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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Meal With A History

By Marylou Butler.  
Republished with permission from South Kingston Patch

Credit: Marylou Butler
Tucked into Usquepaugh village is the oldest continuous manufacturing business in all of Rhode Island. Kenyon's Grist Mill, 21 Glen Rock Rd., has been in operation since 1696. The only business that has them beat is the White Horse Tavern in Newport.

Originally, local farmers would bring their corn to be ground on the huge granite stones from a quarry in Westerly, and the miller would usually receive part of the cornmeal as payment for his services. When C.D. Kenyon purchased the mill in 1909, he realized that there was potential to sell the cornmeal branded with the Kenyon name. Product was transported by horse and buggy and delivered throughout the state. By 1916, the purchase of a Model T Truck helped expand their territory to Massachusetts and Connecticut.

The first mill building was destroyed in the “Great Gale” of 1886 and a replacement was built on slightly higher ground by John Tarbox. That building still stands today, and the same time-honored techniques are used to produce cornmeal.
Credit: Marylou Butler
Grinding is considered an art, and the skills and senses needed are passed down generation to generation. The current owners of the mill, Paul Drumm, Jr. and his son Paul III were lucky enough to have learned the craft from a longtime employee of the mill, Narragansett Indian native Charles Walmsley. Walmsley, who died in the 1980's, was born in a house directly across from the mill and learned his skills as a child. The Drums have owned the mill since 1971.
The heyday of stone grist mills lasted until the 1920's, when the steel roller grind was invented and changed milling forever. It also changed our food forever since steel grind takes out the bran and the germ, giving us processed white flour but removing the healthiest parts of the products. Single pass stone grinding preserves all the vital, natural nutrition of the grains. Kenyon's produces a range of meals and flours and a variety of mixes, free of additives or preservatives.
On a recent visit to the mill Paul Drum III fired up the 2½ ton runner stone. As that stone spins through a system of belts, pulleys and gears, the floor starts to vibrate and the corn kernels drop from the hopper into the boot, which directs the corn through a hole in the center of the stone (called the eye). The grain then spins outward between the runner stone and the bed stone and is finely ground into meal or flour.
Today, Kenyon Grist Mill's products are available in stores and widely used by restaurants. You may also purchase them online through their website or visit their store which is located directly across from the mill. They also carry RI favorites like Autocrat and Eclipse Coffee Syrup, local honey and maple syrup. The store hours from now through Dec. 31st are Mon-Fri, 9am-4pm and weekends, 11am-4pm.
The Drum family also operates Queen's River Kayaks from May-Oct each year. Kayak rentals to explore the Queen's River are available by calling 401-284-3945 or visiting the website.
One of Kenyon's most requested recipes is for RI Johnny Cakes. Here's to breakfast this weekend.
1 cup Kenyon's Johnny Cake Corn Meal
½ tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Sugar
1¼-1½ boiling water
Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. Pour boiling water over mixture gradually to make a “ploppy” batter, adding milk if desired to thin to a consistency that will drop off the end of a spoon. Drop onto a well greased griddle or fry pan and cook 6 minutes, drizzle with oil and then flip and cook an additional 5-6 minutes.