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Tim & Alice’s Red Mule Grits (Athens GA)

12 Oct

One recent August afternoon, Tim Mills was sitting at home in a soft chair contemplating grits. Just the evening before, he and his wife, Alice, had a supper of salmon steaks, grits and garden peas. “Take the juice from the vegetable you cook and pour it over the grits. Don’t add something extra. I love it,” he said. Alice Mills loves grits, too. “I love it the plain, simple, ordinary way with salt and pepper and butter. You can’t beat it and I’ve tried doctoring it up using chicken broth instead of water,” she said.

The Millses make grits on their own farm in northeastern Clarke County. The grits, along with corn meal, are ground up in a mill invented by Mills and turned with the power of a mule. They are the makers of Red Mule Grits, which has found its way into several fine restaurants, including the Five & Ten in Athens and the Ritz Carlton on Lake Oconee in Greene County. These grits, like the corn meal and polenta they make, are made from organic corn, with no additives. “We grind to order and whereas most stuff already packaged has a long shelf life, this has to be kept refrigerated because we don’t put preservatives in it. It’s natural corn,” Alice Mills said.

“The Ritz Carlton was getting their grits from a place in South Carolina, until they found they could get ours and get the product in a fresh fashion. And he (the restaurant manager) liked the taste,” she said. The Mills live on a farm off Harve Mathis Road, where they also raise organic vegetables. The small mill where the corn is ground is powered by Luke, a red mule. The mill is certified by the State Department of Agriculture and there’s not another one like it. But mule power doesn’t mean it’s a mill like a great-great-grandfather would have worked.

“There’s not anything antique about the mill system at all,” said Mills.

“The good Lord put it in my mind to do this and the way we’re doing it,” he said matter-of-factly.

“When I thought to do it with a mule, I thought we’d find someone else doing it, but there wasn’t one to be found,” he said. “So I said, OK. I’ll build it. I didn’t have anything to go by at all. When I started it, every kind of gear box you can find gears down, and we had to gear up. I’d run into a stump and I’d come in and sit down. I learned not to ask anything about the mill.” Mills would open his Bible and find inspiration in the scripture.

“I’d go back out there and, one step at the time, we’d come up with it,” he said.

He had to travel to North Wilksboro, N.C., to find the screening for his sifter, which separates the corn meal and the grits as it is ground. “If I had the wrong size screen wire, it wouldn’t work,” he said.

The process of devising his cornmeal was long and accented by trial and error. It took almost three years for Mills to work out the kinks in the operation and his wife was an observer of the entire process. “He couldn’t get it to work,” she said. “It’d break. It wouldn’t hold together. Like I’ve said, it has not been an overnight bingo. It’s been quite a number of years.”

Devising a sifting scheme saved hours of work. “We were hand sifting – talk about a long process. Sitting there for hours and hours with a handsifter was not what we wanted to do. Tim thought if we’re going to grind, we’ve got to have a better way (to sift) and he finally came up with a device that really works.”

The mule provides the muscle for grinding the corn.

“You can ground this meal by hand, but if you got two pounds of grits ground with this by hand you’d be worn out. But with his help, we can grind 100 pounds of grits an hour,” Mills said.

Working the mill is time- consuming, and while the Lord gave him inspiration, Mills said the Lord “won’t do the work for you. ”Today, they grind organic grits and cornmeal for several places in Athens, including the Athens Country Club, Ms. Sarah’s Restaurant and Big City Bread. Yvonne Weems, the sister of Sarah Simmons, who owns Sarah’s, uses cornmeal from Red Mule. “We make the best cornbread in the state. I’ll put this cornbread up against anybody’s,” she said. “It’s awesome. “The key is taking that cornmeal and knowing what to do with it and we do.”

The Mills also make polenta, which was named by a woman in Italy. It seems a woman took some to her grandmother in that country. “She was so impressed she said, ‘You go back and tell those people to make Polenta de Georgia.’ And that’s what the name of our product is,” Alice Mills said.

Polenta is a fine cornmeal or what was called corn mush many generations ago. The Mills also make a porridge made of ground corn, wheat and oats. They don’t make a lot of porridge because they have to grind three grains and mix it to the right ratio, so it takes more time.

While grits are a Southern stable for breakfast, the Mills said it also makes a suitable substitute for potatoes or rice at dinners. In fact, at the fancier restaurants they are used for evening meals. Tim Mills is satisfied with the way his mule-powered mill works. It’s like a step back in time to use a farm animal, but he’s not dependent on electricity, nor is it as primitive as using stones as did American Indians.

“Can you imagine,” he asked, as Luke walked in a circle to power the mill, “if tomorrow didn’t turn out like today? And trying to grind enough corn meal with two rocks to make supper? You wouldn’t have time to do anything else.”

