Today is a terrific Saturday to get out and about the Charlotte metrolina region and visit with bustling kids dressed as cupcakes, ghouls or Charlie Brown. If your up and about and drinking coffee – Stop drumming those fingers and wondering. I’ve got three really cool ideas for your Saturday!
#1. Pop on over to the Grover Pumpkin Festival in Grover, NC and enjoy pumpkin pie eating contests, great music featuring Nantucket, Emily Minor, Headless Horseman carriage rides, a Pumpkin Queen, Corn Maze and more… Noon to 8 pm.
#2. Drive up to the Blowing Rock Halloween Festival for the time of your life and see the Monster March Parade (doesn’t even begin until 5:45 p.m. so you have plenty of time), trick or treating in downtown from 6 p.m. until?, huge bonfire, costume contests and a Moonlight Scavenger Hunt complete with flashlights!
#3. Stop in to see Jack Dellinger and his fascinating 1867 Dellinger Grist Mill located where only the eagles fly – in the town of Hawk, NC. I know many of my thousands of readers enjoy the wacky, off the beaten path finds and suggestions I have and this one hits ya straight in the heart.
The mill is an operating, authentic, 19th century, water-powered grist mill. It grinds corn into meal (cornmeal), grits and polenta. It’s the only one of its kind left in the state of North Carolina and was originally built by Reuben Dellinger – Jack’s great-grandfather.
Let me say this, even if you don’t make it out to celebrate Halloween weekend with some corn at Jack’s Dellinger Grist Mill – you want to put this secret place on your life bucket list if you are a foodie, Chef, Good Eats and Meats lover or hunter of amazing old-timey things!
The Dellinger Grist Mill was placed onto the National Register of Historic Places in 1998 and in no small part due to the superlative work of Jack, his wife Leslie and two daughters Sude and Caroline. They are open May through September every third week of the month from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. And October 5 through November 30 daily (except Sunday) from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
The secret to Jack’s wheel are many and are defined here as I do not believe anyone has unlocked his teachings like I am going to as an Executive Chef (having lived on three continents) and wannabe farmer. They are the gears, water power, mountain hardened stone wheels and handmade steel water wheel.
The gears: The gears, other wheels and ratios allow for the axle to transfer speeds so that ultimately the miller gains control much like the control one has at Kinderdijk, Netherlands working the windmills. While Jack was teaching me this and showing me the ratios he commented the plans, ideas and successful blueprints from Europe were utilized here in the Americas. I know exactly what he is talking about having been to the millers homes inside of the windmills in the Netherlands.
Water power: Aside from being free (after building a dam or channel may be needed) this form of power virtually provides a consistent source of unlimited strength. Additionally, the cost of it to continue to operate and pay the power bill is virtually non-existent! For a miller it is very important. Not to mention the hidden fact that the dam provides natural aeration for a fisherman’s paradise and the crwadads I saw climbing the banks. I never, ever knew that there were crawdads (little lobsters) in NC!!! My wife, Chef Stormy looked at me and said, “yeah, I used to be with them when I was a little girl on the farm when I went fishing everyday.” Well, excuse me baby – but you never told me about some crawdads. I love crawdads! Now I don’t have to travel to New Orleans for Jambalaya. Oh, I’m just kiddin’ – I make an awesome Jambalaya. I guess the power of water overtook me in a surprising way when I exclaimed aloud, “look at that lobster, look, look, look!” Of course everyone looking at me like I was a jack-ass is always fun (I was born for the stage).
Mountain hardened stone wheels: I think this one is a given – I must admit. Stone coming out of the raw mountains is hard as heck and will grind anything put in between it and another stone. Into dust. And dust is important. Not a lot of people have the guts, like I do, to reach right down and get some of the meal falling out of the Chestnut wooden shaft and eat it. First off, it has a wonderful Chestnut woody flavor to it from the natural trees sawed and formerly growing by the Cane Creek. Secondly, you grind corn (you’ll be surprised to find many have no idea about this part, gosh knows I didn’t) into a fine dust to make, “meal,” (cornmeal) which is needed for today’s cornbread recipe. Try a slice of cornbread crumbled on top of chili. See the real, Southern boy recipe below. “Folks swear by my recipe and our stone ground mountain meal, Marti,” Jack related to me.
