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The Whole Truth about White Lily Flour

July 23rd, 2008 · 11 Comments

White LilyThe 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.

Tags: Family · Food · News

11 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Cap'n Whook MonsterID Icon Cap'n Whook // Jul 23, 2008 at 21:00

    Sigh of relief. Do not piddle, Sir Smucker, with our fair flour or you shall be entwined in a controversy as tenacious as Kudzu.

    Those chimps been typing for “The New York Times,” eh? (OT, I’m told that in Pennsylvania they count seconds “one–chimpanzee, two–chimpanzee” instead of “one–Mississippi, two–Mississippi” or (for SU people) “one–Witold Turkiewicz, two–Witold Turkiewicz.”)

    I like the crack about Lewis Grizzard turning over in his grave as a comment to Elizabeth Lee’s article. Speaking of Lewis, why can’t the Yankees get it right? NO SUGAR IN THE CORN BREAD, PLEASE.

    I was with Ms. Lee ‘til she mentioned Duke’s Mayonnaise. BLEEEH.

  • 2 RevJATB MonsterID Icon RevJATB // Jul 24, 2008 at 8:27

    Now Cap’n, them’s almost fightin’ words. I am definitely a Duke’s fan. And now living outside the Fair South (which is defined as that geographical area in which White Lily, Duke’s, and Cheerwine are available), I really miss being able to get it.

    We could even get Duke’s in Mississippi, where pretty much the only people who buy it are transplants from the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama. Bama mayonnaise is a very close second for me (which is now made by the same company that makes Duke’s), and alas that also is not available here. Yes, Louisiana was a part of the Confederacy, but everything changes once you cross that River, and there are few, if any, culinary artifacts of the South to be found here. New Orleans/South Louisiana items, yes (Blue Plate, CDM, Luzianne, Tabasco, etc.) but scarcely nothing from the Rest of the South.

    Curiously, the one item that has made it across the River is one that could just as well have stayed put: Red Diamond Tea. The boxed tea bags aren’t sold here, but the ready-made tea in the plastic gallon jugs is. I always thought Red Diamond was about the worst tea around. My mom always used Luzianne, and that’s what we still use. My grandmother used Lipton, which I always found too bitter for iced tea. But then she always made it really, really strong.

    I have an uncle in Birmingham who swears by Hellmann’s mayonnaise. Absolutely will not eat any other brand. While not a Southern brand per se, Hellmann’s has an extremely loyal following in the South.

    I really, really like Duke’s, but it’s OK if you don’t. We’re open and tolerant around here. Just as long as you’re not a Miracle Whip fan. :-)

  • 3 RevJATB MonsterID Icon RevJATB // Jul 24, 2008 at 8:49

    OK, since we went from talking about biscuits to talking about mayonnaise, it’s time for a truly revolting story:

    Several years ago, when I was in Mississippi, I was at a men’s prayer breakfast at the church. Everyone was sitting there eating–the typical big, Southern, really not good for your heart breakfast–bacon and eggs, grits, biscuits, sausage, etc. Everyone was eating a talking, and one the men got up and went to the kitchen for something (BTW it may be important to the story that he was originally from Kansas). He returned to the table, sat down, and spread something on his biscuit. Then he held up the jar from which he had just spread something and said, so all could hear, “Does anyone else want the mayonnaise?”

    You could have heard a pin drop as everyone stared at him in shocked silence.

  • 4 Cap'n Whook MonsterID Icon Cap'n Whook // Jul 24, 2008 at 12:15

    And I thought mustard on French fries was odd. It’s interesting that that which we take for granted tends to be regional and unavailable a state or two over. (“That that.” Well, Oren Hatch–quite correctly–had to say “had had had” once. Wish I could remember the sentence.)

    Sorry to go careening off topic. ‘Nuther good one is Royal Cup Coffee. BLEEEH. The conducting students at SU attended an Alabama Symphony Coffee Concert (open Friday rehearsal) once. There was a backstage reception with, of course, the poison brew available. J. T., who was in attendance, blurted out that he wanted a cup of coffee. The Birmingham locals gave each other knowing little looks as he sipped, then crinkle up his face in disgust. I said, “You’re not from around here, are you?” The people who got coffee were pouring it into the potted plants, down the water fountains, abandoning cups in nooks and crannies, etc.

    Red Diamond built a new factory in Moody, by the way. WHY???

    Local PBS, to it’s shame, hasn’t been showing Natalie Dupree lately, and she ain’t on Create (the other digital channel), either.

    Hey, Duke’s on Aunt Bee’s pickles might work!

  • 5 mrb1usa MonsterID Icon mrb1usa // Aug 20, 2010 at 15:22

    Being a southerner for 2oo yrs…well sorta….there is only one real mayo…JFG…made in Chatt Tn…and damn…its good on EVERYTHING….especially egg and tomato biscuit….ENJOY!

  • 6 Steve2inLA MonsterID Icon Steve2inLA // Aug 24, 2010 at 2:54

    Great to know. I hadn’t heard the Natalie Dupree comments. I’d only gotten as far as Smucker’s closing down the Knoxville Mill and the poor results from the “new” flour. I think I can now confidently reorder White Lily from Smucker’s. We’ll see how things go.

  • 7 William MonsterID Icon William // Sep 17, 2010 at 15:09

    Ain’t no southern boy got a patent on cowboy biscuits. Leave my White Lilly flour alone !!

    New York, is that really part of America ;- )

    Southern Iowa, Missouri border Yankee.

  • 8 Flyingfish7000 MonsterID Icon Flyingfish7000 // Jul 24, 2011 at 12:22

    I had never heard of White Lily flour nor Dukes until recently. Neither has been available around here for as long as I can remember. Gold Medal has been my flour and results have been inconsistent at best. I have tried to make biscuits on consecutive days, humidity and barometric pressure unchanged, with completely different results. Dependably undependable. I look forward to finding and trying some White Lily no matter who makes it

  • 9 LilSouthernMama MonsterID Icon LilSouthernMama // Oct 25, 2011 at 20:55

    I have used White Lily for several years now and it’s soooo much better than other brands. I’ve used Martha White brand before, and it’s been hard to accept it again when I couldn’t find White Lily. Thank god I found some local again. I recently bought a cafe in my small town and I intend to educate my neighbors on what a real biscuit is. Rhight along with

  • 10 LilSouthernMama MonsterID Icon LilSouthernMama // Oct 25, 2011 at 20:57

    Cornmeal gravy. It’s a Southern classic!

  • 11 JAWJA MonsterID Icon JAWJA // Jun 3, 2012 at 12:02

    I had used White Lily for many, many, years, and, I can tell you it is no longer the very white, consistently wonderful flour it once was. If any of yall have made biscuits from it pre 2008 and the product NOW, you know exactly what I mean. I tried it for several yrs, finally moved to Martha White SF, add a little soda and buttermilk and crisco. Good biscuits, but, grayish, not the pure white of before. I guess Crisco will be the next thing to go. On the White Lily bag they used to advertise white wheat, or some such. Wonder if anyone could get original recipe and make a go of making OLD ORIGINAL WHITE LILY. Sure would be nice.

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