Category Archives: Behind the Scenes

Ever Wonder What a Grit is?

Here at The Old Mill, our products are milled the old-fashioned way. We grind corn into cornmeal or grits using French Buhr Flint Granite stones, just like this mill has done since 1830. The power comes from the sheer force of the Little Pigeon River being diverted by the dam so the water moves through a turbine, which turns the shafts, wheels, and belt connected to the stones. We then have what is called a “grits machine,” which sifts the grits, removing the hull so you get the heart of the kernel of corn. It is electric-powered today, but originally it was fueled by the power of our big water wheel turning. The iconic water wheel still operates grain elevators, which carry the corn to the stones. We think it’s important to stay true to the way corn has always been ground to feed the residents of the Smoky Mountains. Stone-grinding produces meal and grits with more flavor. In our grits, you can taste the corn! And their stone-ground texture works in all kinds of great recipes, from shrimp and grits to a simple bowl of grits with butter for breakfast.
Grits have been milled in the South ever since the native Americans introduced the settlers to the process. They are the backbone of many great mountain recipes, but you need to see for yourself. Come visit us and have our freshly milled yellow grits for breakfast and take home a bag of the yellow or white grits. If you can’t visit the Smokies, you can always order our grits online. September 2nd is National Grits for Breakfast Day, so plan now and you can celebrate with us!

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.

Happy Earth Day!

Here at The Old Mill Square, we have been mindful of how we use natural resources and what our impact on the Earth is, since 1830. The Old Mill itself still uses the very same renewable resource that it has used from the beginning. In 1817, the Little Pigeon River was dammed to divert water into a trough used to carry water to the Iron Forge. Just over a decade later, they used the same system to power the Grist Mill and then a Saw Mill. A new dam was constructed in the early 1900’s and water was diverted to the penstock that is located just under the dam, behind the big wheel that you see. There is a turbine in the penstock that is turned by the passing water and it then turns the stones. The big wheel you see on the front of the mill turns grain elevators inside the mill and moves corn to the stones. So, the entire process of grinding cornmeal and grits is still water powered! At one time, the turbine also powered a generator that produced electricity for the town of Pigeon Forge, but it’s not done that since the early 1930’s. Some of the equipment is still there though and you can see it on a guided tour of the mill.

The millers use mostly human power to complete the process after grinding, with the exception of the grits machine. They fill and weigh the bags out by hand and then tie them with a miller’s knot. They even prep each bag with its label and hand stamp the bag so you know what you are buying.

The Old Forge Distillery uses the sub-products of grinding grits to make its spirits. The corn flour and hull are perfect for their needs. The miller only bags the germ. The distillery’s spent grains are not totally spent when they are done distilling. The Old Mill Pottery House Cafe & Grille then takes the spent grains and makes a flour out of them. They have a bun, that they serve their Old Forge Whiskey Burger on, that is so tender and flavorful that you will never want another burger! One of their chefs also make Barker’s Dozen Dog Treats out of them and they can be found back over at the Old Forge Distillery, where you will see them packaged in recycled distillery jars.

Our Pigeon River Pottery uses gas kilns for the bulk of their firings in making pottery. It’s a much more efficient energy source. In the process of throwing pottery, if any piece is damaged before it is fired, they can reuse that clay. The same goes for any scraps of clay. They mix it back in with clay they have prepared to throw with and eliminate as much waste as possible. If a piece is fired and does not come out the kiln as a first quality, our Gardener uses them around The Old Mill Square in our gardens.

The Old Mill Farmhouse Kitchen works with local farmers and uses their berries and fruits in making our Heritage Line of jams, jellies, and preserves. The jars that they open to sample out to our customers are sent down to the Pottery to be used in making their Fusion Platters, which have a glass bottom. Both of our restaurants use pottery on their tables. Our Old Mill Restaurant has their own table setting of salt & pepper, sugar and flower vases, while the Pottery House Cafe also serves on our pottery. This helps the restaurants keep their supplies quickly at hand, ordering more when they need them and not having to store extras.