If you want to make grits, you don’t grind it as much. Simple. New to the gourmet scene though is Polenta (we Italians love making Polenta like a hot mush and served much like you would serve mashed potatoes) and took Jack by surprise. “I had actually never heard of this until a gourmet Chef, Bob Francisco, like you – spoke with me about it.”
My friend, Reg Alexander, also mentioned to me yesterday, “What’s Polenta?” I regaled, “Reggie,” with my stories of the first time I served Polenta to President Clinton – he loved it and asked to see me out in the dining room to explain about it and share. Now that’s one hell of a nice boss to have when they invite the Chef to come out and chat!
Like Bill, Hillary and Chelsea seated at the table – I also explained to Reggie that we Italians love cornbread and cornmeal. What a surprising connection from Italy to the White House to Arkansas where he grew up. Not too mention that corn is a vegetable and the President’s entire family is focused on healthy, vegetable based eating. Laura Bush, like Michelle Obama are also two other first ladies very focused on healthy dining – a trend in modern first ladies that greatly was advanced when Hillary entered the White House. Essentially we are talking about cornmeal Polenta and water mixed together in a pot, stirred and served as mush.
The other ways we Chefs serve it to let it harden after spreading it out on a cutting board. At times we may add herbs to the mush while it is still soft. We design and add sliced olives, olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted vegetables or asparagus to the top – pressing it down into the almost hardened Polenta. Another technique is to slice it into pieces with string or a knife and then grill it.
I had not mentioned it yet, but Polenta is the very least ground of all three products sold – making it the most coarse.
Handmade steel water wheel: The secret, non-rusting water wheel manufactured by the Fitz Water Wheel Company of Hanover, Pennsylvania is very near where I was born and raised. The brass plate that identifies its number as #13779 is as interesting as the Roman numeral system of putting each of the eight, 500 pound pieces together correctly. Jack left out no small details in his teachings. “This wheel weighs two tons, Marti, so a system of bringing it down here on wagons was essentially as important to the secret metals used in it’s firing that have been tested and proven to rust very little.”
When I start my grist mill operation – I want the secret steel for my wheel.
I bought a book that Jack published (fascinating) $10.00, a bag of meal, grits and polenta for $25.00 and a DVD. He also sells greeting cards, shirts and more. His products are sold in local towns like Spruce Pine and elsewhere and I will be introducing them to Nate and Wendy over at Knife and Fork Restaurant. Maybe we can help spread the good word about Jack and what he is doing or maybe you’ll help also?
Jacks Secret Recipe for Cornbread told to me by him and written down. It is actually named Ray Dellinger Cornbread Recipe:
2 Cups plain sifted cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg (or two egg whites or imitation eggs)
1/4 cup of cooking oil (or healthy handmade onion oil)
Enough milk (Jack prefers buttermilk) (or healthier milk options like Almond milk or Soy milk depending on your Doctor’s advice or program)
Mix and place in pan or greased (or wax paper if grease is being avoided, oil or use spray oils like Canola or Olive in your own spray pump) pan in a preheated oven of 425 degrees approximately 30 minutes or until brown.
You’ve got a great day ahead of you, now get out there!
Directions to Dellinger Grist Mill
404-431-3999 or 828-688-1009
For GPS enter Bakersville NC, 52 Maple Street and follow signs (look) to mill. DO Not use 4020 Cane Creek Road for GPS it will send you to Henson’s Creek where you can see the mill but cannot get there.
From I-40 in North Carolina or I-81 in Tennessee and from the Blue Ridge Parkway:
Go to Bakersville, the county seat of Mitchell County, N.C.
There is one traffic light in Bakersville and it is located adjacent to the old courthouse. Turn onto Mitchell Avenue going east, which becomes Cane Creek Road ( State Road 1211 ) as you leave Bakersville. Go exactly four miles, with no turns. The physical address is 4020 Cane Creek Road. Dellinger Mill has a large sign on the right side of the road. The access road for the Mill is about 20 feet past the sign. The mill parking lot is near the mill, down the access road on the right side of Cane Creek Road.