Grits, what are they and where in the world did they come from?
Once Upon a time......
The Virginia colony had its gentlefolk and commoners, masters and servants. After twenty years of hardship, all were beginning to enjoy some prosperity, such that even the servants ate well, according to reports received back in England by Captain John Smith. He gave particulars of their diet, including hominy, in his Continuation of the Generall Historie of Virginia, written in 1629. "Their servants," Smith wrote, "commonly feed upon Milke Homini, which is bruized Indian corne pounded, and boiled thicke, and milke for the sauce; but boiled with milke, the best of all will oft feed on it."
The Indians gave them the idea for both the word and the food. Hominy is an English adaptation of an Algonquin dish Smith described in his 1612 Map of Virginia: "the branne they boile 3 or 4 houres with water, which is an ordinary food they call Ustatahamen."
Adapted to the colonists' tastes, hominy remained a staple in the South for centuries to come, where it is now better known as hominy grits or just plain grits.
This was a cute article about our grits. Sheila gave me permission to use it here at my site.
"Whatís that white stuff on my plate? I didnít order that!" observes any northerner who goes south and orders breakfast in a southern restaurant for the first time. Northern folks donít understand grits. Grits come automatically with breakfast in the south whether you order them or not, like butter with bread or cream with coffee.
Seasoned travelers nod knowingly, and offer advice, "Itís sort of like cream of wheat." Well, not exactly. Grits are normally thicker Ė not to mention the obvious fact that they are made of corn, and cream of wheat is made from another grain. If you want to really irritate a southerner, just compare grits to cream of wheat Ė or anything else in the world.
Grits are a mystery food. We can always spot a Yankee by their reaction to grits. They are the ones picking at the white lump with a fork while politely tying to avoid gagging for the rest of the meal. The Yankee will make a mental note to be sure to tell the waitress not to serve any grits next time. The waitress will make a mental note to bring more grits. Something has to be wrong with the first batch if they are not being eaten.
Grits are a regional food of the south. In the situation of eating grits, Iím rather inclined to side with the north, if it wonít start another war. I can eat grits with enough sugar and determination; however, a good olí boy will eat them with only a bit of salt and butter and a smack of the lips - or will pour bacon grease on them. Of course, southerners will eat about anything with bacon grease on it.
If you know how grits are made, you will probably be even less inclined to indulge in their ingestion. They are made from mashed up hominy. Whatís hominy? Well, itís dried corn that is soaked in lye water until the husks come off and the kernels puff up. The lye is drained and the puffed corn rinsed to remove the lye. It sounds a lot like a death wish to me.
Folks in the south donít worry much about getting poisoned from things like lye. They like lye so much, they even used it in their home made soap in the olden days. Some claim it is the best cleaning soap there is. The lye soap my grandmother used to make would clean dishes, laundry, hands, and possibly remove your eyebrows if you used it on your face. Maybe they eat grits to keep the lye away from the soap makers.
Southerners like living dangerously, though, and eat other poison foods as well. Pokeweed, for instance, is a traditional southern dish cooked in spring as greens, something like spinach. Again, it involves much rinsing to remove the poison and much bacon grease to make it eatable. I really donít advise trying it unless you know what you are doing, have a southern mama to advise you, or have a husband youíve been wanting to get rid of anyhow.
Southerners are as proud of grits as they are of cornbread. There are other ways to make grits without the lye process, but they donít seem nearly as fun or challenging. You can grind white corn and use the fine part as white corn meal and the larger particles for grits. Some folks have actually made grits into a specialty item, adding cheese, frying grits pancakes, and making grits casseroles. No matter what you do to grits, however, they are still grits.
I hope I wonít lose my membership card to southern culture over my distaste for grits. Lord knows, Iíve eaten enough cornbread and can whip up a fine crock pot of black-eyed peas with ham hocks should the need arise. Surely that and my southern drawl should be enough get me through any Mason-Dixon identity check.
But, please donít get me started on okra or Iím sunk.
Copyright 2006-2007 Sheila Moss
Used by permission
I grew up on grits and can't imagine a day without them. Mine are prepared the old fashioned way......slow cooked. Grits around here are cooked much like risotto.
True Southern Breakfast Grits
2 Tbsp. butter
good pinch of salt (around a heaping 1/4 tsp.)
2 c. water
1/2 c. grits....whole grain grits!
2 c. cream, you may not need it all
Place your butter and water in a cast iron pot (any heavy saute pan will do) and get it nice and hot. Bring it to a boil. Add your grits and let them come back up to a boil. Now you turn the heat down to a low boil and let them boil for about 10 minutes, give or take a few minutes. You want to give them plenty of time to soak in all the water and get nice and thick.
Time to start adding your cream. Add it slowly and 1/2 cup at a time. Let it cook about 10 minutes. When all the cream is aborbed, add another 1/2 cup. Cook, and continue on until your grits are the consistency that you like. For really great grits, you total cooking time will be about 1 hour.
When I am going to use grits in a savory dish, I will use chicken stock, chicken broth, etc. If I am making a seafood dish, I will use the water where the seafood was boiled, such as shrimp stock.
I know most won't spend an hour cooking grits and it sure doesn't mean you can't make a great dish by shortening the cooking time. These recipes require must less time and are delicious. They are not the fancy dishes you see today, but will certainly be enjoyed by everyone, that is, if you love grits. If served, you might even convert a non-grits lover!