The New York Times claims to have “all the news that’s fit to print.” Well, this won’t be the first time a retraction is in order from that venerable publication.
The Grey Lady caused True Southerners all over this great nation of ours to reach for their collective Smellin’ Salts a few weeks ago with this article by Shaila Dewan, which was published on my birthday, of all days. It’s a good thing I didn’t read it on that day. It would have put a serious damper on the celebrations.
The article made it sound as if J.M. Smucker had come in overnight, purchased White Lily Flour, and immediately shut down White Lily’s 125-year-old mill in Knoxville, Tennessee. That’s scary enough for any True Southerner, especially those who are serious about their biscuits. But wait (as they say on the informercials): there’s more.
The kicker was the part that talks about the Times sending two bags of flour to two different chefs. One bag, according to the article, contained the “old,” original, Knoxville-milled White Lily, while the other bag contained the “new,” evil-corporation-owned, Yankee-milled, ersatz White Lily Flour. The bags were labeled only “A” and “B” so the chefs would not know which was which. But they did, immediately. The bag that was later to be revealed to contain the “new” White Lily, according to the article, was sort of grey in color and made heavy, dense cakes and biscuits, while the “old” original White Lily made the good old, feather-light biscuits and cakes that True Southern bakers have known and loved for over a century. It was New Coke all over again!
Thanks be to the Atlanta Journal Constitution and Elizabeth Lee. Knowing that this was a story sure to be of concern to all True Southerners, not to mention top chefs regardless of their region of origin (White Lily is carried by Williams-Sonoma as well as Dean & Deluca), Ms. Lee took on the story. The comments section at the end of her article reveal the heartbreak of Southern bakers. One even said she may as well kiss any more county fair Blue Ribbons bye-bye.
One comment, however, particularly caught my eye, because it purported to be from Nathalie Dupree. “Could this be for real?” I wondered. After all, anyone can post a comment with anyone’s name attached to it. Some people have been known to pose as famous persons when making blog comments. It happens. But if this comment were really by Nathalie Dupree, it changed things a great deal.
It was. Elizabeth Lee revealed in a follow-up article that it was, indeed, really the actual, real-life Nathalie Dupree who had commented on the previous article. Here is what Ms. Dupree had to say:
In talks with J.M. Smucker I have found out that, as I thought, White Lily has long been made in a second mill, located in Ohio in the middle of Red Winter Wheat country. There is NO “new White Lily”. This mill, as old as the one in Knoxville, has been milling it a very long time. The Knoxville address on the side of the package is the distribution address, and since they longer distribute from Knoxville (they were not able to buy the mill) they are distributing from Memphis. (One of their other mills was destroyed in a hurricane.) White Lily’s formula has not changed. Apparently some “unaged” flour was sent to the New York Times in error. Since it takes time to age the product it didn’t work the same. Don’t worry! Our flour will be the same! They know the importance to the consumer and will strive to keep it the same product we love.
So there you have it. J. M. Smucker did not close the Knoxville mill overnight. They’ve owned White Lily since 2006, and the flour has been milled at both locations (Tennessee and Ohio) for some time. Since the mill in Ohio is right in the middle of the area where the wheat used in White Lily has always been grown, and what with gas prices being what they are, it made since not to deal with the extra expense of shipping the wheat to the Knoxville mill when the same flour was already being milled at a nearby mill. When White Lily was first introduced over a century ago, Tennessee and the Carolinas were the chief producers of soft red winter wheat, the kind used exclusively in White Lily. For several generations, however, Ohio has been the chief producer, hence the change of locale.
Furthermore, the “new” flour used in the NYT taste-test was unaged flour, so there’s no wonder that it looked funny and didn’t work right.
So, True Southerners, fear not. If White Lily were going to change, it would have done so a few years ago. Those of us who now live where they cannot get their hands on White Lily (except through the rather expensive mail-order process) can breathe a sigh of relief, too, as we need not worry that we will never be able to eat those delightfully light White Lily biscuits ever again.
And for those of you who have never had biscuits made with White Lily, maybe this will entice you to get some so you can see what you’ve been missing. The same is true of strawberry shortcake, pies, cakes, cobblers . . .
One should never blog while hungry.