Yes, you read that correctly. Zebulon, North Carolina. But let me begin at the beginning.
I am a big fan of Chef Vivian Howard of the PBS hit series, A Chef’s Life. Last year, her show ended after a five series run. One of my favorite episodes was “King Cornbread.” One of Chef Vivian’s assistants, Miss Lillie made a fried cornbread with simple ingredients that paired perfectly with southern staples such as Black Eyed Peas and Collard Greens. They use a corn meal that hails from Eastern North Carolina. It is hard to find here in Florida and definitely not available in Montana.
As fate would have it, last year, my Uncle George passed away and Hunky Hubbie, my father and I flew to North Carolina for the funeral. We picked up our rental car and after much coercion, they agreed to stop at a Piggly Wiggly en route to the funeral and pick up a few packages of Atkinson Mills corn meal. Our stop was in Zebulon. Atkinson’s Mills has been in business in Eastern Carolina since 1757. These people know corn meal. I could have easily mail ordered the corn meal, but there’s something about driving across North Carolina with your husband and your 88 year old dad in search of prize corn meal on your way to a Methodist funeral in Clayton, NC that just sounds right to me.
As you may have noticed from several of my recipes, I love serving cornbread with my many of my dishes. The nutty, sweet texture of corn bread compliments so many southern dishes. It also goes perfectly with many things from my Montana Kitchen- chili, salmon, steel-head trout. Although cornmeal is sold everywhere in the south, it is really hard to find out here in Montana. As usual, I have packed a 5 lb bag of Martha White Self Rising Corn meal for my Thanksgiving corn bread stuffing. Look for the recipe tomorrow. I also packed a cooler full of Southern Sweet potatoes, Land O’ Lakes butter, a really great bottle of champagne from Tim’s Wine Market and two bunches of peonies from Trader Joe’s. Hunky Hubbie thinks I’m crazy. I can’t imagine what TSA thinks.
My corn bread stuffing requires two large pans of my Southern Corn bread recipe as a base. When I was a young mother with small children I just whipped up my corn bread from the white and blue box mix that you requires only adding egg and water. Forgive me Cornbread purists. Now, It’s buttermilk, butter, fresh eggs and careful stirring- no over mixing. But it’s the quality of the corn meal that really matters.
The Atkinson Milling Company still grinds their corn meal as was done “in biblical times”. The history of the mill is incredibly fascinating and if you are a food historian, read about the family. Their story involves everything from a drowning, the invention of Vick’s vapor rub to a Memorial Girl Scout Camp. Read more about the Mill here. The Mill sells everything from hush puppy mix, corn meal, spices and pancake mix.
So, if you ever find yourself in Eastern North Carolina, near Selma, take an hour or two to tour the Atkinson Mill . Likewise, if you find yourself near Clayton, North Carolina, Stop by Horne Memorial United Methodist Church. The pastor and choir put on a fantastic funeral. The ladies these sure do cook up a mean batch of fried chicken and corn bread for folks who have traveled a long distance. We miss you Uncle George.