Built in 1816, the three-story gristmill at Spring Mill Pioneer Village in Spring Mill State Park in Mitchell, Indiana continues to grind, the river flowing down the mill race making the wheel turn corn into meal for making breads. In this delightful collection of historic restored buildings from the early 1800s when the Hamer family founded the village in 1814. Once a popular stage coach stop, the village, founded in 1814, had a distillery, tavern, apothecary, mercantile store and at one time the corn, pork and whiskey they produced were shipped down river on flatboats from trees felled from the forest and cut at the village’s sawmill all the way to New Orleans. The historic gardens have been immaculately restored.
One of the log cabins – a rather fancy affair with a middle area open for wagons to pull in -- belonged to a true pioneer, Sally Cummins White, known in later years as Granny White. She was the type of woman who took in orphans and fed the poor. She lived to a great age even for now but was ancient back then, dying at 94. And what she survived during those 94 years is amazing. American born, she moved to Canada and then made her way back here at age 35. On the journey to Indiana, her husband died leaving her with six small children. Granny White continued on, burying him along the way and making her way to the middle of Indiana where she met and married David White. According to the commemorative sign in the two story log house that her husband built in 1824, they rode to Canada on horseback for their honeymoon.
Three more children came along and White, the mother of nine now, also tended to the destitute and ill as well as inviting the Native Americans who made their way along the Indian trail nearby into her home.
Visitors to the village can stay at the Spring Mill Inn. Here the desserts they serve are not only scrumptious; many of them come with their own special story. The unique – and very tasty – cornmeal pie is made from cornmeal freshly ground at the gristmill. And the persimmon pudding is a revered fruit in Lawrence County and for over 65 years each fall the county hosts a persimmon festival which includes a persimmon cooking contest hence the persimmon puddings served there made from freshly fallen persimmons — they’re not ripe if they don’t fall from the tree and trust me, you don’t want to bite into an unripened persimmon.
But my favorite dessert story may be the one about Granny White Orchard Cake. Though the waitress at the Spring Mill Inn told me that the cake is not from one of Granny White’s recipes, it’s still fun to take a taste to celebrate this true pioneer woman. The following recipes are from the Spring Mill Inn.
Spring Mill Corn Meal Pie
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated (white) sugar
½ cup milk (the richer the better)
1 teaspoon vanilla
4-6 tablespoons butter (melted)
2-3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons yellow corn meal (white OK)
4 tablespoons sliced almonds (I used chopped hickory nut meats)
2 tablespoons shredded coconut (optional)
1 9-inch pie shell
In one small bowl, mix (gently but well) the two cups of sugar (white and brown), milk, vanilla and eggs. In another small bowl mix melted butter, flour, and corn meal. Stir the two mixtures together and pour the combined mixtures into the pie shell. Sprinkle nuts and coconut lightly on top of pie and place in preheated (350 degrees) oven for 35 to 40 minutes.
Pie will have a well rounded surface when taken from oven, but this will fall some as it cools. Allow pie to cool before consuming. A Tip or Two: If the filling of your first effort is not as thick as you would like it, add a little more flour . . . Place pie on cookie sheet while baking in case it boils over . . . Watch pie crust and call it done when the crust has reached the desired brownness.
Granny White Orchard Cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, well beaten
1 -16 ounce can fruit cocktail, any preserved fruit in juice will do
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2/3 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup evaporated milk, or fresh dairy cream
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/3 cup flaked coconut, pioneers may have used oatmeal
In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, 1 1/2 cups of the granulated sugar, the soda and salt. Slowly add the beaten eggs, fruit cocktail, including the syrup. Stir lightly until all ingredients are moistened, and then pour into a 13x9x2 inch greased baking dish. Mix brown sugar and 1/3 cup nuts thoroughly and sprinkle over top of cake. Bake at 350°F for 35-40 minutes, or until nice and golden and springy to touch.
While cake is baking, heat evaporated milk over low heat, adding butter and the rest of the granulated sugar, constantly stirring. Add 1/3 cup chopped nuts, 1/3 cup flaked coconut to this mixture. Keep over low heat until well blended. Do not allow to boil. This mixture may be poured over warm cake for immediate use, or reheated for a nice glazing sauce.