What a hidden gem! Located between St. Helena and Calistoga, the Bale Grist Mill was originally built in 1846 by Dr. Edward T. Bale. When, only four years later, he passed away at the early age of 38, his wife took over mill operations and made improvements that brought it to its current state. She oversaw the addition of a 36-foot wheel (an upgrade from the previous 20-footer) and a new conveyor system that enhanced the Mill's productivity. The mechanics of the Mill, still in operation today, are a sight to behold.
The Mill is open on weekends from 10am to 4pm (call Bothe State Park at (707) 942-4575 to confirm, as due to California budget cuts it is currently run by volunteers). Entrance to the Mill and the surrounding grounds, which includes a tour and demonstration, is $5 for each adult, $2 for children age six to eighteen, and free for children under five. We made a day of it by packing a lunch and enjoying shaded picnic tables.
In the fall, the Bale Grist Mill hosts "Old Mill Days," a family-friendly pioneer celebration with music and history re-enactments. Kids can make their own corn husk dolls, learn to write in calligraphy, press apple juice, and - my favorite - wash clothes by hand. We will definitely be back next October to join in the fun!
The best souvenir from the Mill? Freshly ground grain available for $5 a bag (each approximately 1 pound). Visitors can choose from whole wheat flour, spelt, buckwheat, rye, cornmeal, or polenta.
Though each bag is clearly marked "not for human consumption," we threw caution to the wind when my husband baked the potentially lethal - yet quite delicious - loaf of bread below. We obviously survived to tell the story. (The warning is due to a misguided California regulation that classifies the Mill as a restaurant, which it clearly is not. There is a bill pending before the State Assembly to rectify the issue.)
We enjoyed the Mill's bounty with a butternut squash soup sourced from our garden, making the meal perhaps the most farm-to-table dinner that has graced our table.
You might also like...
1. Frugal Eats in Napa
3. How we spend $50 or less each month at restaurants