Category Archives: From our Old Mill Restaurant

The Old Mill Restaurant celebrates 25 years!

A new restaurant began construction in late 1992 along the banks of the Little Pigeon River. A few families got together and formed a partnership to enter into this new venture. That was Al & Mary Nell Blanton, Ben & Patsy Frizzell, and Cotton & Sarah Berrier. They wanted to bring families together in a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere, feed them well and invite them to return. A great place for local families to work was also very important and over the years there have been as many as 4 generations of the same families working here. They also wanted the restaurant to mean something, have a connection, and that is when they came up with The Cornflour Restaurant. The name came from the largest source of inspiration; the grist mill next door. The Old Mill, of course, dates back to 1830 and has been grinding corn since the first turn of the water-powered stones. Cornflour is a sub-product of making grits. Grits are sifted, after being ground, to remove the larger parts of the hull. During this process, the dust that falls to the bottom of the grits machine is called corn flour. The restaurant opened its doors in the fall of 1993.

It was in 1995 when the Stout/Simmons family, who had owned and operated the grist mill and adjoining general store for about 67 years, decided to sell. They wanted us to be the ones to carry on the legacy that they and the other 5 previous owners had built. We were honored to do so and that’s when the name of the restaurant was changed to The Old Mill Restaurant. The mill has always been privately owned and operated. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Tennessee Civil War Trail. The Old Mill itself had many names over its 150 preceding years, and many other industries were house inside the building as well, but more about that in another post. It was in the mid-1950’s that tourism began to really take hold in Pigeon Forge and the name was changed to The Old Mill. Its name and image became synonymous with the town. It’s a name that will stay forever.

For the past 25 years, the very same owners, and many employees who have been with us from the very beginning, and are very much a part of our larger family, have welcomed visitors from all over the world. On our busiest days, we take care of more than 3,000 guests from breakfast to dinner. In the beginning, corn was part of every course of the meal by using the corn flour, grits, cornmeal, and corn. Our customers told us what they loved best about the menu and today every lunch and dinner begins with a bowl of fresh Corn Chowder and a basket of Corn Fritters with maple butter. And, for dessert, we serve over 1200 slices of Pecan Pie a day, along with a fresh baked seasonal cobbler, banana pudding, and chocolate cake.

Over the next few months, we will share some of our quarter of a century history and let you get to know more about some of the fine folks you have probably met when you visited. And, we want to see your memories as well. We invite you to send pictures of your family enjoying some time with us. Please send them to customerservice@old-mill.com. Some of your pictures may be included in an upcoming blog post, on social, or maybe even in print. So, if you send us something, it is with the understanding that you have given us permission to use it.

While we can’t share an anniversary cake with all of you, we can share a recipe so you can make one and your whole family can enjoy it! You may have seen it in the last post. We’ve decided we wanted to celebrate with a cake as synonymous with the Appalachian region as The Old Mill, so we are making the prettiest Apple Stack Cake we’ve ever seen! Be sure and keep your inbox open for us, for that and many other recipes.

Old Mill Historian and 20-year employee, Jimmy Proffitt, can be reached at jimmy@old-mill.com if you have any questions or would like to share any family history connection you may have with The Old Mill.

Easy Hushpuppies for Your Next Fish Fry

As summer winds down, weekends become even more important for gatherings for family and friends. A weekend spent fishing can reel in more than just a good catch. Around here, we have lots of favorite fishing spots, but you don’t have to catch it to enjoy it. As a matter of fact, the conversations in the kitchen and around the table make it all taste better anyway. We love a good fish fry and we like to experiment with flavors, so we’ve taken inspiration from our Corn Fritters and added corn to the hushpuppies. It’s a great savory treat with just a hint of sweetness from the corn.

Easy Hushpuppies

Ingredients:
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons fresh corn kernels
1 tablespoon finely chopped jalapeno or bell pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion, if desired
Vegetable oil for frying
Directions:
Place the hushpuppy mix, egg, and buttermilk in a mixing bowl. Stir with a fork just to combine. Fold in the corn, pepper, and onion, if desired. Set aside.
Place enough oil in a large, heavy skillet or pot to measure 2 inches deep. Heat over medium-high until the oil is hot, 365 degrees on a thermometer. Scoop or spoon generous tablespoons into the hot oil. Cook, turning once, until golden brown, about 3 minutes.
Makes 12 hush puppies.
We also have a great Catfish Breading, so stock up on both!

