True Grits – Elmore County Miller Serves Up Meal and Memories
Those who are old enough to remember hauling corn to the local grist mill will never forget the toasty smell of fresh-ground cornmeal or the way fine powder from the mill coated every hair on the miller’s head–turning him prematurely gray.Many also remember filling canvas bags and cotton pillow cases with meal, still hot from the millstone, and carrying it home where iron skillets awaited to turn the speckled meal into piping pones of cornbread.Today, however, there are only a handful of grist mills left. So when Joe Lambrecht and his wife, Patty, opened Oakview Farms Granary two years ago in Elmore County, they weren’t surprised when people started lining up on Saturday mornings to reminisce.”The older folks always have a story to tell about how they took their mule and wagon to the mill and how the miller took his toll (by keeping a portion of the product for himself),” Lambrecht said. “But people also bring children who have no idea how grits and cornmeal are made.”An automobile service department manager by trade, Lambrecht first got interested in grist mills by watching other millers grind meal at mule shows. That was five years ago. Today, he has four grist mills, including one built in the early 1900s he uses to make flour and another from the 1940s that’s set up to grind cornmeal and grits.Although the working parts of the mills are original, Lambrecht has converted the drive mechanism from long, flat belts to safer, more compact V-belts. He also has installed a sifter that allows him to remove the bran from the meal and a series of finer screens for separating grits from meal.The entire operation–including a retail outlet–is housed in a 1,600 square foot, two-story building located behind the Lambrechts’ home. Visitors can find Joe there each Saturday morning between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., sipping coffee and listening to the gentle hum of the mill.”When I come down here on Saturday mornings, I’ll get the mill started then sit back in my rocking chair and listen to it run,” Lambrecht said. “After running it for two years, I can tell by the sound and smell whether it’s running right.”Meanwhile, Patty, who decorated the retail area with an antique stove and other old-fashioned treasures, is busy preparing cornbread, beer bread or one of her other specialties for customers to sample. For many visitors, however, the highlight of their visit is feeding Joe’s mules, Bill and Clyde. Celebrities in their own right, Bill and Clyde appeared in the movie adaptation of Truman Capote’s The Grass Harp–for which they were paid $350 (tax free). Joe, who drove the mule wagon, was paid just $50, and the movie company sent him a W-2. When they are not starring in movies, Joe often accompanies Bill and Clyde to Montgomery’s Old Alabama Town where he takes visitors on mule-drawn wagon rides.On Saturdays, however, there’s little time for mule rides. With a steady stream of walk-in customers plus online and mail-order sales, the Lambrechts are grinding up to 1,000 pounds of corn and wheat each week.”When we started, our biggest market was the 60-plus crowd,” Lambrecht said. “But now, people who like natural, non-processed foods are finding us and buying our products.”Lambrecht said he has shipped meal and grits to customers as far away as Alaska. Most find him through his website, www.oakviewfarms.com, but he also sells his products to restaurants in Montgomery and Auburn.So just what makes his grits, meal and flour so special? Lambrecht said it’s all in the germ.”Ours is made from the whole grain,” he said. “If you’ll notice, the meal, flour and grits you find in the grocery story will say ‘degerminated’ on the label. That means the heart of the grain has been removed to keep it from going rancid on the shelf.”Because his products have not been degerminated, Lambrecht recommends they be stored in the refrigerator. That’s usually not a problem, though, because once customers taste the hearty flavor of stone-ground meal and grits, the 2-pound bags don’t last long.Lambrecht’s product line includes yellow and white cornmeal, yellow and white grits, porridge, pancake mix and whole-wheat flour. All products come with Patty’s recipe cards and are packaged in either 2-pound or 1.5-pound bags. Lambrecht also will fill bulk orders.Lambrecht purchases his wheat locally, and he gets his certified aflatoxin-free corn from Kentucky. During the holidays, he and Patty also make gift baskets, which they will ship anywhere in the United States.Recently, Oakview Farms was featured in a newspaper article that was picked up by The Associated Press. Since that article appeared, the Lambrechts have been getting calls and visitors from all over the country–including Dr. Lewis Graham and his wife, Connie, from Bowling Green, Ky., who saw the article and stopped by on their way to Mobile.When they retire, the Lambrechts hope to open their mill on weekdays as well. But for now, Joe said he’s content just to share a bit of history with his customers and listen to their stories about the days when trips to the grist mill were more a necessity than a pleasant diversion.For more information about Oakview Farms Granary, visit their website at www.oakviewfarms.com or call Joe at (334) 567-9221.