When we were conceptualizing our menu for Statesman, we knew the premise of our vision was celebrating the bounty of the hardworking farmers and growers throughout New England and the United States. Showcasing their work by letting the ingredients shine on every dish.
This is the first of a series of blogs about the stories behind these ingredients and how honored we are to cook with them, and eat them.
When we were deciding to put shrimp and grits on the menu, we knew that it had to be authentic southern grits, using two authentic southern ingredients. First, we needed shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico and second, grits from Anson Mills in South Carolina.
Anson Mills is an incredible company dedicated to seed saving and preserving the heirloom grains the way they were intended to taste. Check out their website here.
At a time when grains and other vegetables are getting further and further away from what they once were, people like Glenn Roberts and Anson Mills are on a mission to preserve the heirloom ingredients as they were intended to look and taste. Without the work of people like Glenn and other seed savers throughout the country, ingredients like farro, wheat, rice, corn and others will never grow again. That is pretty powerful if you think about it.
Sustainable farming is an on-farm process using as little diesel as possible, and no inputs from off-farm. At Anson Mills, we move our partners and our own farms to native fertility and low or no-til agriculture with intensive biomass, crop sequestration, and intercropping rotations. This is the very technique and process used to ensure quality crops that our ancestors employed on the best rice farms around Charleston before 1850. Anson Mills supports with grants the data mining of thousands of Antebellum and Colonial farm journals to document fertility and crop quality processes. We identify the seeds of historic agriculture in our region that comprise the Carolina Rice Kitchen cuisine, and we recover, preserve, repatriate, and distribute free of charge these seeds to like-minded farmers—thus acting as our own seed bank. To further his reach in this endeavor, in 2003, Glenn helped found the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation with scientists and scholars. These efforts comprise over 90 percent of what Anson Mills does today.
Created in the tradition of the stone-ground, hand-milled grits of the Antebellum era, Anson Mills coarse grits have a large particle size that imparts a toothsome texture and pronounced corn flavor. Coarse grits do take time to cook—about 1 hour, at least—but are any cook’s first choice when served as a stand-alone dish or as a complement to entrées such as fish, greens, or eggs. They make beautiful grits cakes, too.
It would be remiss of us not to mention that Anson Mills grits benefit enormously from soaking overnight in water before being cooked. Not only is the cooking time shorter for soaked versus unsoaked grits, but the finished texture is also superior because the corn particles experience less trauma during cooking and better hold their shape.
We are incredibly proud to tell the story of Anson Mills and support farmers and growers like them by showcasing their hard work in every dish.
Until next time...