Rediscovering My Household’s Historical past By Cornmeal Dumplings

My household moved from Atlanta, Georgia to Boston, Massachusetts after I was a toddler, a dislocation that was the supply of a lot tragedy, small and enormous. To be southern was to be particular, however we appeared to lose our identities and our drawl in a single day. On the identical time, my mom found the value of heating oil for a drafty New England colonial residence, died of shock, after which rose once more to purchase down booties and electrical blankets. Not solely have been we now not particular, we had elf toes and slept in worry of being electrocuted by the blanket. Misplaced within the shuffle, I barely seen that we may now not purchase Stivers’ Greatestour household model, within the grocery retailer.

The model hadn’t been ours for a era, even once we lived in our correct place the place the filth was crimson and the daffodils bloomed on my birthday. Nevertheless it was based by my great-grandfather, Theo Stivers, a miller from Cleveland, Tennessee. He moved his headquarters to Rome, Georgia within the Thirties and the flours, cornmeals, and grits have been extensively obtainable within the regional grocery shops of my youth. My grandfather and his siblings grew up working for the Theo Stivers Milling Co., and the lack of it throughout the Nice Melancholy was a theme of his dialog till the tip of his life.

Rising up, the tales of the outdated mill have been one thing of a household joke. One in every of my grandfather’s framed promotions for our flour marketed “The Stivers Sack,” inflicting nice mirth to my mom and father, although as a toddler I could not grasp why. My grandfather, Ted Stivers, wore pastel caps that matched his trousers, spoke in a gradual drawl, and rebounded from the lack of his dad’s mill to run a milling-engineering consulting agency that constructed state-of-the-art amenities all around the world, together with one in Saudi Arabia. In later years, he was pleased with his contributions to a densely written, two-volume, self-published hardcover e-book on the historical past of “our” mill. Sure members of his household who had moved North and misplaced their roots did not learn it cowl to cowl.

Coincidentally—or perhaps not—my life path has taken me into the meals enterprise as a author and recipe developer. A number of years in the past, I seemed up Stivers’ Greatest in an effort to use a southern model to make the cornmeal dumplings talked about in a Zora Neale Hurston novel. I discovered that the model has a diminished presence, however its self-rising flour, self-rising cornmeal, and grits can nonetheless be present in Kroger and Piggly Wiggly supermarkets. At the moment, Stivers’ Greatest was owned by Southeastern Mills, a fourth-generation family-owned firm whose Higher Than Bouillon is a family identify. (The corporate has since reorganized and goes by the identify Summit Hill Meals.) I additionally found that a lot of my questions might be answered by that unappreciated household e-book, Onerous Work/A Imaginative and prescient, which was written by the second-generation proprietor of Southeastern Mills, Gaynelle Parrish Grizzard, and had voluminous contributions by my grandfather. To my grownup eye, Grizzard’s e-book is a treasure trove, and my grandfather was proper to be pleased with it.

The e-book tells the intertwined tales of the Stivers and Grizzard household companies, which began with two males within the meals trade 100 years in the past. My great-grandfather, Theo Stivers, was a “nation boy” and survivor of polio, who needed to depart faculty to begin work in 1909 at age 14. He started doing odd jobs in a mill owned by his great-uncle. Grizzard’s father, Claude Umstead Parrish, was a Merita Bread salesman who went in on a business bakery in Emporia, Virginia in 1941 with $15 and sweat fairness. Each males have been good with numbers and each have been inquisitive about know-how, branding, and gross sales. Parrish scaled down the bakery, making solely 4.5″ pies (coconut was the most well-liked taste), however scaled up investments in equipment, new know-how like cellophane, and regional outposts for broad distribution of a recent product. Theo Stivers hopped from accounting to gross sales , which he had a pure reward for, purchased inventory within the mill, and finally opened a mill of his personal.

Our tales converged within the Seventies, when Gaynelle and husband Vernon Grizzard, then operating the Parrish-Grizzard companies in Rome, Georgia, purchased out Southeastern Mills, the then-owner of the Stivers mill. The Parrish-Grizzard bakery companies had grown to incorporate subcontracting for manufacturers like RJ Nabisco (a notable creator of the Nature Valley granola bar). With the buyout of the mill, they inherited the bodily plant constructed by my household and several other of my kin as staff. Linda Owens, a third-generation member of the Parrish-Grizzard household and present president of the holding firm that owns Summit Hill Meals, tells me that the final of the Stivers equipment was changed within the Nineties. Over time, below her household’s steering, Southeastern Mills survived the ruthless economics of the flour and milling trade by specializing in mixes and seasonings. Owens describes her mission right this moment as “flavors and textures,” and says her technique is to “discover small household companies that we will purchase and amplify.”

My ancestors lived in a time when a regional salesman may construct a enterprise that competed with the biggest companies. Names like Normal Mills, RJ Nabisco, and Kelloggs seem all through Onerous Work/A Imaginative and prescient, if not fairly as friends, as companions or opponents. Each the Stivers’ companies and the Parrish-Grizzard enterprise have been about folks, too, within the sense that they have been family-run, multi-generational, and handled staff like household. And each households thought of the enterprise’s ethics to be an extension of the founder and an essential a part of the mannequin.

I made a decision to attempt once more to make the proper cornmeal dumplings. I could not get Stivers’ self-rising cornmeal up North, and I do not use sufficient cornmeal, not to mention self-rising cornmeal, to undergo a 4lb bag. (This can be a area of interest product today, Owens says, purchased largely by individuals who make southern staples for an enormous special-occasion meals.) I used a 24oz bag of Bob’s Crimson Mill medium-grind, which I hold in my freezer to forestall it from getting bitter earlier than I’ve completed the bag. My unique dumpling recipe known as for two/3 cup cornmeal to 1/3 cup all-purpose flour, and in a lightweight and floppy dough that fell aside in my soup and turned it to mush. I launched into variations, making an attempt 1/3 cup cornmeal to 2/3 cup flour (too stiff), doing a model with butter within the dough and one with out (butter is healthier), kneading the dough extra or resting it longer (actually would not ‘t matter), and even steaming the dumplings Caribbean-style (scrumptious however non-absorbent within the soup). After many failures, in frustration, I attempted my unique recipe once more, utilizing the two:1 proportion of cornmeal to flour, although making fewer, smaller dumplings which I would come to consider have been simpler to eat.

They have been excellent. I used to be reminded that many staples of home-cooking get higher the extra instances you make them. My completed soup is smoky and spicy, with tartness from the tomatoes, a contact of warmth and bitterness from the mustard greens, and a scrumptious softness and mouthfeel from the dumplings. For me, it renewed hope that perhaps I can prepare dinner southern in any case.


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