S.C. family mills grits the old-timey way

In a small, wood cabin off an unpaved road, Steve Gantt is giving folks a taste of culinary history.

The Batesburg-Leesville, S.C., resident's year-old business, Gantt's Stone Mill, sells freshly ground grits, jams and cornmeal while paying homage to the food preparation methods of yesteryear.

“I've always been interested in the way they did things and prepared food in older times,” he said. “It's a dying trade.”

Walking around the cabin, Gantt is in his element, the smell of wood around him. Old signs decorate the wall, and one-pound canvas bags of grits, cornmeal and mason jars of jam line a shelf.

But it's the shiny-red stone mill Gantt uses to make his yellow, white and blue grits that steals the show.

“Most people don't know how grits were made,” he said.

In fact, two granite stones inside the mill rotate in opposite directions as the corn enters, grinding the kernels into grits and cornmeal.

In addition to selling his products at the town farmers' market, festivals and at his mill, he offers tours to show visitors the process.

“I would like to educate kids and people that don't know how things were made by hand,” he said.

It's an education he got early on and what Gantt credits as sparking his interest.

He said that when he was a child his grandmother exposed him to canning, drying beans and vegetables, basket weaving and sewing.

“She taught me how to keep house,” Gantt said.

His grandfather, Kelley Gantt, was a saw miller and a farmer. He died before Steve Gantt was born, but it's on his land that the wood cabin sits.

Gantt has made the business – which had about 350 visitors and sold thousands of pounds of grits this year – a family affair. He's enlisted the help of his wife and three sons.

“So far it's been fun,” he said. “(My) sons are all nature, outdoorsy types.”

His oldest son Jeremy, 35, is also his partner.

Jeremy Gantt said he wasn't surprised when his father suggested they start the stone mill.

“If we want to try something we try it, and if it works, good,” Jeremy Gantt said.

A number of stores, including Village Store on Platts Spring Road, carry Gantt's products. Village Store has carried the grits for the past year.

“It's a good product,” said Tim Smith, manager of the store, which also carries the cornmeal.

The Gantts also sell old-style country bacon and hope to expand to sell syrup, possibly flour and other products.