Flour Power

Old-fashioned and organic, Westwind Milling Co. in Linden goes against the grain of commercial productions


Published:

Photograph by Joshua Kristal

(page 1 of 2)

The French use the word “terroir” in describing how regional factors, including soil, give a wine its personality. Here in metro Detroit, can our palates discern a home-grown familiarity that tastes of the American Midwest?

Nick Seccia, executive chef at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, detects a difference between ingredients harvested locally and those shipped from distant places. A devotee of the so-called slow-food movement, which emphasizes area growers, he bakes his Hobo Bread and polenta with wheat and cornmeal from Westwind Milling Co. in Linden, about 65 miles northwest of Dearborn.
“Their cornmeal tastes like corn — fresh, subtle,” Seccia says. “It sears up nice on the outside, but stays light on the interior.”

At The Henry Ford, he says, “We’re real cooks cooking real food. In the Eagle Tavern [in Greenfield Village], we strive to make the food as authentic as possible.”

Seccia’s Hobo Bread, which, according to hobo tradition, is baked in a can, contains raisins, cinnamon, walnuts, butter, and brown sugar. Those who buy the quick bread — sold at Westborn Markets, the R. Hirt Co. in Detroit’s Eastern Market, and The Henry Ford — indulge in baked slices of wheat that spouted and matured in fields just an hour or so away.

Metro Detroit sits like a dinner plate at the center of an agricultural buffet that provides ample meals — or the ingredients that create them.
Among the agrarian producers in metro Detroit’s outer, rural ring is a functioning mill that dates its beginnings to the era of President Andrew Jackson. The Westwind mill shows its age. Its exterior, dusty from clouds that rise from the gravel parking lot on dry days, is hardly a picture-book version of Americana. Next to the porch, a garden patch with hollyhocks, roses, cosmos, winter savory, and lavender has a look that’s more sun-baked prairie than manicured Colonial Williamsburg.

This is a practical working mill, as the owners say, rather than a tidy museum-piece depiction of what once was. Inside, Linda Purdy, dressed in shorts, flip-flops, and a sleeveless blouse, and her husband, Lee, wearing blue jeans and a Westwind T-shirt, get the day going. Tuesday means baking, which is done in the back kitchen while old pulleys keep 800-pound North Carolina granite millstones whirring up front. Their daughter, Summer, helps out in the small store.

It may look country simple, but this is no sleepy operation. One wonders, in fact, how the on-site owners of this family-run enterprise manage to also grow the grains they grind. Their farm is one of 14 that contribute grains to Westwind.

The Purdys bought the mill for $125,000 in December 2000 and opened for business eight months later in what was an act of desperation to save their farm.

Other buyers had considered purchasing the mill for use as a flea market, mini mall, or restaurant. Lee and Linda did the obvious: Use it as a mill.

“We had this idea that we could sell the flour instead of the wheat, sell the finished product instead of the raw material,” Linda says. “It was three growers when we started. Now it’s a little network, a sustainable food system.

“All those people sell us grain; we help them keep us going. We’re proof that local food and organic is possible.”
Their local network includes Ed Wracan, of Wracan & Son Honey in Lennon, who participates in Westwind’s local-food dinners during the winter months, and “Peppermint Jim” Crosby, whose farm in St. Johns is the country’s oldest continuously running family mint farm. 

Linda speaks of their agricultural lifestyle with an ease that belies her roots on Detroit’s east side. She received a degree in history from Wayne State University, worked as a junior secretary for the late Detroit City Council President Maryann Mahaffey, and spent three years as a zookeeper at The Detroit Zoo before becoming a special-education teacher in Burton.

Edit Module
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »Related Content

Cocktail Recipe: Campus Martius Coffee

Eating in Translation

What happens when centuries-old vegetarian traditions are transported across oceans

Food Recipe: Middle Eastern Spiced Roasted Carrots

The mother-daughter team behind recipe development site, Crowded Kitchen, cooks up mindful dishes starring ingredients from local makers

So You Wanna Be A Chef (Or Just Cook Like One)

Local culinary classes range from making doughnuts to earning degrees.

Better When Basted

Big Rock's Matthew Fitchett gives lamb a seared spin.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. Under Wraps
    Lionel Perkins, senior project design engineer for camouflage at GM North America, unveils his...
  2. Heavyweight Estate
    Cadillac King Don Massey's property hits the market
  3. Machine Learning
    The next wave of artificial intelligence is making critical decisions in health care
  4. All About the Zip Sauce
    Food blogger and Instagram sensation, Seoung Lee, a.k.a. @chowdowndetroit, says Eddie’s Gourmet...
  5. The Meat of the Matter
    The latest West Village eatery, Marrow, carves a space for Detroit’s meat-eaters
  6. Food Recipe: Middle Eastern Spiced Roasted Carrots
    The mother-daughter team behind recipe development site, Crowded Kitchen, cooks up mindful dishes...
  7. Metrics of Mary Jane Motoring
    Research in a modest lab at John R and Mack addresses questions about cannabis and driving and...
  8. Detroit’s Got Spirits
    Inside the local craft distillery boom from Ferndale to Ann Arbor and beyond
  9. Eating in Translation
    What happens when centuries-old vegetarian traditions are transported across oceans
  10. Driver's Ed
    We’ve got auto questions, leading authorities have answers