A favorite Old Mill recipe is for Tennessee Chess Pie, a simple southern classic made with just eggs, butter, and sugar, with the addition of cornmeal and vinegar. In parts of the South, and certainly here in the East Tennessee mountains, lemon juice was a scarcity in baking, so vinegar was substituted for flavor. And when thickening was needed in cooking and baking, cooks turned to what they had on hand – cornmeal. So chess pie is a little different than other custard pies, and we love to bake it with our freshly stone-ground yellow cornmeal.
2. Place the sugar and butter in a large bowl and beat until creamy. Add the eggs, vinegar, cornmeal, salt, and milk and stir to combine well. Pour the batter into the pie crust, and place in the oven.
Fresh lemons were a special-occasion ingredient in Smoky Mountain kitchens of old. In everyday cooking and baking, the flavor might be mimicked with apple cider vinegar or buttermilk. But during the Christmas holidays, lemon zest and juice were used in cookies, cakes, and pies. This simple butter cookie recipe – perfect for gift-giving – uses not only fresh lemon zest and juice, but also locally produced yellow self-rising cornmeal and chopped nuts. The nuts were black walnuts or hickory nuts in older mountain recipes, but today, most cooks bake with pecans. Corn was a crop more easily grown than wheat in mountain soil. So sometimes you find cookie recipes from the mountains contained a little cornmeal, adding texture and that little something extra!
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, separated
1 small lemon
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
1. Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Place the flour and cornmeal in a small bowl, and stir to combine. Set aside.
3. Place the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and with an electric mixer beat on medium speed until the mixture is creamy, about 1 to 2 minutes. Set aside the egg white. Place the egg yolk in the bowl with the butter and sugar, and beat on low until just combined, 30 seconds. Set aside.
4. Zest the lemon so you get about 1 teaspoon lemon zest. Add this to the butter and sugar mixture. Cut the lemon in half and juice it to yield 2 teaspoons. Add the lemon juice to the butter and sugar mixture. Add the flour and cornmeal mixture to the butter and sugar mixture, and beat on low speed until just combined and the mixture comes together into a ball, 1 minute.
5. Place the pecans in a shallow bowl. Pinch off 1-inch pieces of dough, roll into balls with your hands, dip into the egg white, and dredge in pecans to loosely coat. Place the balls of dough on a baking sheet, spaced about 2 inches apart. With a fork press down twice on each ball to flatten it. Repeat with the remaining dough. You will need to bake one pan at a time.
6. Place the pan in the oven, and bake until the cookies are deeply golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove with a spatula to a wire rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining dough.
How to make icebox cookies: Roll the dough into a 1 1/2-inch wide log and wrap in waxed or parchment paper. Place in the refrigerator to chill 1 hour. Brush the log with the reserved egg white and dredge in pecans. Slice into 1/4-inch rounds, and bake until golden brown, 7 to 9 minutes. You can omit the egg white and pecans, if desired, for lemon cornmeal icebox cookies.
Cheese grits are the perfect side dish for breakfast and brunch through the holiday season. And they’re even more delicious made with our Old Mill stone-ground grits. To make a souffle of the grits, separate the eggs, beat the whites, and then gently fold the beaten whites into the grits mixture before baking. What you get is a cheese grits side dish that rises to higher heights, sure to impress family and friends. And this elegant but easy side can transition to dinner where it pairs well with roasts, steaks, and grilled fish.
Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Rub the butter on the bottom only of a 2-quart (8-cup) souffle or baking dish and set aside.
Place the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Pull the pan off the heat, and whisk in the grits, a little at a time, until the grits are incorporated. Place the pan back over medium heat, and let the grits come to a simmer. Stir and cook the grits until smooth and thickened, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Turn off the heat, and stir in the salt, pepper, cayenne or nutmeg, cheese, and butter until smooth. Set aside.
Crack the eggs, placing the yolks in a medium bowl and the whites in a large bowl. Beat the egg yolks lightly with a fork, and add a couple tablespoons of the warm grits to the yolks to bring up their temperature. Stir to combine. Repeat this process two or three times, adding a couple tablespoons grits to the yolks, and then turn the yolk mixture into the pan of grits, stirring to combine well. Set aside.
Beat the egg whites on high speed with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour the grits mixture alongside the egg whites in the bowl and fold gently to combine. Turn the mixture into the prepared dish, and place the dish in the oven.
Bake until the souffle rises and is golden brown on top, about 40 to 45 minutes. Serve at once.
1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus 2 tablespoons for the skillet
Place a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Place the cornmeal in a large bowl, and stir in the egg, buttermilk, and 1/4 cup oil until just combined.
Pour 2 tablespoons of the oil in a 10-inch cast iron skillet and place over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, pour the batter into the skillet, and place the pan in the oven. Bake until the top is firm to the touch and the sides are well browned, 25 to 30 minutes. Turn out onto a board and slice into wedges. Serve warm.