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  • Maggie Wallem Rowe

Has 2020 Put You Through the Mill? Here’s Another Way to Look at the Daily Grind

Encouragement for your week, a vintage recipe, and a “Did you know?” quiz for your Thanksgiving table.

Friends, we set a record last week: Shortest post ever with the most comments! (Let this be a lesson to your circumlocutory correspondent from the Ridge.)

A comment from the week before, though, is the one that arrested my attention. Sue M. of suburban Chicago wrote, “I so often find myself feeling guilty for being exhausted during this time knowing I’m not juggling as much as my mom friends…. I was able to get away for a quick weekend to see friends that was such a spiritual and soulful time of rest…It reminded me I need to do that in smaller bits while here at home doing the daily grind.”

Sue’s perceptive comment spurred me to do a bit of research.

Despite the number of contemporary coffeeshops bearing that clever name, the expression “the daily grind” is age-old, spawned by the need for American farmers to take their wheat or corn to the local mill for processing. “The daily grind” refers to the fact that mills provided the same service over and over and over again.

As a new southerner, I’m learning to make cornbread the way North Carolinians have for centuries, using 100% natural stone ground corn with no preservatives or additives. (I store my cornmeal in the frig). The grain we use is ground by 2-ton quartz buhrstones at the Old Mill in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Nearly 200 years old, the Old Mill is still powered exclusively by the Little Pigeon River, which flows northwest from Haywood County where we live into eastern TN.

Read on for a vintage cornbread recipe to pair with local honey.

Here are some fun facts to share around your Thanksgiving table while slathering your cornbread with honey or digging into Grandma’s savory cornbread stuffing.


· The expression “rule of thumb” comes from the practice of testing the coarseness of ground grain between your thumb and fingers.

· “Grist for the mill” is actually anything that can be made useful or profitable. (It’s also come to mean that which you mull over, the way millstones grind or chew grain.)

· “Run of the mill” is anything standard or ordinary, nothing special.

· When someone inquires as to your health and you respond “fair to middlin’,” you’ve taken the expression from ground grain that was graded from fair to middling to fine. (Fair to middling grain is subpar and often used for livestock feed.)

· And when you remind someone to “wait your turn,” your words hearken back to the practice of mill customers awaiting the turn of the waterwheel or grindstone to grind their grain. *

(*With thanks to Smokies Life magazine, Spring 2020)

Hankering for cornbread that doesn’t come out of a box but you can still make in a jiffy? Here’s a tried-and-true vintage recipe I got from the folks at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


1 ½ cups sour milk or buttermilk* ½ tsp baking soda

2 eggs 1½ cups cornmeal

2 Tbsp. sugar ½ cup flour

½ tsp salt ¼ cup melted butter

Beat the first five ingredients together. Stir in cornmeal and flour. Add melted butter. Pour batter into a greased 8” square pan (or use your cast iron skillet if you have one.) Bake at 425 ° for 30 minutes or ‘til golden brown. [Note: Buttermilk gives cornbread its tender crumb. If you don’t have any on hand, use 1 ½ tbsp vinegar and add enough milk to make 1 ½ cups.]

In this week focused on giving thanks, let’s set aside thoughts of the pandemic, politics and polemic that have put us through the mill and brought our normal activities to a grinding halt. (See what I did there? Shameless.)

“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” Galatians 6:9

Whether you’re feeling fine this week or fair-to-middlin’, whether you’ve physically gathered with your family or are wishing them well across a screen, whether you’ve planted this year in tears or are harvesting joy, let’s thank God for the sun and the rain and the grain.

For food to eat and friends to eat it with.

For arms to offer assistance to others.

For hearts to carry love across the miles.

Oh friends, this Thanksgiving of 2020, I am so very thankful for you.

“Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy. They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with the harvest.” Psalm 126: 6

- Copyright 2020, Maggie Wallem Rowe

Maggie's first book, This Life We Share, is available from NavPress.

If you are reading it, please consider leaving a brief review on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, and/or Reviews and recommendations help get the message into more hands, hearts, and minds. Thank you!

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