Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Grinding Grain at a Grist Mill

On Saturday I drove to local Millwood to visit the Burwell-Morgan Grist Mill. I've been wanting to visit here for a while and to get some of their flour which I've heard wonderful things about that is ground on site. Built in 1785 it's one of the oldest working grist mills in the country, grinding corn and wheat on Saturdays. Lt. Col. Nathaniel Burwell built the mill which flourished from the outset and Thomas Jefferson regarded him as one of Virginia's outstanding businessmen. He brought in a partner, Daniel Morgan, to oversee the mill when he wasn't there. Production continued in the mill through to 1953 when it was owned by Ernest Alger. After it closed structural deterioration set in and it was given to Clarke County Historical Association who started restoring the building and finishing in 1971. The waterwheel and gears were restored in the 1990's.
 It's a beautiful stone building surrounded by grass, a few old cottages, and large shady trees with a creek running alongside that I'm sure I saw some watercress growing in. The water leading into the mill was cool and quiet with large koi carp flicking back and forth.
Inside the mill I was pleased to see that it wasn't busy and immediately a young lad approached me and asked if I'd like a tour.
 We started with this small hand mill. He showed how it worked and let me have a go grinding some wheat which didn't seem that hard to do until he explained that this was usually the job of the oldest daughter in the house. She would have to get up early in the morning and grind enough flour for breakfast pancakes and the rest of the day. If it was a large family the chore could take 2-3 hours!
 Looking down on the water wheel. Because this wheel is inside the mill, the mill could run 24/7 and was run by 4 shifts of black slaves.
 There are two of these grindstones on the main level, one for grinding corn and the other for wheat. The ground flour runs down a pipe underneath to a shaker attached to the waterwheel, and removes the chaff. The waterwheel also powers the two grindstones.
The waterwheel and cogs are all greased with lard and the red hue on the wood is because it is red oak. A video of the waterwheel working is here. I was standing right next to the waterwheel when the water was allowed in and it started turning. I had to move fast to avoid a soaking! My young guide was very informative, showing me all 4 levels of the mill, one of which is rented out for functions, including wedding receptions. He explained a lot of the machinery that was standing around the mill, a tool for shucking corn and another for sharpening knives, another for turning the flour on the floor so it would cool as it was hot after being between 2 grindstones. When my tour was finished I wandered around looking more closely at artifacts placed on tables, window ledges and the floor.
 I would never have guessed what this was in a million years. It's a tool for folding and pressing cardboard blanks into 12-egg cartons! From around 1954.
One of the millers packaging the freshly ground rye flour into 2lb bags which apparently is hard work because the flour is so fine and light. It had the consistency of confectioners sugar.
The beautiful hewn marks on the original floorboards.
A hand painted stone done for the mill by a local.
Today the mill is operated by volunteer millers who maintain the machinery and grind the corn and wheat on Saturdays from May through November. The flour is for sale, with no preservatives added,  so I bought some buck wheat, great for pancakes, and some cornflour so I can make cornbread. They told me to keep it in the freezer where it will keep indefinitely.
I was feeling hungry and strolled over to the Locke Store, where a hoard of folks were lining up buying lunch, local produce and local wines.
The quiches looked superb so I got a slice of the tomato ricotta and a piece of cornbread made from the mill flour.
 I took my lunch back over to the mill where a pretty grassy pasture had picnic benches under the large trees. I sat and munched contentedly enjoying the beautiful views. My food was absolutely superb. I have to say that the combination of cheese, tomato and fresh basil is one of the best flavors in the world.
 A lovely collection of money trees at one of the cottages by the mill.
 This building next to the mill intrigued me. The front porch was completely filled with old furniture, mainly chairs. It wasn't a store, there were no lights inside and the entrance was completely blocked. There seemed to be no sign of life. Strange, but interesting.
 The pretty church and community garden in Millwood. There's only about 200 residents living here yet it's a thriving little village that only takes about 10 minutes to walk around. There's also a blacksmiths shop here but that was closed so I'll return another day to see that.
My bags of flour. I see pancakes for breakfast in the very near future.

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