during the week. She told me that she was not the miller, but gave short tours and sold their products from the store. She walked me through the process of grinding and hopping the corn to make grits. They have three millstones and one is 200 years old.
The mill was originally opened in 1764 by Daniel Dillon and was seized by Cornwallis before the Battle of Guilford Courthouse to grind corn for his soldiers. The mill has been working ever since.
After the short tour I ducked into the store at the back of the mill and bought a bag of grits and a bag of oatmeal. There were many other products including polenta, which led me to ask a question that I had always wondered about.
“What’s the difference between grits and polenta?”
“Polenta is ground finer,” says the German woman.
This brought up a memory about the Neapolitan war bride who ran her namesake Angie’s Italian restaurant in Gastonia when I was younger. She told me that she was raised by nuns in an orphanage and when they served polenta she would stick it under the table like chewing gum so she wouldn’t have to eat it. She also had a large portrait of the legendary NC State basketball coach Jim Valvano behind the register and she would sometimes point to it and say that he ate here, but would then get sad and say, “The cancer.”
A funny coincidence happened the next day when we ate brunch at Lucky 32 in Cary and I saw on their menu that they served Old Mill of Guilford grits. It was a pleasant surprise.
Check out their website for more history and products.