Old Mill Jams, Jellies, & Preserves – Meet the man who makes them

Here at The Old Mill, we take canning seriously. It’s a craft well known in the mountains, for it was the way we preserved one season to the next. In our kitchens, John Wethington keeps the craft alive by creating small batches of berry jams and preserves for us. He cans about 40 jars at a time.
Made with strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries grown by local farmers, these jams are made the old-fashioned way. Which is how John learned to make them. He learned how to skim off the impurities that turn to foam when the jam is cooking, and how long to boil down the jam so it sets. “It’s time-consuming, but I enjoy it,” says John.
For the Old Mill Heritage Line of jams, jellies, and preserves sold at the Old Mill, the fruit comes from local growers. Blackberries, elderberries, and muscadine are just a few of the ingredients that go into John’s jams. It’s a way for us to share a taste of the mountains with you, and it’s a way for The Old Mill to support local farming. Farmers in nearby Madisonville, Maryville, and Greenville, TN, are contracted by the Old Mill to grow fruits and berries.
John works his craft out of the Farmhouse Kitchen and the Candy Kitchen depending on which jelly or jam he is making, and for which line. Come see him! During summertime, when peak berry season has arrived, John makes plenty of Triple Berry Jam, The Old Mill’s best-seller. He makes about four batches a day, or about 750 jars a week to keep up with the summer demand. He also makes gallons of the Triple Berry Jam for the Old Mill Restaurant to serve to every table at breakfast, seven days a week. Strawberry is typically the first berry we get in each season, and for a limited time, it is being sampled at breakfast too.

We Love Southern Fried Chicken

 

Here in the Great Smoky Mountains, we appreciate the legacy of the simplest and most powerful southern recipe – fried chicken. In our Old Mill Restaurant we fry up more than 100 pounds of chicken each day, and it, by far, is the most requested menu item.

Why? Our chicken is crisp on the outside, and it’s moist inside. Which for the home cooks can be a bit of a struggle. One of the earliest recipes for fried chicken was in the 1828 cookbook called the Virginia House-Wife, written by Mary Randolph. Her instructions were clear – find fresh chicken, cut it up, soak in salted water, toss with flour and seasonings, and pan-fry.

For the past seven years, Randy Tucker has been in the kitchen at the Old Mill Restaurant, in charge of frying the 100 pounds or more of chicken that is served during lunch and dinner.
What makes the chicken so special is how it is cooked, says Randy. The Old Mill has two large pressure cookers, in which the chicken is both fried and pressure cooked to doneness. This keeps the crust crisp and the inside moist – two hallmarks of great fried chicken.
“Chicken has to be crispy, but it can’t be overcooked,” according to Randy, who has been cooking all his life in the East Tennessee area. “I like chicken that’s really moist and tender. So we just use fresh chicken, bread it with the Mill breader, add some garlic and seasoning of our own, and fry it.”

But without a pressure cooker/fryer at home, Randy realizes the home cook cannot duplicate exactly the famous Old Mill chicken. You just have to come here to enjoy it, he says. The closest you can get to it is to pan-fry it to golden and then finish cooking it in the oven. When he is at home in his kitchen, Randy fries boneless chicken pieces, and after browning them in hot oil, he covers them lightly with foil and places in a 300-degree oven for about 30 minutes to cook through.

“Cooking is a lot of fun,” he says. “I learn something new every day.”

Sounds simple enough. Fried chicken has simple ingredients – just chicken, seasoning, flour, and oil for frying. But therein lies the dilemma – how to do it best. Because the simplest recipes are often the most difficult.

First, the chicken. The best is whole and you cut it up yourself. Buy as small a chicken as possible, under three pounds if you can find it at your supermarket. And to cut up the chicken, it goes something like this: With a sharp boning knife and a pair of poultry or kitchen shears, remove the legs, thighs, and wings. To separate the breasts, press down on the chicken, and cut through the cartilage that connects the two chicken breasts. You will have eight pieces of chicken for frying. Or, you can purchase chicken pieces – thighs, legs, wings, breasts – separately and fry what you like.

Some people soak chicken first in buttermilk, but purists like Mary Randolph recommended just salted cold water. Then toss in seasoned flour. The easiest way to do this is to place 2 cups of flour in a brown paper sack, add 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, then shake and fry. Or, use the Old Mill’s Chicken Breading, which makes frying even easier!