Stone-Ground Goodness comes from Linney's Mill
Union Grove is home to a sought-after source of grits and cornmealBy Hannah Miller
The 13-foot waterwheel that runs Linney’s Water Mill makes a distinctive thump as it descends toward Rocky Creek, which makes soft gurgling noises as it winds its way through this lightly populated northeast corner of Alexander County.
The noises, carried on a breeze down the shaded creek, are music to the ears of mill proprietors and EnergyUnited members Billy and Juanita Linney. They run the 81-year-old milling operation that takes neighbors’ corn and turns it into grits and cornmeal.
“There’s been a mill on this site since the 1790s,” Billy Linney says. His grandfather, Talmadge (W.T.) Linney, built the present dam and mill in 1936.
A colorful throwback to simpler times, Linney’s is thriving, its on-site store bringing in visitors who probably have never heard of Alexander County. They may not even be familiar with stone-ground cornmeal, which retains the nutrient-rich germ, or reproductive part, of the corn and is coarser than that produced by other methods.
But customers like chef/owner Randi Breault of Savor Café and Catering in Charlotte says stone-ground—which Linney’s sells as grits, cornmeal and in mixes—is extra flavorful. Linney’s grits are on Savor’s menu every day, he says.
“We are about using the best quality ingredients.”
Besides, he likes visiting Linney’s, where a gray cat named Millie sleeps on a chair with a sprung seat and neighborhood notices dot the walls. Shelves are filled with the distinctive red and white paper bags of Linney’s products, jellies from the nearby Union Grove Amish community and meals and mixes from the handful of other gristmills in the state.
The two millstones are made of Balfour pink granite from Salisbury and sold by 115-year-old Meadows Mills Inc. of North Wilkesboro. The pair are not on view, but they grind shelled corn in a delicate balancing act. You know you’ve got that balance right, Linney says, “if you can get the cornmeal where it rolls in your fingers.”
“It takes some time to learn that. And to get good at it, it takes about a year,” says Linney, 60. He started working for his father, W.C. Linney, when he was a teenager.
The much-photographed waterwheel, which once ran a cotton gin, does triple duty, cleaning and grinding corn and making electricity that Linney’s uses to supplement what it gets from EnergyUnited.
Talmadge Linney started the mill as a hobby in the Depression years; his son, W.C., made it into a business; and Juanita and Billy have expanded it into a five-day-a-week, year-round operation that sells 3,000 to 5,000 pounds of grits and two to three tons of cornmeal weekly. They buy yellow corn locally and white corn from Kentucky and sell in four states.
Customers include distilleries, restaurants, grocery stores, retailers at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market and elsewhere, telephone customers and visitors to the Union Grove mill/store.
“Linney’s cornmeal goes everywhere,” says Ross Johnson, a Blue Ridge Energy member from Taylorsville. His Johnson’s Milling & Feed processes animal feed, but he’d stopped by one fall day to get some cornmeal fit for human consumption.
Visitors who’ve come to soak in the laidback atmosphere have included the late Malcolm Forbes, jet-setting publisher of Forbes magazine, brought in by the late Andy Barker, founder of the nearby Western-themed town, Love Valley.
Another was a woman Linney didn’t recognize, but then he turned on the TV. “There was that woman on the food channel, cooking my grits.”
Linney’s Water Mill
4635 Linney’s Mill Road, off N.C. 115 | Linneysmill.com | 704-592-2075
Racing to Flossie Johnson’s Table
Photo by Kathy Virtue
Flossie Johnson, the former wife of NASCAR legend Junior Johnson, is famous in her own right for her cooking and authoring three cookbooks.
She’s also a big fan of cornmeal from Linney’s Water Mill. And so, she says, are her racing buddies, who “still come to see me and still eat with me. That was one of Darrell Waltrip’s (Hall of Fame driver turned racing commentator) favorite things. He likes a good old country supper with cornbread.”
For herself, the EnergyUnited member says Linney’s stone-ground is her favorite.
“I like it because it’s not ground up so fine … If I just want a cornbread patty, I’ll just stir that up, and put me a little oil in the pan and fry me a couple of pieces of cornbread in the frying pan.”
Enjoy her cornbread recipe, reprinted from “Flossie’s Favorites Too.”
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