Grits. Simple. Unadorned. In the South, if you truly grew up here, there is a primal instinct to crave Grits. People, outside of this region of the country, don’t understand it. In fact, grits aren’t commonly sold in grocery stores- much less in foreign countries. Oh you may be able to find stone ground yellow cornmeal or grits- those just aren’t the same as our hominy grits. I have friends who actually mail a bag of grits to family members in Los Angeles or New York City from time to time. Why? ‘Well she must be homesick, she’s begging me to mail her some grits!‘ is always the answer.
Now, to be fair, some of the great chefs have taken low class food like grits and elevated them to a delicacy. Grits- hominy grits were once known as breakfast grits for fishermen or laborers; this is now considered a fancy dish called Shrimp and Grits. Yet, if a poll were taken I would be willing to bet these same chefs in major cities outside of the South would never eat plain old hominy grits for breakfast! Here, field hands to fine gentlemen want- no, wait- they expect Grits for breakfast! From nursery food to sick beds to hearty men’s breakfasts and yes, even at fine ladies’ brunches, you will always find grits- maybe in a stoneware bowl or in silver chafing dish, we do love our grits. Listen, grits are always served on the savory side of the menu! As Deborah Ford and Edie Hand say in their ‘GRITS Handbook’- ‘Grits are eaten with butter, gravy or cheese- never sugar.’ That’s the rule, if you eat grits with sugar? Well, even with that famous southern sweet tooth? Do not. I repeat. Do not even think about adding sugar to grits! Add it to your old Cream of Wheat and we won’t say a word. Just remember- ‘nevah evah sugah!’
Y’all, trust me on this one- true Southerners crave Grits from their bassinets to their deathbeds. Grits are the ultimate southern comfort food, considered a healing aid even a cure for the sick- ‘ I knew he was real sick, when he turned up his nose at a bowl of grits!‘ If my grandmother ever said that, folks would start prayer at circle meetings.
Grits are like kinfolks, we sometimes take them for granted- yet finely made hominy grits are the unsung companion to many a fine meal. Grits are the ‘bighearted, open to embellishment’ relative at the Southern Table. Always bighearted enough to welcome additions graciously- butter, cheese, shrimp, crumbled sausage, ham and red eye gravy, crumbled bacon even eggs have been poached right in a scalding casserole of hominy grits. And- bighearted grits is able to stretch to feed a crowd! (just remember never ever add sugar!) There’s a limit to even the most generous among us! You will never find Grits on a dessert table so why would you ever even think of adding sugar? We southerners love our food, we talk about it- pass recipes down and around… what we may have lacked in fortunes- was more than made up for in heavy laden tables- generously shared, eaten heartily without shame or daintily with lively conversation- grits sit there and say nothing yet would be terribly missed if not among us.
Southerners get downright biblical about our food- someone once asked-
‘How many people will that pot of grits feed?‘
‘Oh honey, it will feed multitudes.’
Grits have served multitudes, down through southern history- using the basic ancient elements of fire, water, salt and corn. Southern cooks have a distinct, almost unnatural fascination with ancestral food, like grits. We rely on family recipes, our grandmothers’ ancient potions and mysterious cures. When modern medicine fails us- we offer Grits along with other soothing foods, chicken broth, weak tea and toast, ginger ale, soda crackers, mashed potatoes, scraped apple and rice. This curative diet was almost devoid of color- and considered to be easy for the old and young to digest. In my southern childhood innocence, there was no doubt in my mind that Goldilocks interrupted the Three Bears and ate their bowls of grits! (What was porridge anyway unless it was a bowl of grits? No one bothered to correct this misconception!)
When we cook grits- we are communing with our ancestors. Even when I’m alone in my kitchen- the mothers, aunts and grandmothers are with me- informing me. To make bighearted grits- is like taking care of a family- Grits have to be watched, tended to, kept moving, stirred gently with languid patience, especially when they’re absorbing the hot water of life.
You learn these things when you cook, when you’re the nourishing caretaker of a husband, of a family or a community. You learn how much effort it takes to get it right- all from making a pot of Grits. The humble bowl of grits is proof that whether in a rundown shack, a double wide trailer, a cabin on the lake, a high rise beach condo ol liker a country club- in the South we are all linked by a simple warm bighearted bowl of Grits. You either like grits or you don’t- I’m going to be suspicious of whether you really know how to make them if you don’t! Here’s how you make Grits and how you don’t!
- Buy Quick Hominy Grits! this isn’t Instant- please don’t buy that mess!
- Follow the instructions to a tee on the bag of quick hominy grits-
- For 6 generous servings, it’s generally 8 cups of boiling water to 2 cups of hominy grits and salt- (some add milk, I don’t)
- Stir the grits and salt into the boiling water- if you mess this up? Start over! Cover grits, reduce heat to low.
- Cook five minutes. Serve hot! with lots of butter, cracked black pepper and salt- or add in whatever you like- just not sugar!!
- *Remember now, buy quick hominy grits- not instant (ick) and certainly do not add sugar- that’s a recipe for disastrous horrible grits!
Surely you can’t deny the allure of hominy grits- the generous bighearted food of the South is what culinary dreams are made of! Oh me, maybe what we all need is a big steaming hot bowl of grits!
Love y’all, Camellia
*All photographs are obviously mine!