(Column by Teresa Brooks)
Around Thanksgiving time last year, I ran across a long-lost grocery store item at Food City in Middlesboro that I hadn’t been able to find locally for many years.
Three Rivers brand cornmeal was like a tradition in southern cooking. Used for over 75 years by Appalachian women and their ancestors in dishes requiring cornmeal, they baked delicious cornbread, used it in the batter for their fried green tomatoes, cornmeal gravy, and many other dishes.
I think most everyone I knew used Three Rivers Cornmeal, until all of a sudden, none of the stores carried it. I never knew why the stores quit selling it, but I missed the cornmeal that I was used to using. I just liked its richer “corn” flavor and texture over the other brands.
Mom used it. She would make cornbread almost every day. My dad loved to eat a bowl of crumbled cornbread with milk before bed time. As soon as I was old enough, I learned how to make it for him, too.
When I got married, I continued to use the Three Rivers brand until it couldn’t be found anymore.
So, after many years of being without it, I happened upon a stock of it by chance, last fall, at Food City in Middlesboro. I don’t normally shop there for groceries, but had to run in for a few things while in the area. I am so glad I did. I was so excited to finally find the brand, I bought a couple bags.
As I was going through the checkout line, the lady behind me overheard me tell the checkout lady that I was happy to see they were carrying Three Rivers again. The lady told us she had just shipped her sister several bags because her sister couldn’t find it where she lived either, and she paid more for shipping it than the cornmeal cost. (The cornmeal was definitely a hot commodity.)
I was curious as to why it was being sold in Middlesboro and not in the stores around here, as I knew people here would buy it, too, so I did a search online.
From what I gathered, in 2008, White Lily was purchased by Smucker’s, and they closed the Knoxville, Tennessee plant. They still operated using two other plants; however, for some reason, the Three Rivers brand didn’t survive the transition.
In 2018, Hometown Food Company, Inc., acquired the brands of White Lily, Martha White and the rights to Three Rivers, and lo and behold after a decade of being quiescent, the powdered gold is now back into production and flying off the store shelves.
I believe the Three Rivers cornmeal was just in a few stores at the time I found it, mostly Food City stores, but they were expanding their base.
I also found during the search that Three Rivers was selling for big money on Ebay! Who knew! (I could have had a side hustle selling cornmeal.)