When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

18 June 2008

Consider the lilies of the flour aisle

Yet another hallowed Southern tradition is now officially endangered: White Lily flour will no longer be produced in the South.
For generations of Southern bakers, the secret to weightless biscuits has been one simple ingredient passed from grandmother to mother to child: White Lily all-purpose flour.

Biscuit dives and high-end Southern restaurants like Watershed in Atlanta and Blackberry Farm outside Knoxville use it. Blue-ribbon winners at state fair baking contests depend on it. On food lovers’ Web sites, transplanted Southerners share tips on where to find it, and some of them returning from trips back home have been known to attract attention when airport security officers detect a suspicious white dust on their luggage.

White Lily is distinctly Southern: it has been milled here in downtown Knoxville since 1883 and its white bags (extra tall because the flour weighs less per cup than other brands) are distributed almost solely in Southern supermarkets, although specialty stores like Williams-Sonoma and Dean & DeLuca have carried it at premium prices.

But at the end of June, the mill, with its shiny wood floors, turquoise and red grinders and jiggling armoire-size sifters, will shut its doors. The J. M. Smucker Company, which bought the brand a year ago, has already begun producing White Lily at two plants in the Midwest, causing ripples of anxiety that Southern biscuits will never be the same.

Southern Bakers Worry as a Treasured Flour Mill Moves North (New York Times, 18 June 2008)

I grew up making biscuits with Martha White flour (produced on the same principles as White Lily) - it produces light biscuits of uniform density, and there really is no substitute for a proper biscuit flour. (For extra cracker credibility points, Martha White is the longest running sponsor of the Grand Ole Opry.)

Damned if Smucker's didn't buy Martha White, too.

Oh, lord. I hope the Jelly Barons at least leave me my locally-produced stone-ground cornmeal.

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