I’ll bet from the title you’re thinking this is about the ordeal of getting through each new day.
Nope. That’s not what this is about.
I’m talking gristmills, the places the farmer took his wheat and corn to be ground into meal.
During the 1850’s, more than a 100,000 gristmills dotted the American countryside. They were in great demand because it spelled a farmer’s ruin if he couldn’t get this crops ground. Often he had to wait for weeks before the miller could get to him, depending on how many were ahead of him.
The mills were a community gathering place or social center. Everyone needed to get their grain converted into meal. Often the people packed a lunch and made a day out of it. And many mills had a pond where young and old alike could cool off, and in many instances, throw a line in the water hoping to catch some fish.
Usually the mills were situated on a river or stream and the water powered the large paddlewheel that turned the huge buhrstone and ground the grain into meal.
But in areas where there was little water, horses and mules turned the heavy buhrstones which weighed about 1,200 pounds each and were mostly granite.
Meal that was ground in this method, whether wheat, buckwheat, rye, or corn was very healthy because the oils and germ were retained in the finished product. Not at all like what we buy out of the stores today. Thus, the pioneers’ way preserved all the nutrients and flavors.
In a system that was profitable for all, the farmers gave a certain amount of grain to the miller in exchange. The miller in turn sold his portion of the meal and made a tidy profit. That was the way they stayed in business.
Then along came technology and changed the whole landscape.
Sadly today, there are only about a thousand gristmills—both in working and nonworking condition. Milling has become a lost art, mostly relegated to the pages of history.
The oldest mill in operation is in Wye Mills, Maryland. It was built in 1682 and shipped barrels of flour to the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Today, they offer tours and on the first and third Saturdays of each month from April to November they grind grain into meal and sell it.
War Eagle Mill located near Rogers, Arkansas is another very old, fully operational, mill. They’ve been in business for more than 175 years and hope to keep going a long time.
So, what do you think about my daily grind? Have you ever been to a gristmill or eaten food made from stone-ground meal? I’ve made cornbread from the cornmeal and there’s nothing like it. I wish for the olden times—before technology and modern mills. When we were healthier and possibly happier.