Gristmill exhibit opens this month

Visitors to the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces later this month will enjoy learning about the technology, history and importance of gristmills.

“Grist for the Mill” opens on Jan. 18.

People have used gristmills to grind grain (grist) for thousands of years, and at one time there were hundreds of gristmills in New Mexico. The technology of these mills evolved throughout the centuries, but the basic concept remained the same, with grain placed between two prepared stones and then ground to produce flour and meal that could be used for cooking.

The first recorded evidence of a gristmill in New Mexico occurs in a letter written in 1599 from Don Juan de Oñate to his family in Chihuahua, Mexico. Writing from the village of San Gabriel, he states “the wheat is growing well, and the molino (mill) is ready.”

“Wheat was an old-world grain that did not exist in the Americas before the arrival of the Spanish,” said Leah Tookey, the Museum’s History Curator who curated this exhibit. “Oñate arrived in New Mexico to find Native Americans grinding their corn, a new-world crop, with manos and metates. With this ancient technology, it was not possible to grind the wheat fine enough to expose the gluten and allow the bread dough to rise before baking. Bread was a food staple in Spanish culture, so they brought seed and milling technology with them to the new world.”

This exhibit in the Museum’s North Corridor includes a portable gristmill from the Museum’s collection, a stone set from Mora, N.M., and two separate stones that were used in the Las Cruces area; one from the Lemon Mill in Mesilla, and the Schaublin Stone, which was on display for years next to the tall bank building in downtown Las Cruces. Visitors will see different flour samples, explore the technology of this process, and test their knowledge.

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