“Air Castle of the South” – WSM

12 Oct

I just received a review copy of this book and finished it in two days. I would highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in the history of country music or in the development of radio as a medium. Havighurst tells this Southern success story with great detail and does a fine job of weaving in interesting sidebars on personalities like Dinah Shore, Minnie Pearl, Sam Phillips, Roy Acuff and many others. I especially enjoyed the behind the scenes anecdotes regarding the early days of the Grand Ole Opry, which really helped to put WSM on the national map. Buy this book — you’ll enjoy it.

Started by the National Life and Accident Insurance Company in 1925, WSM became one of the most influential and exceptional radio stations in the history of broadcasting and country music. WSM gave Nashville the moniker “Music City USA” as well as a rich tradition of music, news, and broad-based entertainment. With the rise of country music broadcasting and recording between the 1920s and ‘50s, WSM, Nashville, and country music became inseparable, stemming from WSM’s launch of the Grand Ole Opry, popular daily shows like Noontime Neighbors, and early morning artist-driven shows such as Hank Williams on Mother’s Best Flour.


Sparked by public outcry following a proposal to pull country music and the Opry from WSM-AM in 2002, Craig Havighurst scoured new and existing sources to document the station’s profound effect on the character and self-image of Nashville. Introducing the reader to colorful artists and businessmen from the station’s history, including Owen Bradley, Minnie Pearl, Jim Denny, Edwin Craig, and Dinah Shore, the volume invites the reader to reflect on the status of Nashville, radio, and country music in American culture.


And for all you Minnie Pearl fans, here’s a clip with Carl Smith …


Chicken Pot Pie – Easy & Comforting

12 Oct

SERVES 6 – 8 adapted this recipe from James Beard’s American Cookery (Little, Brown, & Company, 1980).

1 bunch parsley
1  3–4-lb. chicken
1 pint pearl onions, blanched and peeled
2 carrots, peeled and cut in 1⁄2″ slices
1⁄2 lb. potatoes, peeled and cut in 1″ dice
1⁄4 lb. sugar snap peas, trimmed
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1⁄4 lb. white mushrooms, quartered
4 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1⁄2 tsp. Tabasco
1 recipe Pot Pie Pastry
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tbsp. water

1. Chop enough parsley to fill 1⁄4 cup; set aside. Place remaining parsley, chicken, and half the onions in a large pot with water to cover; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat; simmer 30 minutes. Remove chicken; cool. Pull off meat in like-size pieces; place in a large bowl. Return bones to pot; simmer 1 hour. Strain stock; return to pot over medium heat. Cook carrots, potatoes, sugar snaps, and remaining onions in stock, in batches, just until tender, adding as cooked to chicken.

2. Preheat oven to 450°. Cook garlic and mushrooms in 1 tbsp. of the butter in a small skillet over medium heat for 3 minutes. Add to chicken mixture. In the same skillet, melt remaining 3 tbsp. butter and sprinkle in flour. Stir constantly over medium heat, 2–3 minutes. Stir in 1 cup stock until thickened. Remove from heat and add cream. Add chopped parsley, and season to taste with salt, pepper, and Tabasco. Gently stir sauce into chicken mixture.

3. Prepare pastry. Line a 9″ pan with pastry, fill with chicken mixture, and cover with top pastry. Crimp edges, cut a vent in top, and brush with egg wash. Bake 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350°, and continue baking until crust is browned, about 35 minutes.

“Journey Into Fear” with Orson Welles

12 Oct

This one is pretty rare and currently not available on DVD in the U.S.

I am a huge fan of Welles’ classics such as “Citizen Kane,” “Touch of Evil,” and “The Third Man.” But this one in many ways is just as appealing. Great characters and exotic shadowy locales. The ensemble cast is for the most part the same group (The Mercury Theatre) you see in other Welles’ films. Joseph Cotten, who grew up in my parents home town of Hopewell, VA, plays the lead.

Joseph Cotton, the Pride of Hopewell, Virginia

Seek this film out — I think you will enjoy it.

Journey into Fear is a spy film based on the Eric Ambler novel of the same name. The 1943 film broadly follows the plot of the book, but the protagonist was changed to an American engineer.

In addition to acting in and producing the film, Orson Welles was to direct, but had to leave that aspect to Norman Foster due to other commitments. Many of Welles’ Mercury Theatre associates were cast, including Joseph Cotten, who played the lead role and also co-wrote the screenplay.

In 2005, an alternate cut was shown at a Welles film retrospective at the Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland. It was the original European release print, lacking the narration and ending of the U.S. version but including about six minutes of footage deleted by RKO.