Late Summer at Anson Mills
Our fields here in the South have been soaked with record rainfall this summer. While bearing witness to this odd weather up and down the Eastern seaboard, I’ve spent about as many hours steering farm equipment as driving my Prius.
A few firsthand road-food adventures from our farms: Watching in awe as 80-mile-per-hour gusts battered an old oak beside an heirloom cornfield in North Carolina. (The tree gave up, blew over, and just missed my tractor.) Standing downwind from my combine during the Abruzzi rye harvest at our place in Hopkins, South Carolina, when a creepy itching sensation crossed my face and evolved to stinging pain—an episode I’ve entitled “the attack of the Abruzzi rye spiders.” Standing knee-deep in water and pluff mud in late July at the center of our oldest rice field just south of Charleston as the water level moved up instead of down, promising to destroy the crop and strand me at the same time. Nearly stumbling over a red fox in hiding while hand-harvesting Sonora wheat in a field near the Stono River. Chasing a flock of Canadian geese to divert them from devouring our ancient peelcorn oats. Taking in the sweet aroma of freshly turned soil while planting heirloom corn, beans, and sorghum together in an old field in the Georgia midlands. Losing count of wild bees in a summer buckwheat field in full bloom. Searching for “black gold” valley soil to plant ancient winter wheat in Southern Vermont . . .
Vermont? Yes. My darling wife, Kay—the creative mind, chef, baker, writer, and photographer here at Anson Mills—has returned to her Yankee roots this summer to write, cook, shoot, think, and live in Vermont. My road trip adventure with Kay begins in our Southern fields and ends with Kay’s modern take on the geographic unity of the Colonial American table. Abruzzi rye, new crop summer Japanese buckwheat, heirloom wheat harvest, and current heirloom corn harvest are all incorporated into Kay’s Late Summer Newsletter recipes. Kay offers you the freshest new crop food we’ve ever produced at Anson Mills.
Here’s the paradigm: everything at Anson Mills flows from historic American cuisine to the farm and back to the modern table. From the beginning of Anson Mills, we have determined what heirloom grain varieties to save and plant, as well as how to grow them to produce extraordinary historic foods. We do this by researching the roots of cuisine, not just the roots of plants. With this in mind, Kay delves into the colonial roots of our best summer foods and finds they have ties to New England as well as Carolina and Georgia.
So follow the path less traveled with us. It’s road food like you’ve never tasted before.
The recipes we introduce in this newsletter share appealing similarities. Three of them needed little more from us than access to authentic ingredients. This we have provided. Pleasure and surprise await us always when we see a classic recipe like Boston Brown Bread undergo a reverse transformation in which the pale, modern reproduction is polished back to its dark, gleaming original.
These same recipes share something else: the Luddite’s seal of approval. We’re working with a remarkable lack of equipment and fairly minimal labor here. No mixers! No machines! No chopping! No complicated finishing work. In fact, we are inclined to regard this as the “Stirring Issue.” And when you’re holding a wooden spoon or whisk and a mixing bowl, your ingredients had better be first rate.
We know pizza dough can be a stretch for home bakers—just getting the oven hot enough is challenging. Yet sometimes, in order to experience pizza’s bold here-and-now, you simply have to make it yourself. It is with this in mind that Glenn created Anson Mills Pizza Maker’s Flour, a custom blend of strong, fine bread flour and soft European heirloom flatbread flour of a slightly coarser grade, that reaches back into authentic pre–World War II Italian foodways. Now pizza night can become the most compelling night of the week.
Boston Brown Bread
This bread, with its three coarse grains (corn, wheat, and rye) and colonial pedigree, has been on our development list forever. But we had to wait for Anson Mills’ first production rye harvest. That occurred this summer when Glenn harvested 26 acres of ancient Abruzzi rye, a rye so beautiful it recalls Renaissance pastoral paintings depicting golden fields of head-high grain and diminutive peasants engaged in hand harvest.
You know, brown bread doesn’t really hail from Boston; Bostonians were simply clever enough to claim it. Now you’ll know why. This bread is easy to make, holds beautifully, and absolutely throbs with flavor.
We’ve all had buckwheat pancakes, but when was the last time your pancake batter hit the griddle with this kind of visual interest? Those beautiful flecks? Think of them as pure flavor.
Last spring, the father of one of our best growers, a retired ACE Basin farmer, remembered harvesting “kitchen buckwheat” as part of preparing his fields to plant Sea Island peas in the heat of the summer. He claimed this summer harvest buckwheat to be the best of the year.
In America, the cardinal rule for producing food-grade buckwheat has always been grow in the fall, run into a freeze, and harvest totally dry. A summer harvest in the blazing heat of St. Matthews, South Carolina was something we scarcely thought possible, yet the buckwheat we harvested there was better all the way around than any buckwheat killed by frost. This new crop buckwheat flour is available for you now.
Grits Praline Ice Cream
We’ve been dying to make ice cream with Anson Mills grains, but haven’t had time for the frivolity . . . until now. In truth, getting this recipe just right proved anything but frivolous—it was damned hard work!
Ah, but so worth it.
We chose our first-born, Antebellum Coarse Grits for our maiden voyage with ice cream and the Late Summer Newsletter’s outlier recipe. Results? Well, take my husband, Glenn, a man so possessed by the comfort and caresses of ice cream he has been known to rise from a deep sleep and drive to a grocery in the middle of the night to buy a pint. This super-luxe blend of flavors and the ice cream’s extraordinary texture so struck Glenn’s fancy he now curses me for having created it. His quick fix will never be a fix again. And that’s what we call a full endorsement.