In Season: Grits and cornmeal

The old tractor’s belt pulley runs Swancy’s stone burr mill, which he uses to grind 100 pounds of corn at a time. Screens separate the particles into grits and cornmeal, which Swancy packages for sale the next morning.

He is the third Swancy man to take up the endeavor. His grandfather, James Swancy, was a miller in Dawsonville. His father, Carter, who with wife Beverly purchased the family-operated Riverview Farms in 1975, has done some milling, too.

“It’s my farm project,” explains Brad Swancy of his role in an enterprise that provides organic pork, beef, vegetables and grains to restaurants, markets and weekly community- supported agriculture subscriptions.

“There’s some kind of satisfaction in taking the grain out of the field and getting it into an edible form,” he says. “Something fulfilling in that sustainability.”

At the Ranger farm, an hour or so north of Atlanta, Swancy stores the corn whole until he’s ready to mill it. One or two days a week, several hundred ears are hand-shucked by Swancy and some occasional assistants (“If they need something to do, I can give them a little shucking money,” he says). Then Swancy runs the cobs through the same hand-cranked corn sheller that his father and grandfather used. “That’s been in the family probably about 60 years,” he says.

His belt-pulled, 24-inch Meadows mill, built in 1916, is similar to the one his grandfather used. The stones don’t crush the corn; instead, they act more like a pair of scissors, with one stone spinning next to a stationary stone. A kernel settles into a groove as it falls between the stones, and then, Swancy says, “It peeks out and gets its head chopped off” by the spinning stone.

Each 100 pounds of kernels yields about 60 pounds of grits, a sizable amount of cornmeal and some dust. Swancy processes as much as 500 pounds a week, which he distributes to restaurants, the farms’ CSA subscribers, Morningside Farmers Market and Local Farmstand at Westside Urban Market. Muss & Turners, which sells Riverview grits in its restaurant and its store, goes through 30 to 40 pounds a week, says Charlotte Swancy, Brad’s sister-in-law and farm spokeswoman. Brad also accepts phone orders at 706-602-5228 and will ship directly. An online store is in the works.

Cool-weather months are the best time to enjoy organic cornmeal and grits, when the grain is freshly ground (Swancy doesn’t mill past June, as bugs would take over the dried corn). The products can be stored year-round in the freezer, but why do that? Cooked corn is so comforting on a cold day.

“People definitely should be eating grits all winter,” says Charlotte Swancy, who practices what she preaches. “Cornmeal, too.”

At local farmers markets

Beets, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, collards, endive, escarole, fennel, green onions, herbs, kale, lettuce, mixed greens, mustard greens, parsnips, radicchio, radishes, rutabaga, spinach, sunchokes, sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, tomatoes, turnips, winter squash

From farther afield

Looking good: Apples, Chilean apricots, Caribbean asparagus, California and Chilean avocados, Caribbean and Mexican beans, Chilean blueberries, Mexican brussels sprouts, California and New York cabbage, Arizona and California cauliflower, Chilean cherries, Florida and Mexican eggplant, California and South Carolina greens, Texas grapefruit, Chilean and Peruvian grapes, Carolina and Texas greens, Italian kiwi fruit, Chilean nectarines, California and Texas oranges, Chilean peaches, Washington pears, Chilean plums and raspberries, Mexican radishes, Florida strawberries, Mexican tomatoes

Coming in: Mexican asparagus

Variable quality: California artichokes, Texas and Mexican beets, Mexican blackberries, Florida and Texas cabbage, Mexican carrots, Mexican and Florida corn, Texas greens, Arizona lettuce, Mexican limes, Honduran okra, Guatemalan peas, Florida radishes, Mexican and California raspberries, California spinach, California and Mexican strawberries, Florida tomatoes

Local reports and the Packer

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Orange-Cranberry Cornmeal Cake

Hands on: 25 minutes Total time: 1 hour Serves: 8

Although cornmeal gives this unassuming little cake an interesting texture, it is surprisingly delicate. Serve it plain or topped with orange segments or a dollop of whipped cream.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter (plus more for buttering pan), at room temperature

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons olive oil

Zest of 1 orange

11/4 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled

1/2 cup cornmeal

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons orange juice, divided

1/4 cup dried cranberries

2 tablespoons honey

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of an 8-inch cake pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper; butter the paper. Sprinkle the pan with 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, turning the pan to coat the bottom and sides with the sugar. Set the pan aside.

In a mixing bowl and using electric beaters, beat 1/2 cup butter until soft. Slowly beat in 1 cup sugar; continue beating until light. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time. Beat in the olive oil and orange zest. In a small bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. Mix in the flour mixture until just combined, then beat in 1/2 cup orange juice. Fold in the cranberries.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove the cake to a wire rack and cool for 15 minutes.

In a microwave safe bowl, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons orange juice and the honey until warm, about 30 seconds. Stir.

Invert the warm cake onto a second rack or plate; remove the parchment paper and then invert again so the cake is right side up. Brush or carefully drizzle the honey-orange syrup evenly over the top of the cake until all of the liquid is absorbed. Serve lukewarm or at room temperature.

Per serving: 388 calories (percent of calories from fat, 38), 5 grams protein, 57 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 16 grams fat (8 grams saturated), 84 milligrams cholesterol, 276 milligrams sodium.

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