Gristmill

“Grocery store news” had a different meaning in the early days of Horry County history.

Before the advent of ready-made quick grits, country folks gathered around gristmills to have their corn ground, and while there exchanged gossip and news about the community.

Sarah Page Chestnut Cooper, writing in Vol. 2 of the 1968 Independent Republic Quarterly, recalled the days when farmers took their corn to a miller in Socastee. The Socastee mill was a combination gristmill and cotton gin with a sawmill nearby.

Saturday was grinding day and it began early in the morning. After everything was in place, a shrill blast came from the mill’s whistle to announce to the community that all was set for the business of grinding.

Mrs. Cooper wrote that each farmer brought his corn in a large cloth bag tagged with his name. He told the miller how he wanted his corn ground — meal, grits or half and half. The miller took a share of the corn to pay for the grinding.

The mill rocks were large, round and heavy. The miller poured corn into a large hopper as the stones rotated. The meal, or grits, flowed from the chute into a large bin.

Mill day was a social occasion for the community, Mrs. Cooper said.

People came in buggies, carts and wagons, some drawn by mules and some by oxen, and the occasional car.

She recalled that women sometimes came along for the ride and, while at the mill, they traded eggs for calico, lace, cotton stockings, a bow of ribbon or perhaps snuff.

“Among all there seemed to be an air of festivity, since Saturday was a day of preparation for Sunday and the week ahead,” Mrs. Cooper wrote. “Too, the meeting with friends and catching up on the news was looked forward to. Mill day became a day of visiting, gossiping, swapping yarns, whittling and shopping — an important day.”

The grits that came from the mill were much different from the grits found on today’s grocery store shelves.

First, the mill grits had to be sifted to remove the finer meal. Then the grits had to be washed to get rid of the corn husks. When covered with water, the husks floated to the top and were poured off.

After several washings, the pure grits were ready for the pot, but had to cook longer than today’s grits.

“By the time other breakfast items were prepared, the ‘hominy’ was ready for the country-cured ham with red gravy, fresh eggs and hot buttered biscuits with homemade jam or preserves,” Mrs. Cooper wrote. “What a breakfast to work on, literally.”

She lamented that store-bought grits ended a colorful part of rural life when people listened eagerly for the gristmill’s whistle.

The Independent Republic Quarterly can be read online

by visiting www.digitalcommons.coastal.edu

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Steve Robertson is owner and publisher of the Waccamaw Publishers family of community newspapers

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