Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Grits

I was fourteen years old before I knew that the whole world did not eat grits every morning for breakfast.

My mom used to educate Yankees at Christian writers conferences about eating grits. She found they didn't like them. Then she understood why. They were putting milk and sugar on them! Yuck! "Just a little butter and salt," she would tell them, and soon they were lapping them up just like we do.

But you know, grits are good with sharp cheddar cheese, with tomatoes out of the garden, with eggs mixed in, with bacon, salmon, and of course, shrimp. Some people like them thick; some like them soupy. I tend toward something in the middle, with enough butter to do some thinning itself.

My wife grew up eating them in a bowl with the cheese and butter on top. I was raised eating them on a large plate, with the butter and cheese on the bottom. You fill the plate just as full as you can, but you don't get any up on the flange of the plate. Looks messy. You know what I mean? Then you throw a fried egg on top that still has some run in the yolk. Maybe crumble up some bacon or eat it on the side. Then throw three slices of vine-ripened tomatoes in and mix it all up real well. Man oh man, that is some kind of good!

Wikipedia's take on the origin of grits (below) leaves out an important item: Grits are not Anglo-Southern. They are from the Southern Indians, the Cherokee and Creek cultures. Nevertheless, here's some information you might not have known about a favorite Southern dish.


Traditionally the corn for grits is ground by a stone mill. The results are passed through screens, with the finer part being corn meal, and the coarser being grits. Many communities in the Southern U.S. used a gristmill up until the mid-20th century, with families bringing their own corn to be ground, and the miller retaining a portion of the corn for his fee. In South Carolina, state law requires grits and corn meal to be enriched, similar to the requirements for flour, unless the grits are ground from corn where the miller keeps part of the product for his fee.[1]

Three-quarters of grits sold in the United States are sold in the "grits belt" stretching from Louisiana to North Carolina. The state of Georgia declared grits its official prepared food in 2002.[2]

Similar bills have been introduced in South Carolina, with one declaring: Whereas, throughout its history, the South has relished its grits, making them a symbol of its diet, its customs, its humor, and its hospitality, and whereas, every community in the State o f South Carolina used to be the site of a grits mill and every local economy in the State used to be dependent on its product; and whereas, grits has been a part of the life of every South Carolinian of whatever race, background, gender, and income; and whereas, grits could very well play a vital role in the future of not only this State, but also the world, if as Charleston's The Post and Courier proclaimed in 1952: An inexpensive, simple, and thoroughly digestible food, [grits] should be made popular throughout the world. Given enough of it, the inhabitants of planet Earth would have nothing to fight about. A man full of [grits] is a man of peace.[3]

The word "grits" comes from Old English grytta meaning a coarse meal of any kind. Yellow grits include the whole kernel, while white grits use hulled kernels. Grits are prepared by simply boiling the ground kernels into a porridge; normally it is boiled until enough water evaporates to leave it semi-solid. It is traditionally served during breakfast, but can be used at any meal. In some circles, grits are referred to as "Georgia ice cream."