Making and using our own products helps reduce our footprint by reducing the number of shipments, which means fewer emissions and less packaging. What we do buy in, and what waste is created in our daily operations, is handled by our Sevier County Waste Management. They have a state-of-the-art system that sorts everything and they are able to recycle and compost 70% of all waste in the county. So, with over 10 million visitors to our area each year, only 30% ends up in a landfill!

We do what we can and we count on you to help with the rest. Remember to recycle, reimage and reuse what you can each and every day. If you are visiting us over this Earth Day Weekend, be sure and stop in the Old Mill Creamery or Candy Kitchen for a delicious Earth Day treat!

Waste not, want not

 

 

“Waste not, want not” has been the Old Mill mantra from the time it was built in 1830.
In its early days when local farmers brought the grains they grew to be milled, they would “pay” the miller with 25 percent of the ground grains. The rest could be used as feed for livestock, or like we do today, it could be used to make whiskey.

“Flours we grind are 100% – Nothing fresher or better anywhere!” Chuck Childers, Head Miller (left)

The Old Mill still carries on that same pioneering ingenuity. Each day, our head miller, Chuck, and his assistant, Delmar Maples (pictured above on right), have to make sure they have enough of the right grains for what’s needed to supply our restaurants, bakeries, and stores, without overproducing. Because the grains are ground fresh with no pesticides or preservatives, they must be packaged and used right away before they spoil or lose their “flour power.” They must be stored carefully, away from sunlight and heat. Chuck advises customers to avoid leaving it in a hot car and, once home, wrapping them airtight and storing in the freezer until ready to use.

Some flour is simply a byproduct of a process, such as grinding grits. When the grits are passed through the sifter to separate the grit from the hull, a dust falls to the bottom of the sifter: Corn Flour. Again, waste not, want not. It’s a great alternative for anyone looking for a gluten-free option in cooking. We use it in many of our signature breading mixes and in our restaurants.

Our Old Mill Restaurant uses over 30,000 pounds of Self-Rising Flour each year, while the Pottery House Cafe bakes mostly with Whole Wheat Flour. The Farmhouse Kitchen and our Creamery like our Plain Flour for cookies, pie dough, pastries and even ice cream cones.

Chuck tells us that he is a big fan of the delicate cookies our General Store manager, Ginger, bakes with Corn Flour. And he’s not the only one, we all love it when she bakes several batches and brings them into work!

Here’s the recipe to try for yourself!

Lemon Corn Flour Meltaway Cookies

Ingredients:

1 1/3 cups Old Mill White Unbleached Flour

1/2 cup Old Mill Yellow Corn Flour

4 tablespoons cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (from 1 large lemon or 2 small)

Directions:

Place the flour, corn flour, cornstarch, and salt in a mixing bowl and stir to combine. Set aside. Cut the butter into tablespoons and place in a large bowl. Add the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest. Blend on low speed until creamy. Add the flour mixture and blend on low until smooth. Turn half of the batter out onto a long sheet of waxed or parchment paper and roll into a 1 1/2-inch-wide log. Repeat with the remaining half of the dough on a second sheet of waxed or parchment paper. Wrap the logs well and chill at least 2 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the logs of dough from the fridge, and cut into 1/4-inch slices. Place about 12 to a baking sheet, and bake until they just turn golden brown around the edges, about 11 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining cookie dough. Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

Note: You can omit the step of rolling the dough into logs and chilling. Instead, roll the dough out thinly and cut into rounds, then bake.

Chuck and Delmar say it’s National Flour Month all 12 months of the year here at The Old Mill! With the grits, cornmeal, mixes, and flours, they bag over 700,000 pounds of freshness every year. It’s a rare trade, and one they take very seriously. However, if you get into a conversation with them, then all seriousness goes out the window!

“We could tie a Miller’s Knot with our eyes closed and one hand behind our back at this point!”  ~ Chuck