Whitecap Flint Corn
Bob and Diane Smith met as students at Rhode Island State College right after Bob returned from serving with the U.S. Air Force during World War II. Bob is now retired from a career with the family business, the Fred W. Smith Dodge/Chrysler dealership in Wakefield, R.I. Diane is also retired after many years working in a local real estate title company and law office.
The Smiths share a passion for local history. Bob collects vintage automobiles, and together the Smiths own and operate Carpenter’s Grist Mill on Moonstone Beach Road in Perryville, the only water-powered mill still in operation in Rhode Island. The mill was built by Samuel E. Perry in 1703.
“When I was a boy,” says Bob, “I’d watch the miller grind corn for hours; it was my dream to own a grist mill.” That dream came true back in 1985 when the late Rowland Robinson decided to sell his grist mill provided that the grinding tradition was continued, especially the grinding of Rhode Island whitecap flint corn for johnnycakes. A promise was made and today the Smiths continue to grind and market the product as Carpenter’s Rhode Island Jonnycake Meal.
The Smiths offer tours that include demonstrations of the mill in action showing how water-power moves the two massive granite millstones to grind the corn; visitors are then treated to johnnycake. “We are fortunate to have a farmer who grows this special corn and to have friends and neighbors who love to help at the mill,” says Bob, adding that URI’s Plant Science Department has continued to encourage local farmers and gardeners to grow a special strain of flint corn developed at the University.
Rhode Island is famous for its jonnycakes, and nobody makes them like the Smiths. “Using the right corn is the secret,” says Bob with a smile. “The taste is in the whitecap flint.”