Tuesday, January 21, 2020


In Napa County, CA there is a State Park which includes a working grist mill. They have refurbished the old building that has been there since the 1850s and served as the community mill then. The waterwheel turns, although the flume that used to bring water to it no longer works (water is piped in), the grinding stones turn when engaged, and the grain is milled. When they put in dried corn, the output is coarse polenta. It is a whole grain, so there are flecks of tan along with the beautiful corn yellow. It's packaging is a brown paper sack and, because the state hygiene standards for food prep are so stringent in California, it says its not for human consumption. There is no way to have an authentic mill with a grinding stone to grind the grain and meet those standards, but I assure you, we have consumed the products of the milling and have in no way been harmed.

If you get to Napa, do check out the Bale Grist Mill. It's near Calistoga. They often have events. Here is one that sounds like fun:
Napa Valley’s historic Bale Grist Mill is one of the last mills that still grinds grain on the old pair of stones brought here by ship from “the old country”. At Old Mill Days people can visit the mill and experience the shared hard work and resulting sense of community that bound our forefathers together when they try some traditional farm chores: corn husking and shelling, wheat threshing, butter making, apple pressing, hand sewing, bean seed shelling or rope making.
The next one is in October of 2020 which is still far enough away to plan a trip!

One of my favorite things to do with this lovely polenta is to cook it up into soft cooked polenta. I found a very simple recipe in The Vineyard Kitchen by Maria Helms Sinskey. It really helps to use high quality polenta meal because the only ingredients are the polenta meal, milk (I used soy milk), butter (I used cashew based vegan 'butter') and salt, plus water, and with a little pepper at the finish. You do have to stir for quite a while, but maybe you will be sharing the dish with someone who will take a turn stirring?

Polenta makes a great base for a vegetable stew or roasted veggies (which is what I used), for Italian flavored ragu sauce, for sauteed mushrooms and onions, for a meat stew with greens braised with the meat (pork works really well), and many other winter toppings. You can also serve it as it, or with some butter or cheese on top to melt into the soft hot goodness.

If you let the polenta cool overnight in the fridge, you can cut it into slices or sticks and pan fry for a tasty addition to breakfast.

I was sure that I had taken a photo of this delicious dish, but can't find the photo, so I'm posting one I found on the internet. Next time... Doesn't Jennifer Davick's photo make the polenta look delicious?

Photo by Jennifer Davick

Simple Soft Polenta
Serves 8
(recipe is easily divided in half for 4 servings, which is what I did)
From The Vineyard Kitchen by Maria Helms Sinskey

3 cups whole milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup coarse polenta
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring the milk, 2 cups water, and the butter to a boil in a large pot; season with 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt.

Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the polenta slowly. Place the pan back over low heat and stir the polenta with a wooden spoon until it is smooth, tender, and creamy, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, remove from the heat, and cover until ready to serve.
Reheat if necessary; add a little water to thin if the polenta has stiffened.

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